The difference between an orthodontist and a dentist is similar to the difference between your GP and a specialist such as a paediatrician or a cardiologist.
What is a dentist?
Like a GP, a dentist is a highly skilled practitioner who looks after your general oral health. A dentist can diagnose and treat problems that affect your teeth, mouth and gums. They can also perform cosmetic dentistry, doing things like tooth whitening, porcelain veneers and crowns. Dentists hold a Bachelor of Dental Science, which takes five years to complete.
What is an orthodontist?
An orthodontist is a registered dental specialist with expertise in facial growth and dental development. They diagnose and treat crooked teeth, bad bites and poorly aligned jaws. Like a dentist, an orthodontist completes a Bachelor of Dental Science, but then goes on to complete a further three years (5,000 hours) of full-time university training in orthodontics. This specialist orthodontic degree includes studying facial growth and development, biology and biomechanics.
What’s so complicated about moving teeth around?
It may be hard to imagine why moving teeth is complex. But in fact, orthodontists need a deep understanding of how the face grows and develops over time. They also need to understand how orthodontic treatment may impact on facial balance in individual patients (for example, removing teeth can reduce lip support and make the nose look bigger).
Additionally, orthodontists must have a very complex understanding of forces, force systems and how to deliver them to the teeth. This is called biomechanics, and it includes understanding the properties of different materials and how they work. For example, thermally-activated wires work at a certain temperature and below that, the force is reduced.
To get the right kind of treatment, it’s important to see a qualified orthodontist – because without a high level of expertise, making modifications in the mouth can have serious unintended consequences.
How can I find a qualified orthodontist?
You don’t need a referral from your dentist to see an orthodontist – you can find one and make an appointment yourself. It’s important to make sure you see a fully-qualified, registered orthodontist. Orthodontics Australia is a good place to start – use the Orthodontics Finderto search for an orthodontist near you.
Watch this video from the Orthodontics Australia which explains why orthodontic training is important: