Is my orthodontist a dentist? Is my dentist an orthodontist? We know it can get a little confusing, especially as new technology makes it easier for some general dentists to offer orthodontic treatment. What’s important to remember is that while your dentist and orthodontist receive much of the same training, their specialties and focus are very different. If your child is receiving orthodontic care, you’ll look to your different oral health providers to meet different needs, and one doesn’t replace the other.
What Is A Dentist?
A dentist is an oral health specialist who has completed dental school and earned a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree. While the name varies depending on the school, these are essentially the same degrees and are the dental equivalent of medical school. After completing an undergraduate program, your dentist completes four years of dental school to earn her degree. Once she’s completed dental school and passed a state licensing exam, she’s ready to practice.
Think of a dentist like a family doctor. They offer routine care with a focus on education and prevention, caring for cavities and extracting teeth when needed. They can also perform more complicated procedures like root canals when needed. For many patients, just seeing a dentist regularly will keep their mouths healthy for life. But just as in the medical field, sometimes patients need to see a specialist for a specific issue. There are a number of dental specialties including oral surgery, periodontics (a specialty focused on gum health), orthodontics and pediatric dentistry.
Is Pediatric Dentistry a Specialty?
Pediatric dentists are specialists who complete extra training to help them treat patients 21 and under along with special needs patients of all ages. A pediatric dentist is like a pediatrician in the medical field. After completing dental school, a pediatric dentist completes two years of residency training working with babies, children, teens and individuals with special needs. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, pediatric dentists are specially trained to focus on issues that affect children like oral health in babies, habit counseling (like thumb sucking and pacifier use) and diagnosing oral health issues related to conditions like diabetes, congenital heart defects and ADHD in children. They also get special training in early detection of orthodontic and bite-related issues.
What Is an Orthodontist?
An orthodontist is a specially trained dentist who completes dental school plus additional graduate work and a residency in orthodontics for 2 to 3 years. The American Association of Orthodontics defines orthodontists as specialists who focus on the bite, how teeth meet and function, how they are aligned and how they are set in the jaw, along with jaw positioning. This means that instead of providing routine care and treating cavities, orthodontists focus on making sure that the teeth and jaw are aligned and moving into place in the right way. If your child is seeing an orthodontist, she’ll still need to see her dentist regularly for cleanings and routine care.
How Do My Dentist and Orthodontist Work Together?
The main areas of overlap between your dentist and orthodontist are that they’ve both graduated from dental school, and they’re both on a mission to provide the best oral health care possible. In many cases, children and adults are referred to an orthodontist by their family or pediatric dentist. It’s a team effort and requires dental professionals working hand in hand.
One of the main differences is that your child will only see an orthodontist for a limited amount of time. Your orthodontist will see your child through their treatment and follow-up until they “graduate” from orthodontic care. On the other hand, your child can see her pediatric dentist from infancy through young adulthood.
Can My Dentist Offer Orthodontic Care?
With the advent of orthodontic aligners like Invisalign, we’re seeing more and more general dentists offering some basic orthodontic care. In some cases, this may work for adult patients. However, with children and teens and their developing jaws, it’s important to see a trained orthodontist to meet their individual needs.
Your Pediatric Dentist and Orthodontist: Teamwork is Key
A pediatric dentist has completed specialized training in identifying children who need orthodontic care and spotting alignment issues early. An orthodontist has the training and experience needed to create and oversee a comprehensive child-focused orthodontic plan. So having two specialists in the same practice is a big plus. Once an orthodontic treatment plan has been set up, communication and teamwork are essential. At NOVA Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics, our model is to offer a single practice to meet all of your child’s oral health needs, from child-focused routine care to orthodontics. Having two highly trained pediatric dentists and an orthodontist along with a support staff specialized in meeting the needs of children lets us offer seamless care for every child, whether they need orthodontic treatment or not. We also focus on communication among our providers so nothing gets overlooked. This helps us set your child up for a positive orthodontic experience and a lifetime of healthy smiles.