Beyond Braces: What Else Does an Orthodontist Do?

Many people assume orthodontists are “braces dentists” and focus only on that specialty. It’s an understandable misconception, but it’s easily explained, too.

A dentist specializes in keeping your teeth, gums, nerves, and jaw healthy. An orthodontist is a dentist, too, but their specialty focuses on correcting bite alignment problems (malocclusion) and straightening the teeth. They correct conditions a patient may already have and they have the training to identify alignment problems that a patient might develop in the future. 

Braces are only one example of the things an orthodontist specializes in. There are many other devices and treatments that orthodontists use to improve your oral health as well as your overall health. They spend years studying and training in techniques to move teeth and reposition the jaw.

So, if you’re wondering “What does an orthodontist do besides braces?,” this article will provide an overall look at what these specialists do and the additional treatments and devices they use.

What Does an Orthodontist Do Besides Braces?

Orthodontists ensure that their patients’ teeth and jaws develop and align properly. This is critical because a healthy mouth enables you to eat, speak, and chew properly. This goal may be achieved by straightening teeth as well as properly aligning the jaw. 

Many techniques and devices are used by orthodontists, including jaw surgery if necessary. More and more parents are aware of how important early orthodontic visits are for children. A child’s jawbones aren’t finished growing yet, which makes it an ideal time for orthodontic treatment. These visits allow the orthodontist to identify potential problems early and intervene to prevent larger alignment issues later. 

Here are some devices used by orthodontists to work toward the goal of proper tooth and/or jaw alignment:

Clear Aligners

Millions of people are using clear aligners today rather than traditional metal braces to straighten and align their teeth. The aligners are made from almost invisible polyurethane plastic, which an orthodontist has custom-made for every patient who chooses them. Patients with minor malocclusion often use aligners instead of traditional braces.

After high-tech 3D scans of the mouth are done at the orthodontist’s office, the clear aligners are made and the patient wears them roughly 22 hours a day. The aligners gradually apply consistent pressure to improve the alignment of the teeth. The orthodontist then directs the patient when to change the aligner(s) out for the next one in the series.

Palatal (or “Palate”) Expanders 

Before a child’s mouth and jaw finish growing, an orthodontist may determine that the width of the mouth will not be adequate for the adult teeth as they erupt. If not corrected early, the result will be severely crowded teeth or a crossbite. (A crossbite is the result of a dental or skeletal problem or a combination of both.)

The method used to correct this problem is a palatal expander. This is an orthodontic action that can have positive lifelong ramifications. The expander fits into the roof of the mouth and creates pressure to widen the upper jaw and palate. A bigger arch is formed for the eventual eruption of the adult teeth. 

The best time to do this is before the patient has reached puberty because the jaw and facial bones are still developing. The result will be enough space for the adult teeth, less crowding, and proper alignment of the jaws. 

Jaw Repositioning Appliances

Orthodontists use these devices, often called splints, to adjust the jaw so it is in alignment in the mouth. This device, which is worn during sleep, fits over the upper and lower teeth and gently forces the lower jaw forward by approximately 8 to 10 mm, so the lower teeth end up in front of the upper teeth.

Patients who suffer from the pain of temporomandibular disorders (TMD and TMJ) can often be helped with a jaw-repositioning appliance.   


In some cases, early orthodontic intervention with headgear can help prevent jaw surgery later. Headgear is a device consisting of a strap that is placed around the back of the head and attached to a metal wire in the front of the mouth. It works by putting tension in the necessary places so the bite is corrected and the jaw is aligned properly. This is another reason for getting children started with orthodontic visits early. 


These devices, both fixed and removable, are prescribed when an active orthodontic treatment plan is completed. The retainer prevents the teeth from returning to their previously misaligned positions and is usually worn for graduated periods until it is only worn at night. 

These devices are manufactured for each patient’s needs and fit against the roof of the mouth or along the backside of the bottom teeth. A metal wire then runs across the outside of the teeth to keep them in place. Newer versions of the retainer are constructed as a plastic aligner and are almost invisible in the mouth.

Space Maintainers

If a baby tooth is lost too early, the teeth around that open space will try to fill it. During early orthodontic visits, the orthodontist can use space maintainers to keep the space open for an adult tooth that will erupt later. This will allow the adult teeth to come in properly.

The space maintainer is a band attached to the two teeth on either side of the open space. The band is stretched across the gap to keep it from being filled in by those two teeth near it. Until more baby teeth fall out, the space maintainer is kept in place.

Lip & Cheek Bumpers

Lip/cheek bumpers are small thin wires covered in plastic with small bands that go around the back of two molars on either side of the mouth. This holds a wire in place to lessen pressure on the teeth from the lips or cheeks.

These bumpers help orthodontic patients who have uneven bites or minimal space in their lower arch. The bumpers can be an interim step between braces or aligners and the resolution for spacing issues.


Elastic bands are used by orthodontists to assist various types of braces in moving teeth to an aligned position. They attach to hooks on braces or buttons on some clear aligners and stretch from the lower to the upper jaw in a pre-determined pattern. Your orthodontist is highly trained in guiding the movement of individual teeth or even groups of teeth while preventing other teeth from moving out of their correct alignment.

Orthodontists Do Much More Than Braces!

Many people think that orthodontists only handle braces to straighten teeth and correct alignment problems. In fact, these highly trained professionals are responsible for ensuring patients can eat, speak, and chew properly for life. 

As you can see, their work is done using a wide variety of devices available to them, such as palatal extenders, space maintainers, elastic bands, and jaw-repositioning appliances, just to name a few.

Here at Reed & Sahlaney Orthodontics, we are the trusted local provider of a wide range of orthodontic services for patients in Central PA, meeting a variety of needs to give you the straight, beautiful smile you are looking for.

To learn more about the orthodontic treatment options available to you, contact our team today!