Dentist or Orthodontist? Is there a difference?

Recently I was talking with a close friend who mentioned that her boss had left work early that day for an appointment with her orthodontist. ‘Why use a fancy name?’ she said ‘after all it’s just a dental appointment’.

Well, no not exactly, and this little conversation reminded me of how many people are still unsure about the difference.

Firstly it’s worth emphasising that both of these professionals are important for your oral health and secondly that all orthodontists are dentists but only around 6% of dentists are orthodontists *

So what is the difference?

Orthodontists and dentists both complete the same dental training of 5 years to gain a degree in dentistry. They are then free to practice and usually spend some years building their experience in general dentistry. Some opt to remain in general dentistry, and others decide to extend their training and specialise in orthodontics.

Therefore both are concerned with helping you to maintain healthy teeth and gums and prevent disease or damage. An orthodontist will have additionally completed further training that qualifies them as a specialist in working with moving and aligning teeth.

The NHS describe the main reasons we may want to investigate orthodontic treatment:

  • Correction of crowding of teeth
  • Straightening of teeth
  • Correction of your bite so that front and back teeth meet evenly
  • Reducing the chance of damage to prominent teeth
  • Improving your appearance, especially your smile

Just as we would want the knowledge and experience of a specialist doctor for particular and serious medical issues (e.g. heart, bones, cancer) rather than relying on a GP, then it can be beneficial to our oral health to consult an orthodontic specialist for help with particular or serious dental issues.

Dentists can carry out orthodontic treatment and some will have carried out some further training so that they can be described as a Dentist with a Special Interest (DwSI) in orthodontics, but an orthodontist will have undergone an additional 3 years of education and specific training to understand the face, jaw and teeth and how they align. They will be experts in using orthodontic equipment and techniques such as braces to resolve particular problems, they will have up-to-date knowledge in the rapidly developing field of orthodontics.

However it’s important to carry on seeing your dentist when you are undergoing orthodontic treatment so that your oral hygiene and gum health are maintained well.

So I told my friend ‘Dentists are concerned with healthy teeth and gums, orthodontists too, however an orthodontist will have much deeper knowledge and skills in aligning teeth and jaws, ensuring you retain a healthy bite and a great smile’. She often says that her boss doesn’t smile very often – maybe she will soon!

* American Association of Orthodontics Statistic.

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