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Orthodontist vs Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons

What is the difference between an orthodontist and an oral and maxillofacial surgeon?  Which one is best for my child?

If you’re asking these questions then your child is probably in need of some serious dental work which is most likely causing you quite a bit of stress and anxiety.  The following guide to orthodontist vs oral and maxillofacial surgeons will help you understand the difference between the two so you can make the best choice for your child.


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An orthodontist has completed a general dental degree, followed by at least 2 years clinical experience as a dentist and then a further 3 years of full study to obtain a degree in orthodontics.

Orthodontists specialise in helping to correct crooked or crowded teeth as well as correcting over and under bites.  At first glance it may look like not much more than cosmetic dentistry but an orthodontist is much much more than a simple cosmetic dentist.  Structural dental problems not only have a huge impact upon a child’s and adolescents self-esteem, they can also lead to early problems with tooth decay, gum disease and tooth loss – crooked and crowed teeth are much harder to clean properly.

Dental problems can also impact upon jaw development and if not corrected result in breathing problems including sleep apnoea.

Early detection and treatment during childhood is important as the jaw is still developing.  It’s generally recommended that your child see an orthodontist by the age of 7, even if you suspect no problems, as the earlier a potential problem is identified, the easier and generally less expensive corrective treatment is.

If corrective orthodontic treatment is left too late, the services of an oral and maxillofacial surgeon may be required once the jaw has finished growing and developing.

Oral and maxillofacial surgeon

An oral and maxillofacial surgeon has completed a general dental degree as well as a medical degree and specialist training – that’s at least 12-14 years of study.  So an oral and maxillofacial surgeon combines dental, medical and surgical skills and expertise.  The term maxillofacial refers to the mouth and jaw, including all the bones and soft tissue in these areas.

Your child may be referred to an oral and maxilla facial surgeon for:

  • Correcting congenital and acquired jaw deformities due to illness or injury
  • Surgery to correct a cleft lip or cleft palette
  • Surgery for facial trauma to the jaw, cheekbones, nose and bones around the eyes
  • Jaw realignment surgery
  • Any surgery or dental work that needs to be carried out on your child under a general anaesthetic including removal of impacted or difficult to extract wisdom teeth

When to see an oral and maxillofacial surgeon vs. orthodontist

If you’re concerned about your child’s bite, teeth crowding, jaw development or other dental problems it’s generally recommended that they see a dentist or orthodontist first.  In most cases if corrective orthodontic work is started early, before growth spurts have stopped then corrective surgery by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon will not needed.

So don’t delay, if you suspect a problem act now and book your child in to see an orthodontist.

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Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

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