A woman lays back in a dental chair as an orthodontist checks her teeth

Dentist or Orthodontist in Illinois: Who Should You Go To For Aligners or Braces?

Dentist or Orthodontist in Illinois: Who Should You Go To For Aligners or Braces?

Learn about the differences between dentists and orthodontists for orthodontic care

Do you struggle knowing whether you should visit a dentist or an orthodontist for straightening your teeth? Many dentists now offer braces or aligners, but do you know the difference between the schooling and expertise in straightening teeth between a dentist and orthodontist? Did you know that in the state of Illinois dentists must make it clear to their patients that they are not an orthodontist? In this article, we discuss the Illinois Dental Practice Act and how you can make sure you know the legal differences between orthodontists and dentists and the protections in place in Illinois for your dental health. We also discuss why orthodontists are experts in straightening teeth and what you should know about dentists that advertise as doing orthodontic work.

What is the Illinois Dental Practice Act?

The state of Illinois has a Dental Practice Act overseen by the Department of Professional Regulation that regulates how dentistry is practiced in the state. It was established for the protection of the citizens of the state and is very specific concerning how dentists and dental specialists can advertise their services as well as how they can practice. Unfortunately, as dentistry has evolved, new technologies have eliminated much of the work that was once the staple of dentistry. As a result, dentists have tried to implement other avenues of income that are not necessarily their area of expertise. Over time, some aspects of the Illinois Dental Practice Act have been ignored as dentists have tried to walk, and sometimes blur, the lines of expertise and accreditation. As a result, many people do not know the very real differences between orthodontists and dentists and the protections that are in place to ensure your health and rights as a consumer are protected.

The Expertise of Orthodontists

Since you are looking at this web page, it would be logical to assume you are interested in quality orthodontic treatment for you or a family member. You should understand that there is a different level of training for orthodontics than for dentists. In truth, orthodontists are just like dentists in that they go to dental school, but orthodontists have to be among the top dentists in their dental school class in order to pursue three more years of specialized training in orthodontics.

How Can Dentists Do Orthodontic Work?

For a dentist to be an orthodontist in Illinois, the dentist must attend and graduate from a university-based 3-year orthodontic program accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA) and must be an active member of the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO), the oldest specialty in dentistry. Prior to 2014, each active orthodontic specialist had to pass a state-proctored written exam, present highly successful finished cases, and demonstrate clinical proficiency with patients treated over two days of chair-side testing.

Every dentist that graduates from an accredited dental school and passes the appropriate state accreditation written and clinical testing has had at least a semester of orthodontic instruction, usually with an associated lab, and some of the lab techniques are incorporated with the pedodontic lab. This training includes such appliances as space maintainers, expansion devices, removable and fixed appliances for molar uprighting, and segmental alignments for implants and other short-term orthodontic treatments. They do not receive the experience of diagnosing and treating orthognathic surgical cases or even fixed appliance treatment (braces) that can take two or more years. However, IN THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, any licensed dentist can perform any of the specialties, including oral and maxillofacial radiology, periodontics, pedodontics, endodontics, prosthodontics, and orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics under three conditions:

  1. The treatment rendered by the dentist is required to be to the same standards as that expected of a licensed specialist.
  2. “When words relating to specialty practice are used in an advertisement, the advertisement must not imply that the dentist offering those services is licensed as a specialist unless he holds a specialty license by the Division. Words that cannot be used by a dentist unless licensed in that specialty are Endodontist, Pedodontist, Pediatric Dentist, Periodontist, Orthodontist, Oral and Maxillofacial Radiologist or Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon. Terms such as “Specialist Practice Limited to”, or Limited to the Specialty of Orthodontics shall be prima facie evidence that such dentist is holding himself out to the public as a specialist. A general dentist who advertises, in any media, using words or phrases customarily used by a specialist, except those prohibited above, but does not hold a specialty license, shall include in the advertisement a prominent disclaimer that he or she is licensed only as a general dentist” Section 1220.421, Admin Code, Illinois Dental Practice Act.
  3. “Advertising shall not use language suggesting a dental specialty that is not specified in Section 1220.310 unless it contains the disclaimer required in subsection (g). Examples of language requiring disclaimer: family dentistry, cosmetic dentistry, restorative dentistry, preventive dentistry, hospital dentistry, implant dentistry, TMJ, cranio mandibular dentistry.” Section 1220.421 Admin Code, Illinois Dental Practice Act

Illinois Dental Practice Act Protections

As you can tell, the State of Illinois continues to modify the Dental Practice Act to protect the public from all forms of public communication that are “fraudulent, deceptive, inherently misleading, or proven to be misleading in practice. This is especially true as the use of aligner systems proliferate. Any dentist can take a set of models or digital scan and send them in to an aligner company. There, the company employs technicians trained to create the aligners to the best of their liability, but they are not orthodontists. However, they do not have to be. The responsibility for understanding how the aligner set-up will work is up to the dentist and has to be signed off by the dentist or orthodontist prior to being shipped to the dental office. If not evaluated and modified appropriately, as those of us who understand what aligners are capable of and what they are not, the results will be compromised, treatment will be prolonged, and patients will be unhappy. As orthodontists, we are seeing a lot of those individuals that chose going to a dentist for aligners and orthodontic care over seeing an orthodontist and being unhappy with the results.

Orthodontist vs Dentist: How to make a decision

What should you do to make sure you are informed about who is performing your specialty work? Since more and more offices are advertising their offices as Family Dentistry and Orthodontics as you see above, you need to know who is licensed as a specialist, if any, in that office. Begin by asking on the telephone if the dentist doing the orthodontics or oral surgery or periodontal work is a specialist licensed in the state of Illinois? If your dentist is offering to provide specialty treatment and has provided the required disclaimer, the smart move would be sure to get a second, third, even more opinions from licensed specialists in whatever specialty to feel comfortable. Do not feel intimidated by asking! And do not believe that costs with a specialist will be much higher. You may be very surprised. More and more we are finding that it is costing more for non-specialists to do the treatment with less experience and taking more time and with more overhead they have to make up for.

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