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When to see a specialist orthodontist (and when you should be seeing a dentist)

September 1, 2021
When to see a specialist orthodontist (and when you should be seeing a dentist)

Your family dentist works hand-in-hand with various specialists, including orthodontists, to look after the complete oral health of your whole family.

Whether you want to get your teeth whitened, your child needs braces or you’re thinking about getting your own teeth straightened, understanding when to see an orthodontist ensures you’re seeing the right person for the job at hand.

Since all orthodontists begin their careers as dentists before studying for an extra three years to specialise in orthodontics, the difference between the two professions can be a bit confusing. Despite their dual qualifications, whilst you’re in the midst of orthodontic treatment, it is important to see your general dentist every six months to check for cavities and any early signs of gum disease.

What is the difference between dentists and orthodontist?

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 specialist with a more singular focus: straightening teeth and aligning jaws.

In order for patients to make informed decisions regarding their 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 highly 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, general or family dentists have not completed full-time university straining to become a specialist in orthodontics.
  • Most general dentists will refer patients and their own family requiring orthodontic care to specialist orthodontists.


  • 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 only the best dentists are selected into these highly selective training programs.
  • Orthodontists are facial growth and dental development experts. They know how to diagnose and treat crooked teeth, bad bites and poorly aligned jaws.
  • Orthodontists are experts in all orthodontic care options (e.g. braces and clear aligner treatment) and emerging digital technologies for children, teens and adults.

When to see an orthodontist about your smile:

  1. 1. Teeth straightening

    Whether you want to get metal braces, ceramic braces, lingual braces or even clear aligner treatment, an orthodontist is the person to see. They’re the experts in teeth straightening, and dedicate their professional lives to this all day, every day.

  2. 2. Issues with jaw alignment

    If your jaw is mal-aligned from birth, an accident or crooked teeth, you should make an appointment with an orthodontist to discover the options available to help you correct the problem.

  3. 3. Broken brackets or wires

    If you’re currently undergoing orthodontic treatment and have broken a bracket, wire or clear aligner tray is lost or not fitting well, you should make an appointment with your orthodontist as early as possible to correct the problem.

These are certainly not the only reasons to make an appointment with an orthodontist, but are the most common situation where an orthodontist can help you.


When to make an appointment with you dentist

  • 1. General oral health

    As noted above, even while undergoing orthodontic treatment, it is important to still maintain regular appointments with your general dentist for cleaning and to maintain your oral health.

  • 2. Teeth whitening

    While some orthodontists may offer teeth whitening to their patients at the end of their treatment period, it is usually best to book in for your teeth whitening with your family or general dentist.

  • 3. Fillings and extractions

    As part of your regular check-up you may require a filling or a cleaning, which your general dentist will perform. If any extractions are required prior to commencing orthodontic treatment, your orthodontist will often refer you back to your general dentist for this procedure.


Should I see a dentist or an orthodontist for my wisdom teeth?

All orthodontists are graduates of dental school, so know their way around routine tooth extractions, and other such surgical procedures.

In their role as orthodontists, however, they do not perform such procedures themselves. When orthodontists recommends a tooth extraction, they will generally refer their patient to a general dentist. When they have a patient that needs jaw surgery, they refer them to a specialist oral and maxillo-facial surgeon.

Much like in the medical world, it’s not unusual for several dental specialists to work together when a patient’s case is complex.

Do I need a referral for an orthodontist? 

No. You can make an appointment with an orthodontist at any time without previously having a referral from another dental professional. You can use our Finder Tool to search for ASO registered specialist orthodontist near your home, school or office.

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