Orthodontists and dentists both help patients with their dental problems and help to improve their oral health. But this takes place in different ways. Dentistry is a broad medical specialty that is concerned with the body's dental structures such as teeth, gums, nerves and jaws. Orthodontics is sub-specialty within dentistry that focus on correcting bites, occlusions and alignment of the teeth. A crucial distinction is that all orthodontist are trained dentists, however not all dentists are licensed orthodontists.
Dentists and orthodontists are similar because they focus exclusively on oral care and dental health unlike other medical specialties. Also, both dentists and orthodontists have to attend the same under-graduate level of education and training in university to achieve a foundational understanding of dentistry practices and basic dental knowledge.
For orthodontic problems, it is best to consult an orthodontist. An orthodontist has the following advantages:
* Specialist training
Orthodontists have to undergo post-graduate training in the field of orthodontics. The training and education is full-time and lasts for 3 years. For example, National University of Singapore offers an orthodontics residency training programme which is a 3 year full-time course leading to the degree of Master of Dental Surgery. This is akin to a general practitioner in medicine enrolling in residency and specializing in a field of medicine. Like the medical specialist, the orthodontist specializes in the diagnosis, prevention and correction of malpositioned teeth and jaws and misaligned bite patterns.
* Focused area of work
An orthodontist will typically have an exclusive orthodontics practice focusing exclusively on treating and correcting orthodontic conditions. On the other hand, a general dentist will perform a wide range of dental work that may include orthodontics. The orthodontist definitely possesses a distinct advantage of more working experience and exposure to orthodontic cases compared to dentists. This increases the orthodontist skill and confidence in executing the treatment plan and successfully delivering the targeted outcomes. On the other hand, a dentist may not see as high a volume of orthodontic patients which may translate into a lower level of competency. Theoretically, an orthodontist would be able to afford a higher standard of care and skill in orthodontic cases.
* Expertise in complex and difficult cases
Orthodontics is a marathon instead of a sprint. Cases are corrected over the course of years in order to gradually move and shift the teeth into the desired positions. A good orthodontist would possess the foresight in guiding the teeth and jaws through different stages to the final ideal end state. For more difficult cases, an orthodontist would be more adept in navigating the complexities and intricacies associated with it.
* Potential to avoid surgery
Orthodontics is an art as much as it is a science. In some cases, dentists and orthodontists may differ with regard to the treatment plan. For example, a dentist may recommend that teeth be extracted in order to correct the alignment. An orthodontist may differ in the number and position of teeth being extracted and even no teeth being extracted at all. Having expert advice on the issue from an orthodontist is key to deciding the best treatment plan for malpositioned teeth and misalignment.
* Increased likelihood of a successful and holistic treatment
An orthodontist is more likely to identify all the problems. A common perception is that orthodontist only straighten teeth. However, orthodontic work involves other areas such as correcting bites and jaw problems. Even for straightening teeth, the back teeth are also important and should be looked into. Having a treatment plan that comprehensively tackles all these issues is essential for good dental and oral health. There is a possibility of dentists missing out on orthodontic issues or selectively treating issues in order to lower the treatment costs.
* Reduced likelihood of repeated treatment
A dentist who is not skilled in the practice of orthodontics runs the risk of doing a poor job. This has negative consequences on the patient as the patient would have to pay more money to fix the additional problems. It becomes regrettable that a solution supposed to fix orthodontic problems may instead worsen the situation and incur even more costs to fix.
Despite the numerous advantages of orthodontic treatment, a drawback of orthodontist is a possible higher direct cost of treatment compared to dentists. However, if an orthodontic patient take a step back and assesses the indirect costs in addition to the direct costs, the overall costs may be lower for an orthodontist. These indirect costs include extra financial costs if the orthodontic work was not performed well and needs to be redone, extraction costs if more teeth are extracted than necessary, future dental costs arising from untreated orthodontic issues resulting in wear and tear, opportunity costs from a less than perfect smile and aligned teeth.
Orthodontics is a sizeable investment of time and money. It is best for a patient to make an informed choice based on a wide range of considerations before committing to a dentist or orthodontist. Financial cost alone should not be the sole factor in making such an important decision.
To learn more about orthodontics, or to arrange an initial consultation, please give our team at Dr Chua Ai Lian @ JGH Dental Clinic a call at 67389322 or reach us through our contact form here.
This article is written in a general sense to educate patients in Singapore on the considerations before choosing a dentist or orthodontist. Except for specific references that are clearly stated, any other references that are construed to refer to any specific person, business or entity is purely coincidental and should be regarded as fictitious.