Some friends of ours recently had their bathroom remodeled. It turned out beautifully. They hired a small private contractor based on a recommendation from a friend. His name is Ivan, and he specializes in tile work. They were able to move a closet to turn their tiny stand-up shower into a real showstopper, and Ivan was able to frame it out, move the drain, and create the bathroom they envisioned.
Ivan is really good at what he does, but he does have limits. He told them that while he could move the drain, he couldn’t really move the fixtures in the shower. He wasn’t, after all, a plumber. He also avoids jobs involving whirlpool tubs. Those require electricity, and he’s not an electrician.
We run into these limitations sometimes when consulting with new patients. We’re dentists, yes, but we’re like Ivan – we’re specialists.
An orthodontist is a particular kind of dentist. If you’re a periodontist, you’re a dentist that specializes in the soft tissues and bone around the teeth – the gums and supporting structures.
Some dentists become prosthodontists. They specialize in replacing missing teeth.
An oral surgeon is a dentist who performs surgery on the jaw, mouth, or face.
There are more specialties, but at the end of the day, we’re all dentists.
We love dentists. We have great relationships with the dentists in our area. They refer clients to us, and we always refer patients back to them for their comprehensive dental needs, like cleanings and to check for cavities. We tell all of our patients how important it is to have a trusted dentist as your first line of defense against dental issues. We encourage folks to schedule regular dentist visits to make certain that their smiles are staying healthy. As a matter of fact, it’s a requirement to get regular cleanings at least every six months during orthodontic treatment.
So, what, then, is the difference?
We all started in the same general place. After a four-year undergraduate degree, we apply to dental school. All programs require a dental admission test to see if you’re up to speed. From there, you spend around four years studying general dentistry, and will become a DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery), or DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine, or Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry). The degrees DDS and DMD are the same degree and both mean the same thing—your dentist graduated from an accredited dental school. Once you’ve completed your education, you need to pass the National Board Dental Examination. You also have to pass a state licensing exam. From there, you can either start practicing, or pick a specialty, which is what our orthodontists did.
If you decide to pursue a specialty, like orthodontics or oral surgery, you go back to school.
To become orthodontists, each of our doctors completed another course of study – specializing in the straightening of teeth and growth and development of the upper and lower jaws and surrounding facial structures. We spent a few years in a residency program, working under the supervision of experienced orthodontists. We then successfully passed strenuous examinations to become Board Certified by the American Board of Orthodontics (something that not every orthodontist has done! Over 40% of orthodontists haven’t!). We’ll take our Board exams again every ten years to become recertified.
To be honest, we never really stopped going to school. We’re really geeks about bringing out everyone’s best smile, so we’re constantly reading and studying and attending seminars to learn about new technologies and procedures that can help our patients. We’re certain that those in general dentistry and the other dental arts do the same.
When it comes to healthy teeth and award-winning smiles, we’re all in this together – aren’t we?