Home  /  About  /  Blog

What is the difference between an Orthodontist and a Dentist?

Orthodontists and dentists share many similarities – they work together to help you improve your overall oral health – but they actually work in very different ways. Dentists cover a broad range of oral health issues. An orthodontist, on the other hand, is a dental specialist who focuses on issues such as straightening teeth and correcting improper bite patterns.

Orthodontist Balwyn

In order for patients to make informed decisions regarding treatment, it’s important to be aware of a few key differences between orthodontists and dentists:


  • A general dentist is similar to your family GP medical doctor – they are skilled general practitioners who can diagnose and treat problems and common diseases that affect your teeth, mouth and gums.
  • Dentists complete a General Dental Degree.
  • They are experts in general dental care and maintenance for all ages. They also perform cosmetic dental procedures such as tooth whitening, porcelain veneers and crowns.
  • Unlike orthodontists, dentists are not trained at university in fitting braces or overseeing other orthodontic treatments
  • Most general dentists will refer patients and their own family requiring orthodontic treatment to specialist orthodontists.

Orthodontist Deepdene


  • Orthodontists are registered dental specialists who have completed an additional three years of full-time university training in orthodontics, facial growth and development, biology and biomechanics (they hold a General Dental Degree + Specialist Orthodontic Degree). There are only 3-4 Orthodontists trained each year at 5 accredited Australian universities and the only the best dentists are selected into these training programs.
  • Orthodontists are facial growth and dental development experts. They diagnose and treat crooked teeth, bad bites and poorly aligned jaws.
  • Orthodontists are experts in all orthodontic treatment options and technologies for children, teens and adults.Orthodontist Mont Albert

How does an orthodontist realign jaws and teeth?

Initially, the orthodontist conducts a thorough examination of the jaw and teeth.  Panoramic x-rays and study models (bite impressions) will be taken prior to the orthodontist making treatment recommendations.  The orthodontist will recommend the best treatment plan for the patient’s particular condition.

Orthodontist Surrey Hills

When Should Children Go to the Orthodontist?

It’s a good idea for parents to take their child to see an orthodontist from around the age of seven to eight to check how their adult teeth are progressing. The orthodontist may recommend treatment at that time for a small number of specific problems or they may recommend reviewing a child in six to 12 months’ to review their development as a small number of children may benefit from early intervention orthodontics. While children are young and their jaw is still growing, orthodontics can increase the size of their jaw to better accommodate their teeth when the jaw is narrow. This is more difficult to do when the child approaches adulthood.

Orthodontist Camberwell

Can Dentists do Orthodontics?

Some dentists offer basic orthodontic services to their patients. However, this doesn’t mean they are qualified orthodontists. The term ‘Orthodontist” can only be used by an individual who is registered as a Specialist by the Dental Board of Australia. Dentists have not completed the additional three years of full-time university study it requires to become an orthodontist. Therefore, they don’t have the same level of training and experience an orthodontist has.

When orthodontic treatment is undertaken, patients with similar problems may respond in different ways because of unique variations in growth or factors related to muscle and bone structure. Clinicians have to firstly recognise how the patient is responding and often have to “re-chart” the course of treatment. This is a critical point and one of the “Competencies and Proficiencies” outlined by the Dental Board of Australia to be recognised as a Specialist Orthodontist. A routine part of Specialist Orthodontic Training is to satisfy this process and comprehensive evaluation of all treated cases during training is mandatory.

When straightening teeth, diagnosing and treating irregularities of the face and jaw, you want to use a qualified orthodontist. The three years of specialist training ensures they can provide all forms of orthodontic treatment including plates and various types of braces and can deliver the highest standard of care for your family. Orthodontists can recognise issues with gum and tooth health that may require treatment by the general dentist before starting orthodontic treatment. The general dentist a key team member prior to, during and after orthodontic treatment.

A general dentist generally doesn’t have the benefit of consulting with other orthodontists on complex cases within their office. Orthodontists can work as a team to pool their knowledge and experience by speaking with each other about a patient’s treatment. It’s rare that a dentist has anyone else to refer to on difficult cases.

If you want to if check the provider you are considering using is a qualified and registered Specialist Orthodontist, you can visit the Orthodontics Australia database to do a quick search. Enter the provider’s name to see if they are a qualified orthodontist or not.

You can also check an orthodontists registration details with the government regulator for all health practitioners. Visit the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) website, enter the providers name and then select Dental Practitioner. An orthodontist has ‘specialist dentist’ appear after their name. Orthodontists aren’t the only specialist dentists. The AHPRA recognises 12 other types of dental specialists including paediatric dentistry, prosthodontics, endodontics, dento-maxillofacial radiology, periodontics and forensic odontology to name a few.

Orthodontists will display the Australian Society of Orthodontists (ASO) or Orthodontics Australia logo in the practice or on their website.

 Orthodontist Hawthorn

Do Orthodontists Have to be Dentists First?

In Australia, orthodontists are required to have at least two years of clinical experience as a dentist before becoming an orthodontist. This ensures orthodontists have the theoretical and hands-on experience in general dentistry treatments like extractions, root canal treatment, fillings and teeth cleaning.

All dentists and orthodontists must complete a four to five year degree in dentistry at university before they can work as a dentist. For those dentists who want to complete the three year orthodontic specialist degree, they can return to university after their two years of clinical experience.

Only five universities in Australia offer orthodontic courses and all are accredited by the Australian Dental Council and reviewed by the Australian Society of Orthodontists. Those universities are University of Adelaide, University of Melbourne, University of Sydney, University of Queensland and the University of Western Australia. They also recognise the course offered by the University of Otago in New Zealand and New Zealand orthodontists can register and practice in Australia. 

Do I Need to See a Dentist Before an Orthodontist?

In Australia, orthodontists don’t require new patients to bring a referral from their dentist or a doctor like other specialists may do. Anyone can make an appointment to see an orthodontist.

Even while undergoing treatment with your orthodontist, you need to keep up appointments your family dentist every six months to have your teeth cleaned. Watching your diet, brushing and flossing at least twice a day and visiting your dentist for a clean will help keep your teeth stain-free once your braces come off.

Orthodontist Kew

 Do Orthodontists do Surgery?

Oral surgery comes in a few different forms but orthodontists rarely perform surgery. Some orthodontic patients need tooth extractions. Extractions are the most common type of surgery completed before orthodontic treatment begins. For patients needing a tooth (or teeth) extracted before braces, their orthodontist will refer the patient to their general dentist or for more complex procedures, to an oral surgeon. Removing teeth can be in a dental surgery, day surgery or hospital depending on the extraction and patient.

Surgery is often needed to uncover teeth jammed in the jaw (impacted) before they can have braces fitted. Patients may be referred to a gum specialist (periodontist) or an oral and maxillofacial surgeon for more complex patients.

Oral and maxillofacial surgery is occasionally required to correct major structural problems of the jaws. Often the surgery is performed at various time points during the orthodontics depending on the type of problem that needs to be fixed.

Tower Dental is committed to providing exceptional dental care. If you require any orthodontic treatment please give us a call on 03 9817 7144 today.