Orthodontist Vs Dentist and Other Related Professions
There is a huge distinction between an orthodontist and dentist. However, many people are still confused. This blog post will help put an end to that confusion once and for all. If you are among those who do not know the difference between an orthodontist or an orthodontic specialist and a dentist, then you have come to the right place.
Learning how they differ, what they can do for you, and all other facts will help you figure out which professional to go to. Let’s begin.
The Difference Between The Dental Professions
Orthodontists and dentists indeed share several similarities. They even work together so that your overall oral health will be improved. You address them both as doctors, and they both have nice, friendly smiles.
But in reality, they are not the same and work in very different ways:
- Dentists treat and diagnose a broad range of oral health problems.
- Orthodontists are a dental specialist focused on special issues, especially teeth misalignment and improper bite patterns.
For patients to make the right decisions based on their oral health issues, they should know the key differences between a dentist and orthodontist. The last thing you want is to go to a dentist only to find that you need an orthodontist.
So, let’s expand on what a dentist can do for you:
- You can think of your dentist as your family general practitioner.
- Dentists are skilled and knowledgeable in their profession. They are able to diagnose and treat common diseases and other general problems that affect the health of your teeth, gums, and mouth.
- Before an individual becomes a dentist, he or she should complete a General Dental Degree first.
- Dentists are experts who understand what everyone needs to improve their oral health, and by everyone, it means all ages. They know how to provide general dental care, maintenance, and treatment for children, teens, adults, and seniors.
- Dentists are not just for general care; they can also perform specific dental procedures, especially cosmetic ones. Some examples are tooth whitening, crowns, and veneers.
Now, let us talk about orthodontists and how they differ from dentists:
- Orthodontists are dental specialists. They complete the same general degree as dentists, but they continue their studies for at least three more years in full-time university education to a masters level. This consists of education and hands-on practice involving orthodontics and its other areas. These include facial growth and development, biomechanics, and biology.
- Orthodontists typically hold a General Dental Degree, along with their Specialist Orthodontic Degree.
- As experts in facial growth and development, they can help diagnose and treat bad bites and misaligned jaws. But many people recognise them as professionals who correct crooked teeth.
- Just like dentists, orthodontists have patients of all ages, although kids are not normally referred to them until the age of seven or eight.
Still, confused? Here are the similarities between the two:
- Both dentists and orthodontists give importance to each patient’s oral care.
- A dentist works in a dental office, and an orthodontist can do the same while also providing the same care as the former.
- They are both considered doctors.
- Dentists and orthodontists deal with all things relating to teeth and gums.
What’re the Main Differences Between an Orthodontist Vs Dentist?
- An orthodontist needs additional schooling after completing Dentistry. It’s like a doctor or a general practitioner obtaining added education to become a surgeon.
- A dentist can refer a patient to an orthodontist and vice versa. Usually, if the patient has a problem with the alignment of the teeth or needs improvement of the bite, the dentist will recommend an orthodontist.
- An orthodontist can also refer a patient to a dentist if the patient’s main issues involve tooth decay, gum disease, and root canals. While orthodontists can also provide these services, patients can simply head to the dental office for fundamental to intermediate treatments, including bridges, veneers, and crowns.
Are All Orthodontists Dentists?
The short and simple answer to this question is a resounding “yes.” All orthodontists, such as Dr Anthony Hopkins of Oasis Orthodontics, are dentists. However, not all dentists are orthodontists.
Dentists are knowledgeable and skilled. Their education and training should never be underestimated. However, there are other areas of dentistry beyond dental schools. An example of these areas is orthodontics. A specialist in Orthodontics means that additional dental education is required. It is typically completed three years after dental school through an accredited program.
An orthodontist studies a specific specialty. After finishing the speciality education, they can use the title ‘Specialist in Orthodontics’
Orthodontists are not the only dental specialists out there.
Other examples are:
- Endodontists who specialise mostly in root canals
- Paediatric dentists who care for the oral health of people under the age of 21
- Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons who are well-versed in surgeries of the mouth, face, and jaw
- Periodontists who treat gum disease
- Prosthodontists who deal with restoring peoples’ teeth.
As mentioned above, an orthodontist is a specialist whose primary focus is on the bite. When we speak of “bite,” it denotes how the teeth meet and whether or not the function properly. Improper or incorrect bite means that there is something wrong with the way the upper and lower teeth meet. Therefore, it should be corrected. Orthodontists treat misaligned teeth for cosmetic and functional reasons. Usually, bad alignment can cause jaw problems over time.
