What is an Orthodontist? (3 Years That Matter!)

Treatments & Care

Male orthodontist educating a dental assistant on jaw structure

An orthodontist is a specialist that diagnoses and treats dental and facial irregularities. Orthodontists hold a general dentist degree and also a three-year specialist degree that provides the training they need to give the best outcome for patients of all ages seeking orthodontic treatment.

If you are considering orthodontic treatment for yourself or your child, it’s essential you know the difference.


Difference Between an Orthodontist and Dentist

Find out the types of treatment offered by an orthodontist and how it compares to a dentist.

What a Dentist Does

A dentist improves oral health by diagnosing and treating teeth and gum problems. They remove decay, apply fillings to cavities, fix and remove teeth. Dentists also educate patients on how to care for their teeth so that can prevent future problems.

They are trained to monitor the growth and development of teeth and jaws in younger patients and look for abnormalities and early warning signs of disease in all patients. If a dentist thinks a patient needs further investigation or treatment, they will refer their patient to a specialist dentist such as an orthodontist, oral and maxillofacial surgeon, endodontist, periodontist or paediatric dentist. If a dentist has identified a symptom or warning sign about a patient’s health, they may recommend their patient sees their GP or an oral medicine specialist.  

Dentists don’t just look after the health of teeth and mouths, they also do cosmetic work which improves the appearance of teeth. Whitening of the teeth is the most popular form with many people regularly attending to keep their teeth sparkling white. Other treatment types include the insertion of crowns, veneers and dental implants. A broken or decayed tooth may need a porcelain or porcelain/metal crown fitted. Crowns are prosthetic devices cemented on to a damaged tooth to provide strength and durability. A veneer can also be porcelain or glass layers fixed to the front of the teeth to improve the look of stained, chipped, crooked, odd-shaped teeth or those with gaps between. A dental implant is used to replace a missing tooth.     

What an Orthodontist Does

An orthodontist diagnoses and treats dental and facial irregularities to align teeth, jaws and bad bites. Orthodontic treatment can also help with some medical problems caused by jaw or teeth placement such as sleep apnoea. They may use braces or Invisalign to straighten patients’ teeth. Some patients benefit from an orthodontist completing a stage of treatment before braces are fitted. A plate to widen children's jaws makes more room for all of their adult teeth. An orthodontist may also refer patients to another specialist dentist such as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon or a general dentist for teeth removal. An orthodontist usually sees children from the age of seven and adults of any age.

Most patients will visit an orthodontist for two to five years while a dentist could potentially see the same patient for the length of their career.      

An Additional Three Years of Study

Orthodontists spend an extra three years studying a full-time University degree to become a specialist dentist. This degree can only be undertaken after completing a general dentistry degree which is a minimum of five years’ full-time study and a minimum of two years working as a dentist.

To specialise as an orthodontist there are no shortcuts. The extra three years equates to 5,000 hours of specialist training. The three-year university degree covers orthodontics, facial growth and development, biology and biomechanics.

Only a small number of the best dentists are chosen each year to undertake the orthodontics degree. The five Australian universities accredited to teach the specialist degree include the University of Western Australia, University of Adelaide, University of Melbourne, University of Sydney and the University of Queensland. The courses are accredited by the Australian Dental Council and reviewed by the Australian Society of Orthodontists.

Experience of an Orthodontist

An orthodontist has the benefit of growing their knowledge and skills in orthodontic dentistry because it’s all they do. Some cases are simple and others more complex. In an orthodontic practice, the orthodontists share their knowledge and learn from each other’s cases. A difficult case may have multiple orthodontists collaborating on the treatment plan to ensure the best outcome for the patient.

By using an orthodontist rather than a dentist, you can be assured that your case has a custom treatment plan devised. The plan will give you a good idea of how long you can expect treatment to last, how often appointments will be and the outcome you can expect. The plan is monitored regularly during appointments to ensure treatment is on track. An experienced orthodontist knows what to expect with the movement of teeth while dentists are more likely to decide on the next step for treatment with each appointment.

Keeping up with Changes in Orthodontic Technology

Treatment methods and technology in orthodontics are always changing. An orthodontist keeps up with the changes in the industry through ongoing education. The Australian Society of Orthodontists provides events around the country to assist with ongoing education in new technology and treatment methods. They also produce the Australasian Orthodontic Journal.

which includes published papers and reports from Australian and overseas authors. Some orthodontists are also members of other societies around the world such as the American Association of Orthodontists to ensure they are kept informed of any developments in the field outside Australia.     

Considering Orthodontic Treatment for Your Child?

There are many advantages to starting orthodontic treatment for children at a young age. Improve your child's smile and book an appointment!

No Quick Fix When it Comes to Orthodontics

Some of the appeal of using a dentist for orthodontic treatment is they may promise results in a much faster time frame than an orthodontist does. Unfortunately, it takes time for teeth and jaws to be moved into correct alignment and stay that way. Good orthodontics will last a lifetime. ‘Fast braces’ often result in needing ‘professional braces’ later which can be disappointing and expensive.    

Australians are also enticed by ads for aligners purchased online as another quick fix. Aligners that aren’t custom fit to your child’s mouth aren’t going to work and could do more harm than good.

How Do I Know if I’m Seeing an Orthodontist?

Most orthodontists are members of the Australian Society of Orthodontists and display a blue sticker in the practice to confirm their accreditation. If you aren’t sure if you are being seen by an orthodontist, ask if they are a member of the Society or you can do an online search via the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. Search using the orthodontist’s surname and under the division and section of each listing will be Dentist, General as well as Dentist, Specialist. The Dentist, Specialist indicates they are an orthodontist.   

Some dentists do orthodontic procedures, but they lack the experience and training that an orthodontist has. If you or your child needs orthodontic work then always consult an experienced board certified orthodontist.

If you would like an appointment to see an experienced orthodontist, make an appointment at The Orthodontists on (08) 9364 8020 or contact us online.
Category: Treatments & Care