I am asked occasionally by people in the community whether their family dentist could give them braces. This is becoming a more common question now that dentists all over the country are offering Invisalign and other similar cosmetic alignment options in their practices.
The answer to this question isn’t a black-and-white, yes-or-no answer, and the reason for this has nothing to do with me trying to be politically correct and avoiding offending dentists who offer Invisalign.
The truth is, sometimes a dentist can offer treatment that will meet a patient’s needs. Other times, a case will require the skill, educational background and resources of an orthodontist.
Orthodontists and Dentists- Education
First, let’s explain the difference between a dentist and an orthodontist. Orthodontics is one of nine specialties within the dental field recognized by the American Dental Association.
For general dentists, there are two steps in their education: college and dental school. Orthodontists must add a third step, which is completing an orthodontic residency. This residency can be two to three years, and focuses on providing in-depth knowledge on the diagnosis, prevention, interception and correction of malocclusion (bad bite) for cosmetic and health reasons. Many orthodontists have completed a decade or more of education after high school before they enter into private practice.
After completing my residency and going into practice, I chose to become a board certified orthodontist through the American Board of Orthodontics. That puts me among a small group of orthodontists in the world who earn this additional degree of recognized excellence. Becoming certified is accomplished via an in-depth written examination. Once I passed this exam, I submitted a variety of orthodontic cases for evaluation by expert examiners. Maintaining this status requires being re-examined periodically to ensure I remain at the top of my field in terms of technology, treatment and education. I like to think that maintaining my status as a Diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics gives current and potential patients additional peace of mind that their teeth are in good hands.
Skill Sets Equip Professionals
Just as medical students eventually decide if they’re going to go into general practice or specialize in ophthalmology, pediatrics or dermatology, to name some examples, dental school students have a similar decision to make. The skill sets acquired by selecting an orthodontic residency equip orthodontists to address almost every issue that stands between you, a healthy bite and a properly aligned smile.
The American Association of Orthodontists likes to remind us that we don’t go to a podiatrist to have heart surgery, or an orthopedic surgeon to have a skin cancer removed, so why trust anyone but an orthodontist with your bite and your teeth alignment?
It’s also a good idea to not get blinded by the heavy marketing of some orthodontic treatment options. Invisalign or Six Month Smiles may sound like great ideas after hearing commercials about these types of treatment, but your orthodontist has the specialized knowledge to identify and develop a treatment plan for all the variables in your mouth. That plan may be best accomplished with Invisalign, or it could involve a different treatment method.
Orthodontics Requires Specialized Appliances and Equipment
You may look at your teeth and see one rogue tooth protruding oddly from your gumline and think, “If I could fix just this one tooth, my smile would be perfect.” It isn’t always that simple.
We have a 3D cone beam scanner in our office. This is a valuable piece of equipment that sees beneath the teeth and gums to determine what underlying causes may be behind that rogue tooth. We can examine your tooth roots, devise a plan for guiding that tooth into proper position, and determine how doing that will play into the positioning of your remaining teeth.
Have you ever visited an orthodontist’s office? Think of all the brackets, archwires, retainers, appliances, and equipment you see. With braces alone, there are many types of appliances that we might be use. There are lingual braces; metal, ceramic and gold brackets; self-ligating brackets; and traditional brackets that allow you to have color-coordinated ligatures around them. Because we specialize in orthodontics, we are equipped to address virtually any orthodontic issue you have. General dentists have a completely different set of required equipment they must have on hand to address the types of routine problems their patients have.
Here in our office, we can’t fill your cavity, because we don’t keep the necessary supplies on-hand for that treatment. Likewise, a general dentist usually can’t correct your underbite, because he/she likely doesn’t have all of the necessary tools to address that type of specialized orthodontic treatment.
Dentists and Orthodontists Work Together Toward Dental Health
This isn’t a post about how orthodontists are better than dentists. Instead, I want you to understand the differences. Also, remember this: dentists and orthodontists work in partnership to promote your oral health. At the end of the day, we both want the same thing for you: a healthy smile you are proud to show the world.
We sometimes receive referrals from general dentists when they believe their patients require specialized treatment – even when they are Invisalign providers. There are times when we identify something in a 3D scan and we refer you back to your general dentist because we want him/her to evaluate you before we begin orthodontic treatment. It’s a two-way street.
Although there are times when you can go to one or the other to address a particular need, the truth is, you need both in your life.
I hope this post leaves you feeling educated and empowered when making decisions for yourself and your family regarding teeth alignment and bite issues.
Feel free to contact our office if your dentist has recommended orthodontic treatment. We offer complimentary evaluations that include a full set of X-rays and photographs. We will explain your options and create a plan to address your unique needs.
Also, keep in mind the American Association of Orthodontists recommends (and we agree) that you should have your children evaluated by an orthodontist by age 7. Frequently, no treatment is needed at this time, but there are certain problems that can be easily corrected if identified this early. Call us today to schedule an evaluation.