How is an orthodontist different from a dentist?

This is a common question, especially among people who are considering braces for themselves or their children.  The basic answer is that “An orthodontist has two to three years of specialized education beyond dental school and is a specialist at straightening teeth and insuring proper form and function.” This means an orthodontist does not just perform these functions a few times per day or on an occasional basis; this is what an orthodontist does all day, every day.

It may be helpful to think of it this way.  You have a primary care physician who deals with your general health.  However, if you had a very specialized issue, your primary care physician would refer you to a doctor who specializes in that type of case.  This benefits the patient because a specialist has more experience with the specific issue and will have specialized knowledge to deal with it; the specialist will also be more familiar with medications, technology, and types of treatment relevant to the issue.

It’s the same kind of situation with dental care and orthodontic care.  For overall dental care, you see a dentist.  However, for issues related to “straightening teeth and insuring proper form and function,” you would see an orthodontist.

Some people question whether even simple cases require an orthodontist’s care.  The answer is a definitive yes, partly because a case may appear simple on the surface, but may ultimately prove to be quite complex.  “Orthodontists have the education, experience, and expertise to recognize the difference between a simple case and a complex one.  And when a case is challenging, orthodontists know what to do.”

The beginning of an orthodontist’s education is the same as a dentist’s education.  The additional education follows graduation from dental school; it consists of “two to three academic years of education in an accredited orthodontic residence program.”  It is important to note that the designation of orthodontist is limited to those who have completed this formal education beyond dental school.

This additional education yields an ability to specialize in a very specific way: “Orthodontists are dentistry’s specialists in straightening teeth and aligning jaws to create optimal function and form.”

As specialists in this area, orthodontists are able to focus completely on orthodontic issues.  This means that they can remain updated on new technology and innovative treatment methods.  As a result, they have the education, experience, and resources to respond to even the most challenging orthodontic condition.

Your dentist remains very important to your overall oral health.  Make sure you continue with regular dental visits; in fact, in some ways dental care is more important than ever when you are dealing with orthodontic issues.  The American Association of Orthodontists recommends thinking of this process as a “team effort involving you, your orthodontist, your dentist, and other dental specialists, as needed.”

If you have any additional questions about this issue, ask a staff member at Owl Orthodontics.  We’re always happy to answer questions or provide you with any information you need.  It’s part of our commitment to you.