Although there are some similarities between orthodontists and dentists, there are a number of important differences that set them apart.
All orthodontists and dentists graduate from a dental school, but from there, orthodontists take a different path.
They take on additional work and further their education to specialize in straightening teeth. Similarly, medical doctors who want to specialize in a number of fields, such as cardiology or anesthesiology, will go on to do so after medical school. Therefore, orthodontists are essentially dentists with specialized, additional training.
After dental school, only the top students in the class are able to continue their education toward a specialty in orthodontics.
Acceptance into an orthodontic residency program is extremely competitive. Only the top 5% of dental school graduates are even considered for admission to an orthodontic residency.
For some orthodontic residency programs, as little as five out of the hundreds of doctors who apply are accepted.
Once accepted, orthodontists undergo an additional two to three years of full-time training concentrating on orthodontia including braces, bite problems, and straightening teeth.
Many regular dentists do not have this supplementary training. A doctor may only call himself or herself a true “orthodontist” once he or she successfully completes a rigorous residency program.
Can my family dentist straighten my teeth?
The short answer is yes. General dentists may be able to provide orthodontic care to patients. However, this answer comes with a caveat.
General dentists can provide orthodontic care to patients, provided they take continuing education seminars and acquire some experience in the subject.
For example, general dentists are required to attend workshops before being allowed to offer Invisalign.
The problem with these workshops or seminars is the lack of rigorous testing and examinations needed to truly learn the material in depth.
In the field of orthodontics, sometimes only a superficial understanding is not enough to correctly provide the best possible treatment for patients.
What should I ask my primary care dentist if he or she offers orthodontic treatment to me?
If your primary care dentist offers braces or Invisalign treatment to you, you should ask him or her the following 7 questions, as outlined in the video below.
Unlike general dentists, orthodontists focus solely on orthodontic care, which is their only specialty.
They perform daily teeth straightening procedures, stay up-to-date with the latest industry practices, purchase the latest equipment, and participate in continuing education classes focusing primarily on orthodontics.
Furthermore, an experienced orthodontist knows the best treatment method and customizes an approach for each patient, unlike doctors who might use cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all tactics.
Having a general dentist perform orthodontic work is like a general physician performing plastic surgery. It could be done, but would you risk it?
Should I choose a dentist or orthodontist for orthodontic care?
First, ask yourself a question: if someone has a heart condition, would they be treated by a primary care doctor or a cardiologist? Obviously, a cardiologist would have more specialization in matters of the heart. The same approach applies to teeth.
Although the choice is up to you, remember that orthodontists focus solely on orthodontic issues and will likely have more experience dealing with your specific case.
Unlike many dentists who might only develop short-term results and treatment plans, orthodontists undertake long-term care plans for patients beyond the length of their standard care.
As mentioned above, orthodontists and general dentists differ in education, knowledge, and experience. General dentists who offer orthodontic care do so after taking a few weekend seminars and night classes.
But that’s likely not enough for them to really design the best treatment approach. Many dentists who provide orthodontic solutions to their patients don’t have the necessary training and experience to plan a course of treatment as efficiently as orthodontists can.
Orthodontists better understand optimal treatment approaches (metal braces, Invisalign, ceramic braces, elastic shifting, etc.) and how to avoid complications.
Plus, an orthodontist is better suited to recommend such plans and to notice things a dentist might overlook.
Why risk your health and seek treatment from someone with less knowledge? Teeth are not hair, if cut incorrectly they will not grow back.