Occasionally, someone will discover that they or their child have developed an orthodontic problem. Their dentist may offer to correct the problem for them. That same patient may turn to an orthodontist and ask “Can my dentist treat me for my orthodontic problem too?” The simple answer is
The longer answer is a bit more complicated and can be summarized in the classic answer “it depends”. Not everyone realizes that a dentist doesn’t treat every condition or scenario that walks through their door. A dentist may or may not choose to extract third molars. A dentist may or may not perform molar root canals. A dentist may or may not place dental implants. A general dentist has a fair amount of leeway with the types of procedures that he or she may perform (as regulated by state and federal regulations of course). Some dentists take extensive CE courses to become proficient or even psuedo-specialize in certain procedures (third molar extractions or difficult root canals for example). They may spend years honing their technique, reading the latest research, and attending conferences and seminars all to better serve their patients. A general dentist is certainly qualified to provide simple root canal treatments and may choose to pursue the expertise necessary to provide more complicated endodontic (root canal) treatments.
The domain of orthodontics is no different. Some dentists will spend incredible amounts of time and resources learning to provide orthodontic treatment. A general dentist is certainly qualified to provide the more simple types of orthodontic treatment and (with adequate training) more complex types of treatment too.
When a dentist decides to be an orthodontist, they go back to school to attend an accredited orthodontic residency for an additional 2 to 3 years beyond their typical 4 years of dental school. In those additional 2-3 years an orthodontic resident will do nothing but eat, sleep, and breathe orthodontics – building upon the dental foundation they created in dental school. They will treat hundreds of patients under the watchful supervision of their attending faculty. They will read hundreds of peer-reviewed orthodontic research journal articles to solidify their knowledge of growth and development as well as clinical treatment options. They will work with many different types of appliance systems from removable spring retainers to traditional and self-ligating braces to clear aligner systems. They will treat both children and adults. They will work with oral surgeons, periodontists, and prosthodontists to handle multi-disciplinary cases. They will coordinate and treat orthognathic surgery (jaw surgery) cases. They will place TADs (temporary anchorage devices aka microimplants) and use lasers to correct gingival discrepancies. They will work with patients who suffer from craniofacial deformities such as cleft lip and palate. Many orthodontic residents decide to pursue a further board certification from the American Association of Orthodontists to demonstrate their academic and clinical proficiency against the highest standards of the profession. This educational process is priceless in terms of the breadth and depth of experience and knowledge that an orthodontist gains. An orthodontist is uniquely qualified to provide the highest level of orthodontic treatment. A dentist may also attain a high level of knowledge and clinical expertise in the domain of orthodontics. Rarely does that training and experience rise to the level of an accredited orthodontic residency but exceptions certainly do exist. A dentist is certainly qualified to treat more simple orthodontic conditions and under rare circumstances more difficult scenarios as well. It is acceptable to ask a dentist (or an orthodontists for that matter) how many of a certain type of case they have treated.
Example photo of Orthodontic Residency – 1
Example photo of Orthodontic Residency – 2
Example photo of Orthodontic Residency – 3
TLDR: (aka Too Long Didn’t Read) version. Yes a general dentist can provide simple orthodontic treatment if they feel comfortable and have sufficient training to treat that scenario.
Football Analogy: An orthodontist is like a specialty player on a football team – say a wide-receiver/punt-returner like Dante Pettis or Tyler Lockett. They’re definitely not a quarterback and they don’t throw the ball but they can help the quarterback achieve success doing things the quarterback can’t do. Very rarely will a quarterback catch the ball themself (except say in a “trick play” but those are fairly unique). In the world of dentistry, the general dentist is like the quarterback. They call the shots and make sure their team marches down the field and scores (achieving clinical success). The orthodontist can certainly help them achieve clinical success. Orthodontists can put teeth in positions that are easier to clean. Orthodontists can help manage growth and development for younger patient. Orthodontists can help teeth erupt into the proper position. Orthodontists can encourage lower jaws to grow or help expand the upper jaw. Orthodontists can help prepare implant sites for future dental implants and their respective crowns. Orthodontists can position teeth for gingival grafts or anterior veneers. An orthodontist can do many impressive things but just like a wide receiver needs a quarterback, an orthodontist needs a general dentist to call the shots and manage a patient’s treatment “vision”.