Buyer beware: Dentists can be trained in orthodontics, but they’re not orthodontists

A Global News story about dentists moonlighting as orthodontists had many viewers wondering what they should be asking when they’re looking to get braces.

Global’s Crystal Goomansingh spoke with 18-year-old Alec Stephen, who got braces from her dentist – who said he could do the job of an orthodontist for a lower price.

After 18 months, she wound up with a more pronounced overbite and her teeth were further apart.

Stephen – who lives in Lincoln, N.B., just outside Fredericton, said she believed her dentist was a professional and that she could trust him. She eventually had to have the braces removed by an orthodontist in Winnipeg, where lived for a period of time recently.

Dentists get some orthodontics training, but can upgrade their skills in as little as a weekend. Trained orthodontists spend two to three years longer in university than dentists to become specialized and accredited.

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Stephen’s story looks like it will end on a positive note – after her story was covered by Global News, an orthodontist in Fredericton offered to replace her braces for free.

Stephen is not the only one to encounter this problem. Goomansingh spoke with Dr. Ron Wolk – a specialist in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics.

He had a patient come in to his Calgary practice just this week for a consultation, after getting braces from a dentist and having concerns about the progress of his treatment.

Wolk offered a few words of warning for consumers.

First, patients should be asking if they’re getting work done by a certified specialist and what affiliations they have, such as with the Canadian Association of Orthodontists or American Association of Orthodontists.

“Those two specialty groups are recognized… as only having members that are certified specialists. They’re formally trained, with university backgrounds – usually for an extra two to three years over and beyond that of a dentist,” he explained.

The problem is, there are some associations with similar sounding names. That’s where patients can get into trouble – very costly trouble.

“There’s one in particular, called the International Association of Orthodontics. They’re not really orthodontists. In other words, they’re not defined by their training, but defined by what they can do,” Wolk said.

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Dentists are able to practice orthodontics. But, unless they’ve gone to university to specialize, they’re not accredited – they just paid fees to take courses and become members of these sorts of societies.

“It’s very deceiving to the public,” Wolk said. “They see that [membership] as validity,” he said.

He suggests calling the associations to find out what it means to be a member.

“If a consumer is really interested in getting to the bottom of making their decision, I think that’s an excellent approach,” he said.

*Crystal Goomansingh made numerous attempts to contact the dentist that Stephen got her braces from, but none of the calls were returned.

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