Understanding simple things, like the
difference between orthodontists and dentists
, can leave patients confused and disillusioned, especially when there’s a mountain of conflicting information to get through.
Bombarded with seemingly contradictory perceptions and opinions, it’s any wonder people close their eyes and hope for the best when making a decision about treatment. Or worse, they do nothing at all.
While this might make for a more manageable decision in the short term, down the track, it’s definitely not an approach you want to take with anything orthodontic or dental.
Why? Because long term, making ill-informed decisions cost you, both in health and financial terms.
I know this because as an orthodontist who has practiced as a dentist, and as a patient who’s experienced specialist orthodontic treatment, I feel qualified to provide an opinion that will clear up the confusion.
Bottom line: I understand the differences between orthodontists and dentists.
Are we splitting hairs?
In many ways, I understand how the distinction between orthodontists and dentists might seem like splitting hairs to a person who hasn’t delved into the detail or hasn’t needed specialist orthodontic treatment.
However, here’s what I know: anyone like me who’s had life-changing (literally) orthodontic treatment that’s improved their physical profile and enhanced physical comfort (i.e. made life easier and kept them healthier) will attest to the benefits of quality orthodontic treatment. Done well, it transforms people’s lives.
It’s true, in some ways, orthodontists and dentists do similar things.
Both professionals have a bachelor degree in dentistry (five years study) and can advise a patient about overall oral teeth and gum health.
Both can fit orthodontic appliances, such as braces and Invisalign aligners, however a dentist is not a specialist in orthodontics.
And while an orthodontist has been a dentist (a function of that five years of undergraduate study we mentioned earlier), a dentist is not an orthodontist.
In practical terms, an orthodontist has completed an additional three years of study through a doctorate degree, focusing solely on orthodontics. Heard the theory it takes a person 10,000 hours to master a certain skill? Well that’s what sets a specialist orthodontist apart from a dentist.
Yes it’s true, some orthodontic treatment can be accessed through a general dentist, but a general dentist’s strengths are not in orthodontics. They are in working with you to maintain general oral health and address issues that won’t be addressed by an orthodontist.
For example, you do not go to the orthodontist for your regular oral hygiene check. Equally, you do not go to you dentist to correct major bite issues that are affecting you every time you eat.
For the best results, orthodontists and dentists work together for patients, but orthodontics is a specialist area and we should maybe understand it a little before deciding if we’re splitting hairs.
What is orthodontics?
Orthodontics is a branch of dentistry that deals specifically with straightening teeth and ensuring jaws are aligned correctly. An orthodontist is trained specifically in the movement of teeth and bite issues.
Teeth and bite issues are significant considerations in your oral and overall health.
They are both important to ensure your mouth functions properly when eating and chewing. If teeth are crooked or jaws are misaligned, digestive problems can arise (if you’re unable to chew your food properly) as well as speech problems. Oral hygiene issues, such as gingivitis (gum disease), can emerge if you’re unable to clean your teeth properly.
Understanding the detail around these issues is the work of your orthodontist.
He or she brings experience, knowledge and skills that come from being highly focused in a particular area. Apart from the additional study, seeing and treating the similar issues in all patients, it’s possible to bring a level of refinement that’s just not possible if you’re only doing orthodontic work with one in ten patients.
I explain it to my patients like this: although your GP can deliver your baby, you wouldn’t have your GP deliver your baby. You go to a specialist obstetrician. It’s the same with orthodontic work. Given the end result of your orthodontic treatment is determined ultimately by the skill of the orthodontist, it makes sense to work with the best practitioner you can.
And a final note to self: there are risks associated with all treatments. If you see a specialist – your orthodontist in this case – the chance of those risks eventuating is greatly reduced.
Is this splitting hairs? I don’t think so.
Still have questions? We love hearing from patients who want to know more.
Call Dr Sarah to understand the difference a specialist orthodontist can make to you.
Dr Sarah Dan is an orthodontist and the founder of Specialty Orthodontics. Through her experience as a clinician and having orthodontic treatment herself, Sarah truly understands the orthodontics from the patient’s perspective. She ‘gets’ it and has developed her unique 5-Step Process to help patients navigate the treatment journey to a confident, beautiful smile.