General dentists who practice orthodontics are a small minority, but those who do provide their patients with quality, specialized care, according to an article in the March 2003 issue of AGD Impact, the newsmagazine of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD).
According to the 2002 AGD Membership Survey, only about 9 percent of AGD members say they perform minor or complex tooth movement on a weekly basis. But the story may lie in the quarterly statistics: on a quarterly basis, those performing minor procedures jump to 24 percent, while those performing complex procedures drop to 4 percent. The fact that GPs performing major procedures do so more frequently than those performing minor ones suggests what most people already know: With more education and more experience comes more opportunity.
"We need general dentists to fill a very real void," says Yosh Jefferson, DMD, MAGD, a lecturer, author and general dentist who has practiced orthodontics for 17 years. "I estimate that only about 10 percent to 20 percent of orthodontic problems are being diagnosed. If all dentists were adequately trained and boosted that figure to 90 percent, then it would be essential that general dentists and pediatric dentists learn to do simple and moderate cases, and refer out the difficult ones."
As with any discipline, getting into orthodontics has its challenges: Those in the know say it requires a clear vision and a commitment to a long-term, structured continuing education track.
"Our field is so vast. We can't do everything on a specialty level, so we have to make choices," says William E. Wyatt Sr., DDS, member of the American Orthodontic Society. Because dental specialists are not distributed evenly among the population, it often is left to general dentists to fill the gap. GPs represent more than 80 percent of all dentists practicing in the United States, and their skills are sorely needed to relieve some of the pressure felt by specialists.
Having a clear vision of how orthodontics fits into a practice also is crucial for success, say doctors who have successfully mixed the discipline into their practices. GPs should identify how the specialty fits their practice philosophy, the amount of care they plan to provide, and the quality of continuing education available.
Educators are quick to point out that orthodontics is a complicated specialty. Intensive continuing education is required and a strong commitment must be made to see it through. More and more general dentists have been working to reach that degree of excellence. For more information on how orthodontics is fitting into the role of a general dentist, visit the Academy's Web site at