Orthodontic education in Germany

Orthodontists are specialized dentists. Unfortunately in Germany, they have two different job titles: either “orthodontist” or “dentist for orthodontics.” Orthodontists graduate in dentistry which takes five and a half years. After that and before beginning postgraduate education, a one year occupation as general dentist is mandatory in most federal states. The postgraduate education in orthodontics takes three years. These three years can be completed at the orthodontic department of a university hospital of dentistry, but two of these three years can either be spent at an orthodontic office authorized to have postgraduate students. For this reason, the university education is reduced in most cases to the so called “clinic year.” This differs to the system of most other countries because orthodontists are usually being trained at a university hospital for three years. As the educating offices are hardly subjects to control and many German university hospitals train unsystematically or have too few patients, the German education is to be rated rather poor compared to international standards. Those who want to achieve a high standard as orthodontist have to invest a lot into courses, congresses and reading literature within the German educational system. Moreover, some federal states proceed to abolish the last bit of university education, i.e. the “clinic year.” The educational level has to suffer for young colleagues receiving their specialty training exclusively in poorly supervised orthodontic offices.

Master of Science (M.Sc.) in orthodontics

The hasty introduction of the Bologna-process – a unification of all university degrees in Europe – made it possible that different foreign private universities offer the Master of Science (M.Sc.) in orthodontics in Germany. Dentists can get this title by completing weekend courses and a small thesis in one to three years. In contrast postgraduate education of an orthodontist takes three years of full time work – so the training duration is ten times longer, not to mention the quality! While there are a few things to criticize about the education of German orthodontists, the training as M.Sc. in orthodontics remains far behind of this standard. Though it is good to hear that dentists learn about orthodontics systematically, a situation has been created in which the patients cannot distinguish the really different qualifications of the orthodontist and the M.Sc. in orthodontics anymore.

Dentists with ‘focus‘ in orthodontics

Every dentist is allowed to offer orthodontic services no matter whether or not special qualifications had been acquired. After some weekend courses and a few orthodontic treatments a dentist is allowed to practice as dentist ‘focusing’ on orthodontics. This ‘focus’ can be shown on all office materials and in advertisements. Unfortunately, patients confuse this designation with the term orthodontist, which can only be acquired after three years of full-time training. Only the orthodontist has completed this training and can rely on their knowledge in diagnostics and therapy acquired during the long years of education. A dentist who is making extra money with orthodontics is usually unable to reach a high level in this specialty. The confusion is completed when orthodontists call themselves “dentists for orthodontics” and the next door dentist’s office sign says “dentist – focus orthodontics”. Just one small word makes the difference! Who knows for sure which one of them has got three years of specialized training and which one just did only some weekend courses?