What is the difference between a Dentist and an Orthodontist?

As a treatment coordinator, when I sit down with prospective patients there is one common question I get asked time and time again. “What is the difference between my dentist and an orthodontist?”

Personally, I love answering this question.

There are so many specializations in dentistry, just as there are with medicine. You see your family doctor for your overall health, and when something is wrong, or needs to be explored further, your doctor refers you to a specialist. For example: if you are having heart trouble, your doctor will refer you to a cardiologist. (heart specialist) This specialist has gone through additional training in that area and can come up with a proper diagnosis and treatment plan to correct or manage your issue.

When you see your general dentist for the overall health of your teeth, and there is a more specialized area that needs to be addressed, they will refer you to a specialist like an endodontist (root specialist) periodontist (gum specialist) or an orthodontist (malocclusion specialist) to name a few.

The extensive training beyond dental school that a specialist like an orthodontist receives, gives them the ability and expertise to provide the absolute best treatment of even the most complicated cases, with the highest results possible.

These days there are so many general dentists practising orthodontics. I think this is where the confusion comes from. If my dentist can do braces, then why not just go there? Fair enough, but would you go to your family doctor for treatment of a brain tumour? Or would you seek out a specialist like an oncologist? (cancer doctor)

My guess…you would choose the specialist. The same should be said for orthodontics. Yes, a general dentist can take a course and learn to do braces, but the amount of training and skill, experience and knowledge is not at the same level as a certified orthodontist.

The best way to tell the difference between an orthodontist (specialist) and a general dentist who offers braces is to ASK! – Ask your dentist if they are a board certified orthodontist and where they completed this certification.

Differences between a Dentist and Orthodontist: 

An orthodontist completes an orthodontic residency program for 2-3 years after dental school.

Dental school only provides minimal orthodontic instruction.

Orthodontic residency programs provides intensive instruction of proper and safe tooth movement techniques and the guidance of dental, jaw and facial development. These extra years of schooling make the orthodontist the dental specialist in moving teeth and aligning jaws. This is the only focus of their practice.

Some reasons to see an orthodontist are:

You want a beautiful smile
– You feel a great smile will improve your self-esteem and self-confidence
– You want the best for your family
– Early or late loss of baby teeth
– Difficulty chewing or biting
– Mouth breathing
– Sucking the thumb or fingers, or other oral habits
– Crowded, misplaced or blocked-out teeth
– Jaws that shift, make sounds, protrude or are recessed
– Protruding teeth
– Teeth that meet in an abnormal way or don’t meet at all
– Facial imbalance or asymmetry (features out of proportion to the rest of the face)
– Grinding or clenching of teeth
– Inability to comfortably close lips
An orthodontist can diagnose and treat all of the above issues and more, I implore you choose a specialist for the best care for yourself and your family.

According to the American Association of Orthodontists:

 “All orthodontists are dentists, but only 6 percent of dentists are orthodontists.”

posted by: Laura Thomas – Treatment Coordinator and Dental Assistant with Liberty Orthodontic Centre – Markham Ontario

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