This is a question we get asked a lot. It can be confusing sometimes, with so many clinicians with overlapping skills – I’ll try give a broad overview of who we are and why our professions exists.
Dentists are doctor in general oral and dental health. They diagnose and treat dental diseases of teeth and oral tissues. They advise on the maintenance of your dental health and implement preventive treatments and measures so you can have optimum oral health. They spend most of their time performing things like check ups, fillings, scale and cleaning, root canal treatments and cosmetic and prosthetic dentistry. It is important to see a dentist regularly, especially if you are seeing an orthodontist.
Orthodontists are specialist dentists. They have trained and practiced as dentists and have then undergone further post-graduate training at an accredited institution allowing them to become registered specialists. An orthodontist specialises in diagnosing and treating teeth and jaw alignment issues, recognising and treating potential facial and dental growth issues which may be problematic in the future and treatment planning to achieve the best possible bite and smile. Orthodontists have knowledge in all orthodontic treatment options and will work with other specialists where necessary to manage complex and difficult issues to avoid unexpected outcomes.
Oral health therapists are clinicians who practice a subset of dentistry. Oral health therapists can be dental therapists, dental hygienists or both. Dental therapists typically practice general dentistry (such as examinations, cleans and fillings) on patients under the age of 25, however, some are qualified to treat patients of all ages. You may know them from the school dental service. As they practice a smaller number of procedures, treatment required which they cannot perform is referred to a dentist to manage. Dental hygienists are skilled in the prevention, treatment and management of gum health. They are skilled at managing gum disease – from clinical treatment to helping patients implement specific preventive regimes. In orthodontic practice, the oral health therapists assist your orthodontist in your treatment – from clinical tasks to assisting you with looking after your appliance.
I hope this helps. We all have our individual and important roles helping you with your oral and dental health.