General dentists have received a licence to practice general dentistry. In Australia, dentists can also provide specialty care. For example, a dentist can perform a root canal even though it is the job of an endodontist. Dentists can extract a tooth without needing to be an oral surgeon. Also, a dentist can provide aligners or braces for moving teeth without being an orthodontist. Even without formal training after dental school, some specialty services can be done by a general dentist.
However, you should be aware that the Australian Society of Orthodontists (ASO) does not recommend seeing a dentist or anyone who is not a specialist orthodontist for straightening teeth. It is true that the services can be relatively cheaper, but you could risk your safety and health. Although a dentist is a professional, it does not mean they know what they are doing when it comes to more complex cases involving misaligned teeth.
To check if your orthodontist is indeed an orthodontist and not a dentist, you can look him or her up through the Dental Board of Australia and should be listed as a Specialist. You can also find the registration details of your orthodontist through the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). When you enter the name, do not forget to select Dental Practitioner. In the results, it should say that the person is a “specialist dentist,” guaranteeing that the professional is indeed an orthodontist or another specialty.
What Does It Mean to Be an Orthodontist?
Teeth and jaw misalignment are not a rare occurrence. Nine out of 10 people are said to have at least slight misalignment issues with their teeth. And about 75% of the population does not have enough room for wisdom teeth to grow properly.
A lot of people choose to live with these problems for fear of the expense associated with straightening teeth. Some are also concerned about the duration of the treatment, such as braces, which last several months to a few years. But many do not know that there are far heavier consequences than just losing confidence in smiling because of crooked teeth. When the teeth do not align correctly, it can lead to several issues that affect speech, chewing or eating, and even physical health.
Orthodontics is not something new. It has been around since the mid-1800s. One of the most recognised contributors is Edward Angle, who is considered as the first orthodontist. He was the one who created the very first system for malocclusion classification, which is still utilised up to this day. Another is Norman William Kingsley, who was a dentist in the 19th century. He was among the proponents of orthodontic treatments, as well as therapy for cleft palate.
Braces during their time were mostly designed with metal, which was wrapped around each tooth. It was the same methodology used until the mid-1970s. Thankfully, advancements were introduced, and adhesives came into view. These adhesives allowed dental professionals to bond brackets to the teeth.
Even before new technologies emerged, there has always been one way to define what an orthodontist does. The clue is right in the name. An orthodontist has the root word “ortho,” which is a Greek word that means “correct” or “straight.” Meanwhile, “dontic” has something to do with the teeth.
What Do Orthodontists Do?
Being an orthodontist means the professional is a specialist with a focus on correcting bites, straightening of teeth, and occlusion, among others. Misalignment is not something to take lightly. There are debilitating issues associated with it, including speech defects, chewing difficulty, and improper or inadequate oral hygiene.
The following is a brief overview of the most common issues that orthodontists often deal with:
- Anteroposterior Deviations: An example of this issue is an underbite, which means that the lower teeth are in front of the upper teeth. The opposite is an overbite where the upper teeth are further forward than the lower ones. These deviations can cause problems in speaking and chewing.
- Aesthetic Problems: There are some cases where the patient’s whole face is seriously affected by a bad bite. An orthodontist can help restructure the jaw by realigning the teeth, lips, and the face to create a beautiful smile.
- Overcrowding: Orthodontists mostly treat problems relating to overcrowding. It is when the jawbone space is not enough, which limits the ability of adult teeth to erupt correctly. Often, it results in malpositioned teeth. Therefore, the orthodontist has to use suitable treatments and devices to realign teeth.
General dentists typically refer their patients to orthodontists when the teeth are not straight. It is especially true when the teeth affect them negatively or perhaps in the future. An improper bite may not be serious today, but it can become such over time, usually creating great discomfort. But even if the patient is not in pain, they may simply want to improve their smile with straighter teeth.
To realign jaws and teeth, an orthodontist will provide the right set of treatment. But first, a thorough examination will be performed using different technologies, such as panoramic X-rays, bite impressions, or newer systems like intraoral scanners.
After the examination, the orthodontist will choose what treatment to use.
