The role of an orthodontist
- Orthodontists are dental specialists who help correctly align teeth, bites, and jaws, including straightening teeth.
- You do not need a referral to see an orthodontist.
- Every child can benefit from a visit to an orthodontist for an assessment, as it can address or avoid serious problems.
What is a orthodontist?
An orthodontist is a dental specialist who prevents, diagnoses and treats facial irregularities. Orthodontic treatments aim to improve the way the teeth and jaws function, as well as the person’s smile or appearance. They straighten crooked or misaligned teeth, fix bad bites and make sure jaws are correctly aligned.
An orthodontist completes an extra 3 years of specialist training at university after they have completed their general dental degree.
Orthodontists sometimes work as part of a team together with dentists and oral and maxillofacial surgeons to improve oral health and correct jaw problems.
What is the difference between an orthodontist and a dentist?
A general dentist is like your family GP. They are highly skilled health professionals who can diagnose and treat conditions that affect your teeth, mouth and gums.
Orthodontists are dentists that have additional training in orthodontics, facial growth and development, biology, and biomechanics. They are experts in all orthodontic treatment options and technologies for children, teenagers and adults. For example, an orthodontist can assess your child’s developing teeth and jaws, and help manage thumb or finger-sucking habits.
When do I see an orthodontist?
Early orthodontic evaluation is always a good idea. Orthodontics Australia recommends children between the ages of 7 and 10 years visit a specialist orthodontist for an assessment. You do not need a referral from a dentist.
Orthodontists treat children, teenagers and adults whose teeth are crooked, or whose jaws are not correctly aligned. They often treat bite problems caused by the upper and lower teeth not ‘fitting together’ properly.
Signs that suggest you or your child could benefit from a visit to the orthodontist include:
- difficulty or pain with biting or chewing
- problems breathing through the mouth or snoring
- speech problems
- prematurely losing baby teeth due to cavities (decay) or trauma
- thumb sucking
An orthodontist can also improve the appearance of your teeth, for example if you have:
- teeth that don't meet properly when you bite down or smile
- crooked, uneven, protruding, or crowded teeth
- an underbite or overbite
- jaws and teeth that are out of proportion to the rest of the face
Orthodontic treatment to straighten the teeth and correct a bite can take 18 months or more. This is because the teeth need to gradually move into correct alignment.
The most common orthodontic treatment, usually done in teenagers, is straightening or aligning teeth. Your orthodontist will attach metal braces or clear aligners to the teeth. The person may have other appliances fitted, such as expansion plates, braces or bite-correcting springs.
Adults may prefer to have lingual braces, which are fitted to the inside of the teeth. Some people will also go to an orthodontist to close a wide gap between their teeth or improve the appearance of their smile.
Do I need a referral to see an orthodontist?
You do not need a referral from your dentist to visit an orthodontist. You can find and contact an orthodontist yourself, either as a new patient or to seek a second opinion.
How can I find an orthodontist?
You can ask your dentist to refer you to an orthodontist, but you don’t need a referral. Use the healthdirect service finder to locate an orthodontist near you.
FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.
You can also find an orthodontist on the Orthodontics Australia website.
You might prefer to ask family and friends to recommend an orthodontist. Visit the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency website to check if an orthodontist is registered. This list includes both general dentists and specialist dentists, including orthodontists.
What should I expect during an appointment with my orthodontist?
During your first orthodontic consultation, your orthodontist will listen to your concerns and address any questions. They will look in your mouth to assess your bite and your teeth alignment, and check how your teeth and jaws function.
They will then explain their findings, and discuss treatment options that they can offer you, based on your or your child’s situation. Your orthodontist will also explain all aspects of your treatment plan, including costs, and the expected outcome.
How much will an orthodontist cost?
Orthodontic treatment is expensive. For example, an 18-month treatment plan using traditional metal braces can cost between $6,000 and $9,000. The costs are not covered by Medicare or the Australian Government’s Child Dental Benefits Scheme.
Some states, such as South Australia and New South Wales, offer free or subsidised orthodontic treatment to certain eligible children through the public health system. This subsidised treatment may be limited to severe conditions.
The organisation Give a Smile, a charitable arm of the Australian Society of Orthodontists, also provides free braces to some children.
If you have private health insurance, the extras may include some of the costs of private orthodontic treatment. Before you or your children start on a course of orthodontic treatment, be sure to get quotes from a few orthodontists so you can compare them.
If you have private health insurance, find out how much your health fund will pay. Most health funds have a 12-month waiting period before you can claim benefits for orthodontic treatment. You may be able to find an orthodontist who offers an interest-free payment plan.
Resources and support
Visit the Orthodontics Australia site for information on treatment and costs.
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Last reviewed: January 2023