Dentists and Orthodontists – Know the Difference

Dentists and Orthodontists – Know the Difference

While everyone sees a dentist for their routine dental care, some also retain a relationship with an orthodontist if they are in the process of correcting an orthodontic-related concern. So, who needs and orthodontist and why? Here’s what you need to know about the difference between these two dental practices.

All Orthodontists are Dentists, but not all Dentists are Orthodontists

To understand the difference between these dental practices, we should first look at the career progression of each. Dentists in Canada are required to complete a degree in dentistry (Doctor of Dental Surgery) in order to practice as a general dentist. While most practitioners end their university training at that point and begin their practice, orthodontists sign on for an additional 3 years of university training in order to earn the title of orthodontist. Orthodontists are considered specialists in the teeth and bones of the mouth, and they practice this speciality exclusively. So, every orthodontist is also a qualified general dentist, but dentists are not qualified to practice the orthodontic speciality and often refer patients to these bite specialists to correct the alignment of their teeth and bones.

A Dentist’s Concern

Since everyone needs a dentist to oversee the health of their teeth and soft tissues, a dentist’s primary concerns include the maintenance of your teeth, functionally and aesthetically. Your dentist understands how disease and decay manifests in the mouth and how to prevent it – so they work to educate, inform and manage oral health from this point of view. While your orthodontist will outline a good cleaning regimen while wearing braces, they are more concerned with the alignment of the teeth than the health of the teeth themselves. Your dentist, however, sees you regularly to monitor the condition of your teeth and to keep problems at bay. When something goes wrong, it is typically your dentist who intervenes to stop the problem in its tracks and prevent its progression.

Sometimes, diseases occur in the mouth or throat that require a specialist to treat or diagnose. In this case, your dentist will not refer to an orthodontist but rather a dental speciality that possesses expert knowledge about how to manage this. An example could be oral cancer, which may be referred to an ENT, better known as an ear, nose and throat specialist. This specialist would examine the tissues of the head and neck and may take biopsies of any abnormal tissue for further examination.

If, however, you suffer from abnormalities in the jawbone or if your teeth are severely out of alignment, your dentist will likely refer you to an orthodontist for treatment while continuing to manage your routine oral health concerns.

Orthodontic Concerns

If your teeth are properly aligned, it can be hard to appreciate the challenges for those whose teeth and jaw are improperly aligned. Problems can be numerous and include, by way of example, speech difficulty and challenges with annunciation, uneven wear of the enamel and even painful injury to the jaw joints. For those who struggle to do daily routines, such as chewing, without pain, orthodontic services can be life changing.

Kind of Bites Corrected with Orthodontics

Open Bite

Front teeth that do not come together and remain open when the jaw is closed is called an open bite. This can result from overuse of soothers in young children, thumb sucking or habitual pressing of the tongue against the front teeth.

Front Teeth Protrusion

Also known as ‘buck’ teeth, front teeth protrusion is seen where the upper front teeth protrude forward beyond their neighbours, making them visually prominent.

Underbite/Overbite

Underbites and overbites occur when the lower jaw meets too far behind the upper arch (overbite) or too far forward (underbite).

Mismatched Midlines

The line between the upper and lower front teeth should be straight when the mouth is closed. Midlines that are off center may not seem like a problem, but your orthodontist knows it could lead to bite problems.

Crossbite

If the upper teeth fit inside the lower teeth, patients will often need to move the jaw to the right or the left in order to close the mouth fully.

Spacing

A larger jaw than teeth or extractions can result in spacing across the dental arches. While this may increase ease of cleaning, the aesthetic of spacing may be undesirable.

Crowding

If your teeth didn’t have enough room to slide into place when they erupted, they may be too close together and/or overlapping. Tooth crowding can lead to periodontal problems due to increased difficulty with effective cleaning between the teeth.

Both your dentist and your orthodontist have a part to play in maintaining effective, healthy and comfortable oral health. If you have questions about how an orthodontist may benefit your smile, talk to your dentist at your next visit!