The top choices often include:
- Braces: The conventional braces involve brackets and archwires. Brackets are those that are attached to each tooth while the wires are those that connect the brackets to one another. Dental braces can be metal and ceramic.
- Headgear: The device is mostly for correcting a developmental or an anteroposterior issue, such as prominent top teeth. They come with dental braces, along with the headgear (also known as facemask). It is worn around the head like a helmet. And it is attached to the braces. It can be uncomfortable to wear, especially for children, but it is effective in encouraging teeth and the jawbone to align.
- Retainers: Once the teeth have realigned after dental braces or headgear, a retainer will take their place. Retainers help “retain” the state of the teeth. Even after wearing braces, there is a chance that your teeth will move again, causing misalignment. Therefore, a retainer should be worn to strengthen the straightening effect and to ensure the teeth will stay in their new places. Retainers are often worn for several hours each day for a few months and then just while you sleep after that period. The orthodontist will tell you how often you should wear your retainers.
- Jaw Repositioning Appliances: These devices are also known as splints, which adjust the jaw to ensure its structure will perform naturally. The appliance is used for patients with temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).
- Palatal Expanders: The expander is for widening the curve of the jaw, particularly the upper one. The appliance is a plastic tray fitted on the roof of the mouth for aligning bones and joints.
- Lip and Cheek Bumpers: Some patients feel pain or discomfort because of how their cheeks and lips are structured. These bumpers are utilised to keep these parts of the face away from the teeth, which, therefore, eliminate or at least reduce pressure.
An orthodontist can work together with a dentist or another specialist to ensure that the oral health of the patient is in the best condition.
Comparing an Orthodontist with Other Dental Experts
Now that you know the differences between an orthodontist and dentist are, let’s take a look at other dental specialists.
1. Dental Surgeon vs Orthodontist
Orthodontists and dental (or oral) surgeons have the same responsibilities of taking care of their patients who have gum, teeth, and jaw issues. Both can own a practice and even team up together. The scope of duties, however, depends on the patient. If an orthodontist sees that a patient requires jaw surgery during an examination, the patient may be referred to a surgeon to correct the issue.
As the name suggests, an oral surgeon is someone who performs surgery on patients for various oral and facial issues. Sedation or local anaesthesia may be administered solely by the surgeon because he or she is certified to do multiple forms of sedation.
Aside from knowledge in dentistry, an oral surgeon has extended understanding of the throat, nose, and ear. Surgeons operate on patients with TMJ pain and soft tissue problems. They are required to complete a doctoral degree. Additionally, they are the only dental professionals needed to finish residency training in a hospital.
Certain responsibilities include:
- Affixing permanent dental implants
- Positioning or removing wisdom teeth and other types of teeth
- Assisting patients with sleep apnoea through surgery on the jaws or tongue
- Performing surgical removal of infected teeth
Oral surgeons, just like orthodontists, also deal with underbites and overbites. An orthodontist may also perform surgery in some cases, but it’s quite rare. Patients are often referred to dental surgeons for the treatment.
2. Orthodontist vs Endodontist
Also known as the tooth root doctor, an endodontist performs a root canal. This professional is highly trained and understands the functions, effects, and causes of dental diseases and injuries relating to the dental pulp or tooth nerve. When the soft inner tissue of the teeth is infected, it can cause sensitivity and pain.
An endodontist is where you should go, not an orthodontist if you are dealing with a root canal issue. Endodontists specialise in its therapy and treatment called apicoectomy, which is more on treating the inside of the tooth. Tooth decay happens when such a problem is left untreated. Patients complain about the pain caused by infection or inflammation.
3. Orthodontist vs Oral and Maxillofacial Radiologist vs Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon
A radiologist and a surgeon are not the same. An orthodontist may also be well-versed in radiology or taking and interpreting radiographic images, such as MRI and CT scans. These images are utilised to help diagnose and manage a patient’s oral disease, condition, or disorder.
A radiologist is a dentist first who studied the interpretation of radiographic results for different conditions involving the neck, head, face, and jaws. Becoming an oral and maxillofacial radiologist requires completion of a residency from an accredited program. The radiologist should complete training to enhance knowledge on techniques and understanding of images from different modalities, such as CT, MRI, ultrasound, and CBCT.
