You might be wondering whether you should get braces from an orthodontist or a dentist. It’s a common question, and you’ve probably heard that some general dentists offer braces at a lower cost than orthodontists. So, is it worth paying more to see an orthodontist?
To answer this question, let’s first understand the difference between orthodontists and dentists. Both professionals work to improve your oral health, but orthodontists specialize in tooth and jaw alignment. They have an additional 2 to 3 years of advanced training specifically in this area. Dentists, on the other hand, focus on general dental care and can treat a variety of tooth problems.
Since I’m an orthodontist and I’m writing this article, I’m more than a little biased. Still, I’m going to give you a number of arguments why you should choose an orthodontist for your braces journey and leave the rest of your oral care to your dentist.
Orthodontist Vs. Dentist: What’s The Difference?
When it comes to education and training, both dentists and orthodontists start out the same: they graduate from dental school. It’s what follows after dental school that moulds them into true professionals. Here are the specifics of that training:
After finishing dental school, orthodontists must complete a 2-3 year residency program focusing on the science of orthodontics. This covers more than just teeth, and focuses on jaw bones, face muscles, periodontium, and treating growing patients.
All over the world, orthodontic residencies are highly competitive, and only the top of the class, perhaps the top 5%, gets in. This already speaks volumes about the level of knowledge most orthodontists have.
On the other hand, dentists might have some training in braces through continuing education courses, but it’s not as in-depth as an orthodontist’s education. Sometimes, it’s as little as watching a few webinars, and getting face to face training for a couple of days. So while they might know how to put braces on, they might not have enough expertise to deal with complex cases.
No orthodontist wants to bash a dentist’s experience and knowledge, they’re still the best at what they do – fixing teeth – but when it comes to braces, the more you know, the more you go down the rabbit hole of unexpected issues and complicated situations.
Orthodontists are specialists who focus solely on braces and other tooth and jaw alignment procedures. They work with braces day in and day out, which makes them highly qualified in handling different cases and choosing the right type of braces for each patient.
Dentists, however, are generalists. They cover a wide range of dental procedures, from cleanings to implants and crowns and even some basic orthodontic treatments. While they’re great at taking care of your teeth, their experience with braces might not match that of an orthodontist. And that’s perfectly fine, as long as professionals know their own limitations.
To make it simple, think of it this way:
- Orthodontist: Your go-to specialist for braces, and anything related to tooth and jaw alignment.
- Dentist: Your trusted generalist for overall oral health care, knows when to refer to different specialists: endodontist, periodontist, oral surgeon and orthodontist.
While dental school offers the basic knowledge for most specialties, it doesn’t go into depth. So, your dentist may be aware of the bite problems you have, but may not be up to date on how to fix them. This is why extensive training programs are so necessary.
Can Your Dentist Provide Braces?
Yes, your dentist can provide braces, but sometimes they may take on more complex cases than they are trained for. They may also be unaware of the limitations certain braces have, as well as the limitations of their patient’s teeth and jaws.
Most dentists rely on dental lab technicians to do the treatment planning for them, especially when using clear aligners, which is not how it’s supposed to be. Orthodontics often involves course correcting when the treatment goes a bit off track, and only the doctor should have the skills and authority to make those decisions.
If you want to go with a dentist for braces, it’s recommended you do so only if you have a mild case of crowding or a relapse after not wearing your retainer. They might offer clear aligners or social six braces for cosmetic purposes.
However, even with such situations, you might have bite issues that you aren’t aware of. So, it’s always best to see an orthodontist for a consultation.
It’s More Than Just Straight Teeth
You might be saying, but my dentist does my braces and my teeth are straight! Getting teeth straight is the easy part! Braces do this almost on autopilot. It’s figuring out where all the teeth should fit that makes orthodontic treatment so challenging.
Here are all the things a true professional should consider:
And a lot more fine details. In truth, most beginners or dentists don’t even know what they don’t know about tooth movement and braces. Biomechanics can be that complicated.
A skilled orthodontist goes beyond just straightening teeth. They take into account the patient’s age, bone and gum type, bite, as well as overall esthetics, much like a plastic surgeon. So, don’t be fooled by the simplicity of straightening teeth—it’s the intricate planning and understanding that sets an orthodontist apart.
Consider The Cost
Braces are expensive no matter where you get them. You pay for the materials, the expertise, and the lab. While dentists may be a little cheaper, their lack of expertise may lengthen treatment time which can translate into more money and more braces. Let’s break down the costs.
On average, braces cost between $3,000 and $10,000. However, there are several factors that determine the specific cost, including the type of braces and the duration of treatment. Here are some common types of braces and their average costs:
- Metal braces: $3,000 to $7,000
- Ceramic braces: $4,500 to $8,000
- Lingual braces: $6,000 to $10,000
- Clear aligners: $3,000 to $9,000
Keep in mind that these prices can change depending on where you live and whether or not you have dental insurance. Dental insurance can help you save a significant amount on braces, usually covering around $1,000 to $2,000 of the cost. So, the cost for braces after insurance is typically between $1,600 and $5,000.
When it comes to choosing between an orthodontist or a dentist for your braces, consider that while a dentist may charge slightly less, their expertise in orthodontics might not be as extensive as an orthodontist’s. This could lead to a longer treatment time, making the initial cost savings less significant in the long run.
Consider Treatment Duration
Sometimes, the treatment duration can give you a clue about who you’d want to handle your braces. If your orthodontist estimates about 2 years for treatment, and your dentist claims to finish the treatment in just 6 months, that should raise some suspicions.
You might think that a shorter treatment sounds better, but be cautious. If your dentist overlooks certain important aspects, you could either have an incomplete or incorrect treatment, or you may need an orthodontist to fix things later on.
In some cases, patients even get braces for a second time just to repair the damage caused by their first treatment, meaning that their teeth are straight but they don’t fit together properly.
So as you embark on your journey to straighter teeth, it’s essential to take treatment duration into account. Don’t focus solely on getting the fastest treatment possible. Instead, make sure you understand the reasons behind each timeline and trust the qualifications of the professional you choose.
How To Ask Your Dentist For Braces
Many patients who want to get braces aren’t quite sure how to ask their dentist for them. If this is you, don’t worry – it’s easier than you think!
When you have your dentist’s appointment, simply express your concerns about your teeth and why you think you may need braces. You can say something like “I’m finally ready to get braces for my crooked teeth, who do I go to for this?”. Or “My bite has been feeling off for a while, and it’s worrying me, can you recommend an orthodontist?”
If your dentist agrees that braces or aligners could help, they may recommend a certain orthodontist. However, you’re not obligated to see the reffered orthodontist – it’s totally up to you! I would suggest you shop around and consult with at least two or three orthodontic specialists before making a decision.
Make sure to do your homework and ask your orthodontist all the questions you might have: what type of braces they recommend, how long does treatment typically take, are they flexible with payment, do you need extractions or surgery, etc.
Your dentist may offer to treat you themselves, in which case I would ask some follow up questions, like how much experience they have, can they show you pictures of finished cases, etc. Many clear aligner companies now train dentists in an effort to expand their reach, but this can backfire.
So make sure you choose your dentist only if it’s something minor, like mildly crooked or overlapping teeth or small gaps. Sometimes, what bothers you about your teeth’s appearance may not need braces at all and could potentially be corrected with veneers or simple bonding, something your dentist should be great at.
Lastly, after choosing an orthodontist, make sure you tell your dentist. They may need to communicate over the course of your treatment, since some dental procedures can overlap. Good luck on your journey, and don’t forget, you’re in good hands!