Responsibilities of an Orthodontist

An orthodontist relies on patient X-rays for diagnosis.
i Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

The work of an orthodontist carries with it important responsibilities; responsibilities that produce gratifying results. The orthodontist not only gives you a bright new smile by straightening your poorly aligned teeth, but she also helps you to speak, bite and chew easily by getting your jaw, teeth and facial muscles all working well together. To gain the required expertise, the orthodontist attends a four-year dental school followed by a two- or three-year residency program -- all after earning a bachelor's degree.

Examination and Diagnosis

    An orthodontists' first task is to thoroughly examine the patient's teeth, jaw and facial muscles surrounding his mouth. She checks for and identifies areas that are not well-aligned or working in sync with the other structures and pinpoints the specific areas needing treatment, such as overlapping teeth or jaw occlusions. As part of her examination, she also reviews the patient's dental records, X-rays and possibly photos in order to have a broader understanding of his history and dental-facial development.


    After pinpointing the patient's problem areas, the orthodontist recommends one or more treatment options or dental "appliances" such as space maintainers, braces, retainers, and labial and lingual arch wires. She discusses the patient's preferences, concerns and lifestyle issues and factors these into her recommendations. The goal is to not only position the patient's teeth and jaw so that they perform correctly but to do so in a way that is most comfortable for the patient. The orthodontist or an assistant will also provides the estimated cost of the recommended treatment, and if the patient has dental insurance determines the amount covered by insurance and gets any necessary approvals.


    Having decided upon the best approach with the patient, the orthodontist designs or prepares the dental appliance for the patient's mouth. With the help of an assistant, she inserts the dental appliance in the patient's mouth and adjusts it for fit and comfort. She may need to see the patient over a series of sessions to install more complex appliances such as braces. After the original installation, she occasionally sees the patient to continue to clean, check and adjust the appliance.

Business Management

    Many orthodontists own their own practices or partner with other dentists to own and manage their business. Regardless, they must manage the operational aspects of their office, which includes hiring and supervising staff assistants, providing strong customer service, purchasing equipment and building the business through referrals or advertising. Although the orthodontist spends most of her time with patients, her management responsibilities are important and she must stay on top of them to ensure her practice's success.

the nest