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What Is an Orthodontist?

Orthodontists are specialists for your bite and jaw. Learn what they do and how much you can expect to pay when you visit one.

Last updated on

December 8, 2023

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What Is an Orthodontist?

Your oral health can have a major effect on your overall health and wellness. Going to see a dentist once every six months is a fantastic way to ensure that your teeth stay clean and healthy all around.

There are certain problems that might be a little bit too advanced and complex for dentists and dental hygienists to accomplish by themselves — so we enter the world of orthodontia. Orthodontists belong to a branch of dentistry that can address problems with your mouth that other types of dentists might not be able to.

Here is everything you need to know about orthodontists, as well as what type of procedures they can complete and how much you can expect to pay for them.

Orthodontists Explained

An orthodontist is a type of dental professional who is trained to diagnose, prevent, and treat teeth and jaw irregularities. Some of the most common problems they tackle are underbites, overbites, malocclusion, and misaligned teeth.

The goal of treatment from an orthodontist is to improve a patient’s bite. A healthy bite is an essential aspect of overall dental health because it ensures that you can chew, eat, and speak properly.

Education and Training

Orthodontists have the same educational requirement as dentists, who you probably see on a regular basis. They first need to attend college and hold a bachelor’s degree, which is typically four years of schooling. From there, they need to graduate from a four-year dental school. 

They then need additional training, usually three years of specialized orthodontic training, after completing dental school. Last but not least, each of these dental specialists needs to be licensed by whatever state they wish to practice in. To practice, they must be certified by the American Board of Orthodontics (AAO). 

It’s a lot of training and schooling, but there's a good reason. The additional three-year orthodontic-specific training is essential because most dental schools only offer limited orthodontic instruction.

Even after schooling, practicing orthodontists will need to be a part of residency programs to offer focused, hands-on experience. They focus on one of two disciplines:

  • Orthodontics: the practice of properly and safely moving teeth.
  • Dentofacial orthopedics: the practice of properly guiding the development of the teeth, jaw, and face.

Once training is complete, orthodontists can get their licensure to start practicing at a clinic.

Reasons To See an Orthodontist

You don’t need to see an orthodontist on a regular basis in the same way that you do with a general dentist. In fact, some people might go their whole lives without ever needing to set foot into a doctor’s office.

There are some common reasons why you might need to visit an orthodontist ( they are usually recommended by your general dentist).

Teeth Straightening

One of the main reasons you’d see an orthodontist is because of crooked teeth. There are many different reasons why your teeth might come out of alignment, leading to possible cosmetic dental issues that can damper your confidence and self-esteem.

For one, genetics plays a major role. Your jaw size, number of teeth, and the way your palate has developed can all be factors that determine your oral development. These can also contribute to misaligned teeth.

Additionally, things like poor oral hygiene habits, early tooth loss as a baby, or thumb sucking can shift your teeth around in ways that might not necessarily be wanted.


While some people like to embrace gaps in their teeth, others enjoy having a uniform smile with every tooth touching one another. Orthodontists can help literally bridge these gaps and make your smile look even better than expected.

Gaps in teeth can be caused by poor oral health, tooth extractions, or genetics.

Bite Issues

Underbites and overbites are common jaw alignment problems that can affect the way your smile looks and functions. With an underbite, your lower jaw is forward compared to the upper jaw, so the lower teeth sit outside of the upper teeth.

With an overbite, your top teeth are further in front of your lower teeth, meaning there is a high degree of overlap. A little bit of overlap is perfectly normal because if you didn’t have that, your teeth would hit each other and wear away your enamel. An excessive overbite is often referred to as a deep bite.

Crossbites are another type of bite issue in which some of the top teeth fall in front of the lower teeth while some fall behind the lower teeth. 

Several factors can cause bite issues, including thumb suckings, tongue thrusting against the back of your teeth, using a pacifier for too long, or even mouth breathing. Trauma to your jaw or teeth can also cause bite issues.

Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMJ)

The temporomandibular joint is like a sliding hinge that connects your jawbone to your skull. You have one joint on each side of your jaw, but some people have disorders that affect how this joint functions. In some cases, this joint might cause pain or make a clicking noise whenever you open or close your mouth.

The parts of the bone that interact with the joint are covered in cartilage and a small shock-absorbing disk, which usually keeps the movement smooth. However, if the disk erodes or moves out of alignment, the cartilage becomes damaged from arthritis, or the joint is damaged from physical impact, you might develop a TMJ disorder.

An orthodontist can help you correct problems of the jawbone that might be affecting your TMJ.

Teeth Grinding

Teeth grinding, or bruxism, is a condition where you grind or clench your teeth. Awake bruxism occurs when you unknowingly clench your teeth during the day, and then sleep bruxism occurs when you grind or gnash your teeth in your sleep. People with sleep bruxism are likely to have an underlying sleep disorder, like sleep apnea.

Teeth grinding is something that orthodontists can help address, and it’s important it’s done so in a timely manner. Teeth grinding can wear away the enamel on your teeth (the outer protective layer), and it can also lead to crookedness in the teeth if grinding or clenching is severe. It can even make your teeth chip, crack, or break if not treated soon.

