Dentist vs orthodontist. Whats the difference?
As a child growing up, a dentist appointment gave little cause for concern. It usually involved nothing more than a quick examination with an oddly shaped mirror, swirling funny pink liquid around your month and getting a sticker for good behaviour. It would often be followed by a treat from your parents and maybe a cool new toothbrush. All in all it was a fun experience and a good excuse for a few hours off school!
Then one day, your enjoyable little appointment takes an unexpected turn. As you are going through the usual motions and planning your after dentist treat, you are told this time you need a special appointment to see an orthodontist. At this stage in life, you have no idea what an orthodontist is, but it sounds scary. It might simply be that that word itself for a child is long, difficult to pronounce and sounds complicated. It also conjures up concerns that something is wrong. Why can’t my dentist help me anymore? Is there something wrong with me? Who is this mystical creature that wants to look at my mouth?
Around this time, we notice that some of our friends are starting to wear braces. This seems to coincide with mention of this mysterious ‘orthodontist’ person. Suddenly we put two and two together, jumping to conclusions our looming orthodontist appointment can only mean one thing. A mouth full of metal is on the horizon.
As an adult, looking back on these times growing up, we are grateful that our parents were able to have our teeth treated during our formative years. It certainly saves a lot of inconvenience as a grown up, when quite frankly there are so many other ‘adulting’ things to do. But wouldn’t you have wished you had known or understood better at that time, what the difference between a dentist vs orthodontist was? Maybe you are still not sure now.
Here is a quick breakdown of the differences, to hopefully put your mind to rest or help explain to your child.
Dentist vs Orthodontist
Whilst both terms describe a doctor who specialises in oral health, an orthodontist is a dentist, but a dentist is not necessarily an orthodontist. Confusing eh?
If you imagine that a dentist is like your GP. They have chosen to follow a path in their profession which provides frontline, first response assistance to a concerning health problem. They will also monitor, assess and propose practices and treatments to maintain a good level of general health to avoid problems emerging later down the line. This is exactly the same as a dentist.
A dentist is a broad medical practitioner who you visit for periodic check ups to quickly identify if there are any causes for concern. If all is well they will provide some advice and guidance to follow for the intervening period until your next appointment. If they happen to spot any decline in your oral health such as cavities, gum disease or damaged teeth they can quickly respond with treatment.
On the other hand, an orthodontist is one type of dental specialist. You wouldn’t rush to an orthodontist with toothache. Without seeing your dentist you wouldn’t know the root (pardon the pun) of the problem. However, following a dentist appointment, you may be referred to an orthodontist as they are the specialist best placed to resolve an issue that your dentist has spotted.
If your dentist has identified an issue with the alignment of your teeth or jaw, they are likely to point you in the direction of an orthodontic specialist. An orthodontist has access to methods of diagnosis, procedures and equipment that are unique to their branch of dentistry. They bring an additional layer of knowledge and experience to general practitioners.
What does a dentist do?
Some dentists can provide orthodontic treatments, but it is not their area of specialism since they treat a wide range of varied conditions on a daily basis. Typically, you will visit and receive treatment from your dentist for the following instances:
● X Rays
● Cavities and fillings
● Root Canal
● Oral Hygiene
● Gum disease
● Dental Emergencies
What does an orthodontist do?
An orthodontist, however, is an expert in their niche. They monitor the development of the face, teeth and jaw, which is why it is quite common to see them in our younger years. They are trained to deliver very specific techniques using complex tools, equipment and procedures. Your dentist may refer you to an orthodontist in the following circumstances:
A malocclusion is when the upper and lower arches of teeth are misaligned when they join together, causing a bite issue. Aside from looking crooked, malocclusion can cause problems with chewing, speech and give jaw and head pain. If your dentist is referring to an underbite, overbite, crossbite issue, this is due to a malocclusion.
There are times when we have too many teeth to fit the size of our dental arch. This can cause overcrowding and overlaps as there is simply not enough space for our teeth to grow straight. A crowded mouth can also lead to other oral health issues since debris and plaque can develop in areas that are super hard to reach, causing tooth decay.
Problems with the jaw can be as a result of teeth alignment but can also be as a result of accident, injury, birth defects or TMJ disorders. An uneven jaw can lead to some quite uncomfortable, painful symptoms, which you orthodontist is able to address through a unique treatment plan.
Over the last few decades, there has been a huge evolution in the scope of dental braces. Since the reasons for needing braces are so varied, braces cannot function as a one size fits all approach. An orthodontist has a range of braces, retainers and appliances that are matched for each individual case.
Education and Training
Not only do they perform different procedures, dentists and orthodontists have also completed a different branch of education and training.
A dentist must complete 5 years of undergraduate study at University. This provides the foundation in all aspects of tooth, gum and mouth health, teaching how to operate technical dental equipment and perform dental procedures.
This is followed by 2 years postgraduate practical dental training in practices or hospitals.
An orthodontist must first qualify as a dentist as above, before they are able to advance in their specialist area.
This training takes a further 3 years of study and consists of both academic and practical experience. At the end of this Orthodontist training programme, they are required to sit an examination to qualify as a specialist orthodontist.
Once an orthodontist has completed their specialist training, they are more than likely only going to practice orthodontic procedures, so that their skills and experience continues to develop over time.
When should I see a dentist vs an orthodontist?
Whilst there is some overlap between the two, only your dentist can decide if you needed to see an orthodontist. Your dentist is always your first port of call.
For the sake of time and convenience, at Banning Dental Clinics we offer a full range of dental specialisms, including orthodontics. This means that our dentists and orthodontists can work hand in hand for the benefit of our patients, without needing to refer them onwards for outside consultation.
In this way, you don’t need to worry if, why or when you should see one or another as we will provide this service as a seamless transition in your dental treatment.
Start by booking a routine dental check and we can quickly and effectively advise you from there.