Orthodontics is a branch of dentistry specialised in correcting misaligned jaws and misaligned ('crooked') teeth. The word, first used in the early 1900s, is derived from two Greek words – 'orthos' meaning 'correct' or 'straight', and 'odon' which means 'tooth'.
Even though the word is only just over a hundred years old, orthodontics has been practised since Ancient Egyptian times, and the Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates was treating tooth misalignment around 400BC. Modern style orthodontic treatment started in the United States of America in the mid 1800s.
Orthodontists (practitioners of orthodontics) first qualify as dentists by studying for and receiving a General Dental Degree and then study for a further three years full time to receive a Specialist Orthodontic Degree to then be able to practice as orthodontists.
As the derivation of the word suggests, orthodontists correct tooth alignment, however they can also treat other related conditions, such as misaligned bites (for example crossbite, deepbite and other misalignments of the bite) which can cause pain and other long- term tooth problems, and other conditions that can be adversely affected by orthodontic factors, such as sleep apnoea.
They can also help with early childhood habits such as thumb sucking (which runs the risk of causing tooth alignment problems down the track) and help parents with strategies to discourage these and / or the implementation of early orthodontic treatment to prevent or correct any issues.
Read more about the range of orthodontic conditions that can be treated and corrected by orthodontic methods.
The best way of thinking about the difference between what a dentist does and what an orthodontist does is that a dentist is responsible for the overall health of your mouth and teeth, while an orthodontist is solely concerned with correct tooth and jaw alignment.
A dentist can advise a patient on whether they should consider orthodontic treatment and if recommended, will then refer them to an orthodontist.