What is the difference between dentist and orthodontist?

September 05, 2019

What is the difference between dentist and orthodontist?
Dentist vs Orthodontist
Orthodontist and dentist scope of work

This is a rather common question when it comes to oral hygiene. Most people at least have an inkling of the difference between dentistry and orthodontics, but that inkling is usually as simple as associating orthodontists with braces and dentists with annual dental cleanings.


The truth is, it’s important to know the difference, so that when you experience a problem with your mouth, gums, teeth or jaw, you can make an appointment with the right doctor.


Difference between orthodontist vs dentist training


Orthodontists and dentists begin their careers on the same path, by initially undergoing the same type of training. The difference is that orthodontists actually go on to complete specialized training, after participating in the standard dental training.


In order to become a dentist, you must have four years of undergraduate education and then an additional four years of dental school. Upon successful completion of studies, dentists will then have to take a written exam and a clinical licensing exam. If they past those exams, they will be able to begin practicing.


This is also the point where a dentist must decide if they want to practice as a dentist, or continue to obtain a specialty degree like orthodontics. Less than 10% of dentists have specific orthodontic training, and who would blame them? That’s a lot of school and training! In fact, specialized orthodontic training includes a two to three-year residency and over 4,800 hours of training.


What is a dentist?


A dentist is a doctor with a dental degree and works in the field of dentistry. Dentistry includes anything related to overall oral health. Most people are recommended to see their dentists at least once a year for a regular checkup. At these checkups, your dentist will look for cavities, or signs of gum disease and other oral hygiene issues. They are also responsible for tooth extraction when necessary.

Dentists are trained in applying bonding, crowns and veneers as well, whether for aesthetic or medical reasons. Another very important task assigned to dentists, is checking your mouth for signs of oral diseases that may require treatment.


What is an orthodontist?


An orthodontist, as mentioned above, is a dentist who has undergone additional training to specialize in orthodontics. Orthodontics has to do with jaw alignment and the movement of teeth. In practice, this means that orthodontists are responsible for fixing malocclusion such as crooked teeth, diastema (gaps between teeth), open bites, crossbites and underbites.


In order to treat these conditions, orthodontists will often use braces. Braces have come a long way since the days of ‘train track’ mouths. You can still get traditional metal braces, but you also have the option of clear braces, ceramic braces, clear aligners and lingual braces.


If you have a malocclusion problem that can’t be fixed with braces alone, your orthodontist may first have to refer you to jaw surgery, or extract some of your teeth.


When you should see an orthodontist vs a dentist?


Depending on where you live, your dentist may perform some orthodontic duties, but you probably won’t find any orthodontists to give you general dental treatment. And anyways, it’s best to see the right person, depending on your oral health needs. Have a look at the following examples of potential oral health issues, to see when you should see and orthodontist or a dentist:

When to see a dentist:

  • Toothaches
  • Cavities
  • Chipped or broken tooth


When to see an orthodontist:

  • Malocclusion
  • Braces
  • Broken fixed retainer


Keep in mind that if you aren’t sure who to see, you can always have a consultation with your dentist, who will refer you to an orthodontist if needed.


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