Orthodontic Treatments

There are several different treatments that orthodontists can offer to help fix the problems above. Here are some of the most common:


Braces are one of the most common orthodontic treatments with the purpose of shifting your teeth back into desired positions over time. Braces are a combination of brackets, bands, and wires that are tightened over time to help improve the appearance of your smile.

These are a highly effective way to improve your teeth, but they do prevent you from being able to eat certain foods for as long as you’re wearing them. Not to mention, braces can be pretty expensive without insurance if you need to pay out of pocket.

Invisible Aligners

Invisible aligners (like Invisalign) are a great alternative for regular braces that are more discreet. Rather than using brackets or wires, these are custom-made, clear aligner trays that are swapped out over time to gradually shift your teeth into position.

Unlike braces, clear aligners can be removed (and should be removed) when you eat or drink anything besides water. This is a major benefit, though it can also make them less effective if you do not keep on top of wearing your trays when necessary.

Invisible aligners can cost a dizzying amount out of pocket on the high end, just like braces, but this price varies based on a wide range of factors.


If you wear traditional braces or aligners, you’ll need to get a retainer after your treatment to help maintain the appearance of your teeth. When you wear braces, your gums are not working to hold your teeth in place — the braces are (along with possible headgear). So once they come off, your formerly straight teeth might shift back into their original position.

Retainers prevent your teeth from shifting once treatment is over. You usually only need to wear these at night while you sleep, but your orthodontist will give you specific guidance if needed.

Like all other procedures without dental insurance, the cost can skyrocket.

Palate Expanders

As a child, if you have a crossbite or overcrowded teeth, a palate expander might be the way to go. Palate expanders are oral devices that are used to widen a narrow upper jaw. They can be used when you’re a child as your jaw is still growing and expanding. Again, this can be costly, so it’s smart to look into payment options. 

Does Insurance Cover Orthodontic Treatments?

As you can see with those treatments above, orthodontic treatment is not cheap, and most procedures cost thousands of dollars out of pocket. The only way to get some financial relief is through insurance.

However, the tricky thing about orthodontic treatment is that most of these procedures are considered cosmetic. Having crooked teeth doesn’t actually affect your overall oral health, only your smile. So for that reason, most insurance companies will not cover the cost of orthodontic treatment plans that focus on improving your appearance.

You shouldn’t need to go without the dental care you want just because you can’t afford it. Flossy is a pay-as-you-go service where you only pay for the services you receive — and we can save you up to 50% on the out-of-pocket costs of your common dental treatments, including orthodontic care.

No membership fees. No monthly premiums. No hidden fees. The price you see is the price you pay. Book your appointments with our easy-to-use smartphone app, so you don’t need to worry about any complex booking procedures.

The dentists in our network are vetted against a set of rigorous criteria so you can always have confidence that you’re getting top-quality care. 

How To Afford Orthodontic Care

If you aren’t able to afford to see an orthodontic specialist because your insurance doesn’t cover it, Flossy is the best option because of its affordability and ease.

However, there are some other ways you might be able to get care:

Dental Schools

Orthodontists need to go through an extensive amount of training in order to start practicing their craft, and they need to be able to do all of that training somewhere. Dental schools are where young dental professionals can learn new techniques on real-life patients.

While the work at a dental school is done by individuals who are not yet licensed, you can have faith in the quality because a dental professional monitors all appointments to ensure your safety. In return, you usually only need to pay for the cost of materials at dental schools.

While you usually can only get general dentistry procedures at dental schools rather than orthodontic work, there might be some specialty clinics in your area that are offering low price braces or aligners. It never hurts to do some research in your area and find out.

Payment Plans

Some orthodontic offices might not ask you to pay for the entire cost of braces or aligners upfront. In many cases, they are okay if you split up your payments into smaller chunks over a period of time. This makes it so much easier for you to be able to afford your care rather than needing to pay such a large sum out of pocket.

Bear in mind that some of these plans might charge extra interest.

Some clinics also allow you to sign up for savings plans that act in a similar way to insurance. You pay the clinic a monthly fee regardless of whether or not you get services completed in exchange for discounted procedures.

Clinical Trials

Researchers need to conduct research studies on new techniques, advancements, or products before they are released to the public. You can be involved with these clinical trials to get services completed for free. In some cases, these procedures are even compensated.

The caveat is that these trials are sometimes hard to come by, and you usually need to meet a set of specific criteria in order to be a part of them. However, if you can align with them, these are a fantastic way to save a ton of money while still getting the procedures you want or need.

Finding a Board-Certified Orthodontist

Orthodontics is a branch of medicine concerned with your bite and jaw. It is used to help fix issues like overcrowded teeth, underbite and overbite, teeth grinding, and gaps in the teeth. An orthodontist is a specialist who is skilled in this field.

Since most orthodontic treatments are considered cosmetic in nature, most procedures in this field are not covered by insurance. And considering many of them can run upwards of thousands of dollars, it is difficult for many people to get the care they want or need.

Flossy is a pay-as-you-go service where you only pay for the services you receive. From common dental procedures to complex, you can save up to 50% on the cost of out-of-pocket dental care.

Find a dentist in your area today and get started toward the beautiful smile you’ve been waiting for.


TMJ disorders - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics | ADEA

Bruxism | Johns Hopkins Medicine

What Is Orthodontics? | Cleveland Clinic

Orthodontics: Wearing Cervical Headgear | National Childrens

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