What is an Orthodontist?
It is appropriate to draw a comparison with medicine where the training of a medical doctor at an approved school of medicine at one of the major universities involves extensive study over a period of five or six years. The scope of knowledge required in medical practice is so vast that the profession has divided this into various segments known as specialties in which doctors are able to undergo further training for an equally lengthy period of time at one of the teaching hospitals. Only after completion of this period of registrarship does the doctor earn the right to sit the postgraduate examinations, which on successful completion, allows registration as a specialist in a chosen field, e.g. orthopedics, pediatrics, surgery, etc.
Similarly, training of a dentist over five years covers an enormous amount of territory including almost four years of medical training. Further study and registrarship over a four-year period at an accredited university is undertaken to become registrable as a dental specialist e.g. an orthodontist, maxillofacial surgeon, prosthodontist and periodontist.
An orthodontist is therefore a fully qualified dentist who has spent a further four years in full time study specialising in the field of orthodontics gaining a postgraduate masters degree. Only those who have successfully completed this formal education may call themselves "orthodontists" and be registered as a specialist with the Health Professions Council of South Africa.
Orthodontics is both a science and an art and is not merely about just "straightening teeth". Teeth have to be aligned to optimize their functional biting relationship and to be in harmony with the jaw joint movements as well as to provide aesthetic balance with the face and lips. An in depth understanding of growth and development, especially of the face and jaws, is required in order to correctly position the teeth in such a way that at the end of the growth period this harmony is achieved.
Orthodontists are therefore uniquely qualified in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of orthodontic problems. They dedicate their professional lives exclusively to create healthy, beautiful smiles in children, teens and adults. Orthodontic care is often also part of a comprehensive oral health plan where interdisciplinary treatment is carried out in conjunction with dentists and other specialists.
Orthodontists use a variety of "appliances," including fixed braces, removable braces, clear aligners and retainers, to move teeth or hold them in their correct positions. Because of orthodontists' advanced education and clinical experience, they have the best knowledge and skills necessary to recommend the correct kind of appliance to meet every individual patient's need and treatment goals.
Your family dentist who may have an interest in orthodontics may offer you orthodontic treatment, however, your dentist is not an orthodontic specialist having not undergone the required specialist training. Your general dentist may have taken some additional weekend training seminars but this obviously does not provide the same qualifications to offer the correct and appropriate orthodontic treatment for you or your child. You have every right to express your wish to have an appointment with an orthodontist and your dentist should offer you this option.
Remember that your dentist performs many varied dental procedures such as fillings, extractions, root treatments, crowns, implants, oral hygiene, etc, and thus cannot be expected to have the same level of experience and knowledge as a specialist orthodontist.
Beware of scam like claims to straighten teeth quickly such as "Fast Braces", "Six Months Braces", etc. Orthodontists have been offering this form of compromise treatment for years, which is termed "short-term orthodontics", in which only the front teeth are aligned and no bite adjustment is carried out. Teeth can only move as fast as the biological bone healing response to the carefully measured pressure from the braces will allow preventing the tooth roots, the surrounding bone and gums from being irreparably damaged.
It is very important that children are treated at the right age to harness growth to assist in correcting problems and ensure a good result. If the incorrect treatment is applied during this time and the outcome is not acceptable then the opportunity to get the best result may be missed.
The best time for your child to have their initial orthodontic evaluation as recommended by the American Association of Orthodontists (the biggest orthodontic organisation in the world) is at the age of 7 to check whether his/her development is normal. Certain problems are best addressed early to prevent a more serious problem from developing whilst others may be left until later on. A specialist is best equipped to make this decision. You also do not need to be referred by your dentist to see an orthodontist and you may go directly to an orthodontist of your choice.
A look of beauty is a look of health and nothing can match that healthy glow that accompanies the oral comfort and stability that goes with a fully functional and healthy set of teeth. Straight teeth are easier to maintain and generally are in harmony with jaw movements, which may prevent the onset of issues such as joint discomfort, facial pain and headaches later on.
A lovely balanced youthful smile is an important asset and also goes a long way towards helping create high levels of self-esteem and self-confidence.
Let the best qualified clinician help you to achieve that!