Orthodontic dentistry involves the science and treatment of tooth irregularity, inappropriate bites and facial growths. Practitioners have the ability to not only improve oral health but to also instill confidence in their patients by reinventing their smile. This field is constantly growing and progressing through innovative techniques and appliances. Orthodontics requires a keen eye and a skill in mechanics for treatment planning. If you are looking for a career that involves the art of crafting smiles and changing lives then orthodontics might be the field for you.
Mike Meru, DDS, M.S.
Southern California '09
Associate Orthodontist, West Jordan Modern Dentistry and Orthodontics
Salt Lake City, Utah
- Why did you choose to pursue this career path?
As a child I was very self-conscious about my smile, as I had an underbite and crooked teeth. It wasn’t until my orthodontist, Dr. Richard Mays, corrected my smile that I felt like I could smile with confidence. That experience changed the way I lived my life and how I felt about myself. From that point, I knew I wanted to give that same gift to others and it was a direct path to dental school and a residency in orthodontics.
- What does your typical day look like? Did some aspects of your job surprise you?
My day is pretty typical to most practicing orthodontists. I work in more boutique type practices so after starting work around 8 a.m., I have generally 50 or so patients scheduled throughout the day. I reserve my mornings for putting on and removing braces, while the afternoon gets extremely busy as kids get out of school and need their wires changed and braces tightened.
As far as surprises go, I find it interesting that as soon as some kids lie down in the chair, they think I’m an orthodontist/psychiatrist. On a daily basis, I hear about dating problems, how math and science are terrible, sibling fighting and a slew of other issues. It’s funny because I’m a total dental nerd and have no idea how to respond to these confessions.
- What challenges present themselves frequently in your specialty?
The challenges in orthodontics generally present themselves during the treatment planning part of the process, which for me, is the most exciting part of my job. The cases that I see that are the most tough are the craniofacial surgery cases (cleft palate and orthognathic surgeries), as well as large overbites where the patient prefers to have a non-surgical route of treatment. I also see a lot of adult interdisciplinary cases that I treat in conjunction with the dentist, periodontist, prosthodontist and surgeon.
- What makes your field unique?
Orthodontics is unique because it combines many of the other fields of dentistry into a result that is natural, functional and cosmetically beautiful. Patients for the most part love coming to see me!
- What additional training, credentials or licenses are required beyond dental school for your career? What additional training would you recommend beyond what is required?
To become an orthodontist, it is required to have a bachelor’s degree, a dental degree (DDS or DMD), as well as a certificate of orthodontics (gained through a residency—mine was three years). During my residency, I also was required to get a masters in craniofacial biology.
- What are current trends in your field? In what ways is it advancing?
Orthodontics is advancing all the time, and in most recent years we have seen an increase in the use of skeletal anchorage, also known as mini implants. These have helped to replace the use of hated appliances such as headgear and large bulky appliances. We’ve also seen the advent of very technical wires such as Heat Activated Nitinol that at room temperature is very flexible, and as it warms up to body temperature, gets stronger and more rigid. For me, this one wire itself replaced three that I used to use, thus shortening my treatment times.
- What skills are especially important in your field?
I think the most crucial part of orthodontics is a wide knowledge of the literature, as well as mechanics and physics such that I can plan cases and set them up for success from the beginning. Hand skills are also very important in orthodontics.
- What advice would you give to somebody interested in your career path?
The best advice I can give is to first make sure you love orthodontics. Observe a few different practitioners, pick their brains on how they live and read some articles on where orthodontics is going. If after all of that, you still love this field, then set your sights and your goals on getting into residency and make it happen. A mentor who is a resident or orthodontist is very helpful in tailoring your path to practice.