Many patients are confused about what the difference is between a dentist and an orthodontist. They're both dentists, right? Something to do with braces maybe? Given some dentists do offer orthodontic services such as teeth straightening it's understandable that patients are unsure about this. Understanding the difference is important so that you can ensure you receive the best treatment.
What exactly is orthodontics?
Orthodontics is a specialised area of dental care which involves analysing the alignment of your teeth and jaws before carrying out specialised treatments to improve this alignment. It's a very complicated area where multiple tools can be used and personalised to your unique situation.
What do dentists and orthodontists have in common?
Both dentists and orthodontists have a five year degree in dentistry. In this time they study the anatomy and function of the jaws and teeth, learn about problems or disease processes that can impact your dental health and how to treat these problems. Both dentists and orthodontists need to be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, also known as AHPRA. AHPRA make sure that all health care practitioners in Australia meet appropriate standards in their education and practice.
So what's different about orthodontists?
An orthodontist's education and experience are beyond that of a dentist. As the Australian Society of Orthodontics explains, to be able to register with AHPRA as an orthodontist a person needs to meet extra criteria via further specialised study and practice. First, they need to have worked as a dentist for two years. This gives them sufficient experience in common problems and treatments that dentists manage as well as a good understanding of how to help their patients maintain good oral health. After this, they need to complete a three year doctorate degree in orthodontics. This is an advanced degree where they learn about the different problems that can occur in the alignment of the teeth and jaws in different age groups, how to choose the correct treatment and how to carry out these techniques to a high standard. Only four universities in Australia currently offer this degree.
How come some dentists offer orthodontic treatment?
As demand for teeth alignment treatment has increased more and more dentists are offering orthodontic treatments. To offer these treatments a dentist will attend a brief course to learn about how to carry out their chosen technique, however, their training will be much more limited than what an orthodontist will have learnt. An orthodontist's breadth and depth of knowledge about orthodontics make them the experts in dental alignment. They can select from a number of techniques to give you the best individualised treatment, whereas a dentist may only be able to offer the one or two options of alignment which they have received brief training in.
If you have any further questions or concerns ask your orthodontist, as they will be happy to explain what is special about their training and how they can use it to give you the best treatment possible.