What does an orthodontist do?
Orthodontists deal specifically with the growth of the teeth and jawbone and perform procedures that straighten or remove teeth to improve their function, appearance and the way they bite together. This helps to look after the long-term health of the teeth and jaw, because if teeth don’t meet correctly this can put pressure on jaw muscles and cause problems. Orthodontic work is generally carried out on children but an increasing number of adults are having to done too. Orthodontists have the following responsibilities:
- Examining patients’ teeth to determine the appropriate course of treatment, such as the insertion of braces or removal of teeth
- Taking x rays and making plaster models of teeth
- Designing and making dental appliances
- Inserting braces, either removable ones with wires and springs that apply gentle pressure to the teeth, or fixed ones that put teeth into the correct position more accurately than removable braces with the use of a wire, brackets and bands that are stuck to the teeth until they have had the desired affect
- Having regular check-ups with patients to ensure appliances are working properly and make any necessary adjustments
What skills and qualifications do you need to become an orthodontist?
Orthodontists need to have good eyesight and a high level of manual dexterity, as well as a sympathetic bedside manner and excellent communication skills, as they will often be working with children.
There are several steps applicants should take before applying for a specialist training course in orthodontics. In addition to a primary qualification in dentistry, applicants are advised to study for the MFDS (Member of the Faculty of Dental Surgery) exam (which takes 2-3 years). It is not compulsory to have this diploma, but the majority of applicants will have it, so it is advisable to take this exam to maximise your chances of getting a place on a specialist training course. You also need lots of experience in the dentistry industry as a whole, in hospitals, general practice and community dental services. Doing a vocational training scheme (which takes 1 year) or a general practitioner training scheme (which takes 2 years) will help you to achieve this.
Several universities in the UK provide specialist training in orthodontics, including Belfast, London, Glasgow, Cardiff, Leeds and Manchester. To become an orthodontist you need to complete a 3 year postgraduate course to gain a MSc (Master of Science) in Orthodontics. The course combines study and a clinical work placement in a hospital (which you would normally receive a salary for). During the 3 years, you will work towards the Membership of Orthodontics (M. Orth) exam and if you pass you will obtain a Certificate of Completion of Specialist Training (CCST).
You could choose to work as a specialist orthodontist in a hospital or in community dental services, or you could go into a specialist practice, either under an NHS contract or treating private patients. With a further 2 years training orthodontists could go on to be hospital consultants or work towards a PhD and go into university teaching and research.