By Dr. John White
Orthodontics was the first recognized specialty within dentistry and focuses on diagnosing and treating malocclusion and/or poor alignment of the teeth and jaws. If someone says that he or she is a specialist in or part of a practice limited to orthodontics, by Ohio code that means the person has specialty training and his or her area of focus is exclusive.
So when choosing between a general or cosmetic dentist and an orthodontist for braces or Invisalign, consider these three attributes.
Both dentists and orthodontists receive a doctoral degree from dental school. However, orthodontists have an additional two to three years of full-time study to practice orthodontics after dental school. This specialty training goes far beyond the basics of how to move teeth. Facial growth and development, biomechanics, chewing and occlusal function, and facial orthopedics are all covered at length in those extra years.
While dentists have the basic technical knowledge to offer braces or Invisalign, it is not the focus of their practices. Orthodontists do not divide their day into a little bit of everything. They do not do crowns, fillings, root canals or bonding. They do not supervise hygiene patients or do dental cleanings. (Although they are trained to do all of the above in dental school). An orthodontist is focused on creating a great smile and healthy bite—all day, every day. It’s all they do. The details of doing both well, efficiently and effectively in a pleasant and predictable environment, are the whole of their practice.
Most general dentists who dabble in orthodontics don’t do many cases because they are doing so many other dental procedures and their lack of experience limits what they feel comfortable doing.
Based on insurance industry data, the average general dentist does less than eight percent of the number of cases of orthodontics that an orthodontist does. In my practice, I have treated more than 10,000 (including nearly 2,000 Invisalign) patients in the past 35 years. I know of no general dentist who has treated more than a fraction of that number.
When choosing between a dentist and orthodontist, ask yourself these questions: Do you want someone who has had extensive training and experience, or someone with only a basic orthodontic background? Do you want someone who works with braces all day, every day, or someone who does it only on occasion? The answers to both seem pretty clear.