If you are new to dental treatment or perhaps you’ve avoided visiting a dental professional for the past few years, it can be quite daunting to understand the differences between them.
Especially if you are registered at a practice that does both general dentistry, like topping up fillings and completing checkups, and orthodontic treatments that straighten teeth.
So, what exactly is the difference between the two and which do you need to see?
Although surprising to some, orthodontists and dentists are very different, both in terms of their qualifications and the treatments that they can carry out.
While both are considered doctors and work to correct issues in the teeth and gums, dentists also care for the jaw and nerves and consider issues from an all-around health perspective, while orthodontists are more concerned with the aesthetics of a smile – though not to the detriment of oral health.
Both orthodontists and dentists will complete a general dental degree, which is a medical qualification that takes around 5 years of study and gives the professional a bachelor’s degree – either a BDS or BChD.
This, however, is where the similarities end.
Dentists deliver general dental care, sometimes referred to as general dentistry, to patients of all ages, diagnosing and treating problems that occur.
They are similar to GPs in the sense that they have a broad level of knowledge in dental care and if they believe it is needed, will refer patients to orthodontists if they have problems with their alignment – just like your GP might refer you to specialist doctors if the situation calls for it.
This all-around focus requires enormous levels of experience and knowledge, especially as they will be expected to work with such a vast age range, from the very youngest patients who cannot yet communicate and comprehend fully, to the very oldest patients who may well have lost their natural teeth – and everyone in between.
Orthodontists, on the other hand, have completed an additional orthodontic qualification, a specialist orthodontic degree, which requires a further 3 years of postgraduate study.
Orthodontists are experts in teeth alignment and will diagnose and treat problems relating to dental development, uneven bites, occlusions, and the general aesthetics of a smile.
This means that orthodontists are also uniquely qualified to help patients who might have had a straight smile in the past but have experienced severe trauma that causes facial and dental irregularities.
Generally speaking, most patients are referred to an orthodontist, but some patients can self-refer to specific orthodontic clinics if they wish to improve their smile for cosmetic reasons alone.
As you would expect, the treatments offered by dentists and orthodontists vary widely, and unless your specific dental surgery has both resident dentists and orthodontists, you may need to attend a separate orthodontist for straightening treatment.
Dentists predominantly focus on maintaining your oral health, preventing problems, and addressing any health problems that may arise.
For this reason, they may offer a selection of preventative and restorative treatments and advice, including:
Some may also offer cosmetic treatments, like:
Orthodontic treatment does work to maintain the health of the mouth, but predominantly focuses on correcting the alignment of teeth and improving the bite.
Possible treatment areas include:
No matter your age or the condition of your teeth and mouth, everybody should regularly see a dentist – though the appointment schedule itself can depend on your oral health. This means that if you are prone to gum disease or tooth decay you may see a dentist twice a year, while those with healthier mouths could go as long as 18 months between visits.
Everyone doesn’t have to visit an orthodontist, on the other hand, as you may not have a problem with your bite or tooth alignment – so a general dentist is more than qualified to help you with your oral health.
You should see an orthodontist, however, if your dentist refers you, or the appearance of your teeth is making you unhappy.
One of the best solutions to finding both a dentist and an orthodontist is to choose a dental practice that does it all – from tooth straightening to cosmetic procedures and general dental treatments.
We’ll be in touch as soon as we can to help you care for your teeth for decades to come.