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Dentist? Orthodontist? Aren't they the same thing? There might be a little bit of confusion concerning the difference between a dentist and an orthodontist, so I have written a number of articles to describe things. This fourth article outlines a few of the technical and legal issues of a person calling themselves an orthodontist, with particular reference to the UK and Ireland.
In the first article, I explained that orthodontists are dentists that concentrate their activity in a single section of dentistry. In the second, we looked at the various special regions of dentistry and also the particular things that an orthodontist would focus on. The third checked out the regulating dentistry, and this article looks at the regulating orthodontics and also the use of the description "orthodontist".
All orthodontists are dentists, first and foremost, and are regulated by an organisation which is setup by government to supervise the laws associated with dentistry - they would be described as a "competent body" in legal terms, and broadly speaking, they're there to safeguard the very best interests from the public, not the dentists. They see that dentists have achieved a minimum standard of skill and knowledge, and investigate claims they aren't conducting their work (or their behaviour generally) to an acceptable standard in various areas.
In the UK, this is actually the General Dental Council as well as in Ireland, this is actually the Dental Council.
For that practice of orthodontics, as with most other areas of dentistry, any dentist are capable of doing it as long as they are an authorized dentist, as well as their name appears around the "Dental Register". These dental councils also manage a number of "special registers" with the names of dentists they say is specialists inside a particular section of dentistry. In Ireland there's two specialist registers, in the UK you will find 13. One of these simple would be the "Specialist Register of Orthodontists".
If your dentist's name is roofed in this specialist register, they have satisfied their dental council they have a competency and expertise in orthodontics that entitles these to call themselves an "orthodontist" or a "specialist in orthodontics". They are able to still call themselves "dentist" and "dental surgeon".
The Dental Council (of Ireland) summarises its code of practice for dentists in the area of communications and public relations and includes these tips: "Registered practitioners not registered in the Register of Dental Specialists maintained by the Dental Council shall not use any form of words that could reasonably be interpreted by a member of the public to share that a practitioner is practicing like a specialist."
If a dentist's name isn't on the specialist list, then effectively their dental council doesn't make sure they have anymore skill in orthodontics than every other area of dentistry. They may still be very good at orthodontics, but there's no standardised register or any other method of causeing this to be distinction. Some dentists might do nothing else apart from orthodontics (sometimes they might describe themselves as "limited to orthodontics"), plus they might even have orthodontic qualifications from a university, but they can't call themselves an "orthodontist" or perhaps a "specialist" if they aren't out there.