Choosing an Orthodontist vs Dentist for Orthodontics

Treatments & Care

young female child having her teeth checked by an orthodontist

The orthodontist / dentist relationship can confuse patients. While dentists and orthodontists are both highly trained professionals who care for your mouth and teeth, this is where the similarities end. We’ll explain the difference between the two and answer the five questions we get asked the most


#1 Can Dentists do Orthodontics?

Some dentists offer basic orthodontic services to their patients. However, this doesn’t mean they are qualified orthodontists. The term ‘Orthodontist” can only be used by an individual who is registered as a Specialist by the Dental Board of Australia. Dentists have not completed the additional three years of full-time university study it requires to become an orthodontist. Therefore, they don’t have the same level of training and experience an orthodontist has.

When orthodontic treatment is undertaken, patients with similar problems may respond in different ways because of unique variations in growth or factors related to muscle and bone structure. Clinicians have to firstly recognise how the patient is responding and often have to “re-chart” the course of treatment. This is a critical point and one of the “Competencies and Proficiencies” outlined by the Dental Board of Australia to be recognised as a Specialist Orthodontist. A routine part of Specialist Orthodontic Training is to satisfy this process and comprehensive evaluation of all treated cases during training is mandatory.

When straightening teeth, diagnosing and treating irregularities of the face and jaw, you want to use a qualified orthodontist. The three years of specialist training ensures they can provide all forms of orthodontic treatment including plates and various types of braces and can deliver the highest standard of care for your family. Orthodontists can recognise issues with gum and tooth health that may require treatment by the general dentist before starting orthodontic treatment. The general dentist a key team member prior to, during and after orthodontic treatment.

A general dentist generally doesn’t have the benefit of consulting with other orthodontists on complex cases within their office. Orthodontists can work as a team to pool their knowledge and experience by speaking with each other about a patient’s treatment. It’s rare that a dentist has anyone else to refer to on difficult cases.

If you want to if check the provider you are considering using is a qualified and registered Specialist Orthodontist, you can visit the Orthodontics Australia database to do a quick search. Enter the provider’s name to see if they are a qualified orthodontist or not.

You can also check an orthodontists registration details with the government regulator for all health practitioners. Visit the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) website, enter the providers name and then select Dental Practitioner. An orthodontist has ‘specialist dentist’ appear after their name. Orthodontists aren’t the only specialist dentists. The AHPRA recognises 12 other types of dental specialists including paediatric dentistry, prosthodontics, endodontics, dento-maxillofacial radiology, periodontics and forensic odontology to name a few.

Orthodontists will display the Australian Society of Orthodontists (ASO) or Orthodontics Australia logo in the practice or on their website.


#2 Do Orthodontists Have to be Dentists First?

In Australia, orthodontists are required to have at least two years of clinical experience as a dentist before becoming an orthodontist. This ensures orthodontists have the theoretical and hands-on experience in general dentistry treatments like extractions, root canal treatment, fillings and teeth cleaning.

All dentists and orthodontists must complete a four to five year degree in dentistry at university before they can work as a dentist. For those dentists who want to complete the three year orthodontic specialist degree, they can return to university after their two years of clinical experience.

Only five universities in Australia offer orthodontic courses and all are accredited by the Australian Dental Council and reviewed by the Australian Society of Orthodontists. Those universities are University of Adelaide, University of Melbourne, University of Sydney, University of Queensland and the University of Western Australia. They also recognise the course offered by the University of Otago in New Zealand and New Zealand orthodontists can register and practice in Australia. Orthodontists who have gained their qualifications from the USA, UK and Canada are required to submit their qualifications to The Dental Board of Australia and once they have been deemed to be “equivalent” to the Australasian course, may register as a Specialist in Australia. We have 3 US trained orthodontists on our Team.


#3 Do I Need to See a Dentist Before an Orthodontist?

In Australia, orthodontists don’t require new patients tobring a referral from their dentist or a doctor like other specialists may do. Anyone can make an appointment to see an orthodontist.

It’s a good idea for parents to take their child to see an orthodontist from around the age of seven to eight to check how their adult teeth are progressing. The orthodontist may recommend treatment at that time for a small number of specific problems or they may recommend reviewing a child in six to 12 months’ to review their development as a small number of children may benefit from early intervention orthodontics. While children are young and their jaw is still growing, orthodontics can increase the size of their jaw to better accommodate their teeth when the jaw is narrow. This is more difficult to do when the child approaches adulthood.

Even while undergoing treatment with your orthodontist, you need to keep up appointments your family dentist every six months to have your teeth cleaned. Watching your diet, brushing and flossing at least twice a day and visiting your dentist for a clean will help keep your teeth stain-free once your braces come off.


#4 Do Orthodontists do Surgery?

Oral surgery comes in a few different forms but orthodontists rarely perform surgery. Some orthodontic patients need tooth extractions. Extractions are the most common type of surgery completed before orthodontic treatment begins. For patients needing a tooth (or teeth) extracted before braces, their orthodontist will refer the patient to their general dentist or for more complex procedures, to an oral surgeon. Removing teeth can be in a dental surgery, day surgery or hospital depending on the extraction and patient.

Surgery is often needed to uncover teeth jammed in the jaw (impacted) before they can have braces fitted. Patients may be referred to a gum specialist (periodontist) or an oral and maxillofacial surgeon for more complex patients.

Oral and maxillofacial surgery is occasionally required to correct major structural problems of the jaws. Often the surgery is performed at various time points during the orthodontics depending on the type of problem that needs to be fixed.


#5 Dentist Vs Orthodontist For Braces?

Moving teeth with braces should be completed by an orthodontist rather than a dentist.

Experience is everything with braces. Every case adds to an orthodontist’s wealth of experience. An orthodontist will see dozens of patients every week with braces and clear aligners and while a dentist may only see a handful as part of their rigorous schedule treating a broad spectrum of general dental problems. Patients can be assured that the specialist training of an orthodontist includes thorough assessment of all the cases that they have treated by recognised Dental Board registered specialists in the field. To graduate as a specialist, trainees must demonstrate that they are competent and able to deliver treatment of a high standard. A general dentist is a competent practitioner in any aspects of dentistry but doesn’t have the same level of experience to draw on and their competency in orthodontics has never been officially evaluated.

Being treated by an orthodontist can give you the peace of mind that treatment will be efficient and safe and you achieve the result you are looking for.

General dentists are a crucial healthcare provider who will ensure that your teeth are maintained in optimal health as well as providing comprehensive rebuilding of damaged or lost teeth, improvements in tooth shape and colour and can work together in many patients to achieve the best bite and smile possible.


Considering Orthodontic Treatment as an Adult?

Get the smile you’ve always wanted with our innovative adult orthodontic treatment! Improve your smile and book an appointment!


The Orthodontists

The orthodontists at all of our practices are trained and registered orthodontists, not general dentists.

If you have any queries about what your orthodontist will do and your dentist will do, don’t hesitate to ask. We’ll be happy to answer questions during your first consultation and throughout your treatment.

To make a no-obligation appointment, you can contact The Orthodontists by calling (08) 9364 8020 or book an appointment online.

Category: Treatments & Care