Everybody is familiar with the role and importance of a dentist. But what is an orthodontist and in what way is the latter different from a dentist?
Celebrated orthodontist Dr Krishnaswamy enlightens:
1. What are the key differences between a dentist and an orthodontist that a parent should know about?
A dentist attends to common dental problems such as tooth decay and gum diseases. He also provides dentures for missing teeth and removal of infected teeth. On the other hand, an orthodontist undergoes specialised training for a minimum period of three years after graduating to be a dentist. An orthodontist deals with the alignment of irregular teeth, the normalising of the imbalance of jaw bones to enhance optimal chewing efficiency and normal speech pattern, and in improving facial and dental aesthetics.
2. Is there awareness on this difference in India? If not, why the ignorance?
The upper crust of the society and people with good educational backgrounds recognise the difference, but many lay people do not. Part of the reason is due to the lack of publicity. Unlike in the West where the orthodontic association and individual orthodontists are allowed to publicise their services, in India, it is perceived as unethical. However, in recent times the Indian Orthodontic Society has taken steps to create public awareness by making short videos that are available on YouTube and FM radio. These are done after obtaining due permission from the health authorities.
3. How important is it for a child to visit an orthodontist as compared to a dentist?
Visits to dentists and orthodontists are equally important. It is recommended that you visit the dentist atleast once in six months. In fact, a conscientious dental practitioner will refer a child who's developing a bad bite to an orthodontist for early intervention.
4. What are the common issues that only an orthodontist can/should address in your child?
Most malocclusions are inherited. These include crowding of teeth, too much space between teeth, extra/missing teeth in cleft lip and palate, and various irregularities of the jaws and face. These are all best tackled by a qualified orthodontist.
5. When do you know it’s time for a visit to the orthodontist?
Orthodontic treatment can be provided at any age and the optimal time for individual patients may vary. It is strongly recommended that a child’s first visit to an orthodontist be before seven years of age. Depending on the type of problem, the first visit can even take place as early as two to three years of age, but treatment can be started only years later. Early examination allows the orthodontist to detect and evaluate problems and plan appropriate treatment at an appropriate time. In some cases, early treatment can be initiated to prevent much more serious problems from developing. This early intervention may make treatment at a later age shorter and less complicated.
Dr Krishnaswamy is a professor and Head of the Department of Orthodontics and the Vice Principal of Ragas Dental College & Hospital, Chennai, India. He is a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and a Diplomat of the Indian Board of Orthodontics and The National Board of Medical Sciences. He has served as the President of the Indian Orthodontic Society and the Chairman of the Indian Board of Orthodontics.