On the other hand, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon is more of a specialist with a medical degree and extra training. We have already discussed the dental surgeon above, which is also similar to this specialist. However, the difference is that an oral and maxillofacial surgeon has added knowledge in the mouth and jaw (as referred by the term “maxillofacial”). Therefore, it includes knowing about the bones and soft tissues in the mentioned areas.
A person is referred to this type of surgeon for any of the following reasons:
- Needing treatment for congenital jaw deformities because of an injury or illness
- Surgical correction for the cleft lip or palate
- Surgical correction for facial trauma to the nose, cheekbones, and jaws
- Surgical realignment of the jaws
An oral and maxillofacial surgeon can perform surgery for impacted wisdom teeth.
4. Orthodontist vs Periodontist
While orthodontists are teeth alignment experts, periodontists are recognised for their expertise in the gum or periodontal disease and issues that arise as a result. Some examples are gum inflammation and teeth roots.
Gum inflammation can become severe, and it is when people typically seek the help of a periodontist. This specialist knows what to do with soft gum tissue problems, which can be due to plaque, tartar, periodontitis, and gingivitis. Typical treatments include deep cleaning and prescribing certain medications.
5. Orthodontist vs Prosthodontist
Another specialist often compared to an orthodontist is a prosthodontist. Although they are both under the dental industry, they are quite different from each other. A prosthodontist is someone who specialises mostly in repairing natural teeth and deals with the replacement of missing teeth. General dentists can perform these tasks, too. However, a prosthodontist does it on a major scale, using dentures and crowns for replacing extracted or missing teeth.
A prosthodontist is often a prominent professional when dental implants are involved. In many cases, a prosthodontist can further their experience and studies by training to work with patients with deformities of the neck and head. They may also know how to replace missing parts of the jaws and even other sides of the face.
6. Other Specialties
- Dental Anaesthesiologist: Recently recognised as a dental specialty, an anaesthesiologist helps a patient deal with pain and discomfort by using local or general sedation before any treatment.
- Certified Specialist in Oral Pathology: As an oral health care provider, this specialist studies the causes of diseases that have an effect on the oral structures of the jaws, teeth, and others. Pathologists examine and diagnose tissues, lesions, and biopsies, which are then sent to another oral health care provider.
- Paediatric Dentist: Also known as a pedodontist, a paediatric dentist specialises in treating, diagnosing, and caring for dental problems in children. Typically, parents contact them from the age of one up to early adulthood. By seeing a dentist early, specific issues can be avoided or treated, including crooked and crowded teeth.
Orthodontist Education: What to Do to Become an Orthodontist
Before an orthodontist becomes an orthodontist, he or she should first become a dentist. In Australia, it is crucial for a person to go through two years (or more) of clinical experience as a dentist. The training provides orthodontists with both theoretical and hands-on experience in treatments involved in general dentistry, such as extractions, teeth cleaning, and fillings.
An orthodontist should complete a four to five-year degree at a university before working as a dentist. Then, an orthodontic specialist degree follows, along with a two-year clinical experience.
Currently, the Australian Dental Council, in association with the Australian Society of Orthodontists, recognise only five Australian universities that offer orthodontics:
- University of Adelaide
- University of Western Australia
- University of Melbourne
- University of Sydney
- University of Queensland
The ADC and ASO also recognise the orthodontic courses offered by New Zealand’s University of Otago. Those who complete the training are allowed to practice in Australia.
After completing the orthodontics degree, an orthodontist is required to register with the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (APHRA) before they can begin to practice.
Specialist Orthodontist Areas and How They Further Their Career
One way to advance in this career path is to be certified by the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (APHRA). This way, the orthodontist can start a practice and accept patients.
Alternatively, an orthodontist can opt to go forward in education degrees, such as a PhD. Getting this title is rewarding because it offers additional opportunities in the occupation, education, and research. Only a few orthodontists go on to this path. Typically, when it happens, they want to be a member of a university’s faculty. If it is your career choice, you should be passionate about teaching. One great opportunity is that you have the chance to become a director of an orthodontics program.
Another option is dentofacial orthopaedics, which is about the correction of the facial jaw and bone. Since the teeth are not the only ones that can suffer misalignment, dentofacial orthopaedics can be a great career choice. It is related to orthodontics and can expand work and client opportunities since this area deals with facial bone growth through orthopaedic appliances for the face or jaws.
Dentofacial orthopaedics is mostly beneficial for children. Therefore, you should like treating kids and dealing with parents because they will become your main clients if you go this path.