What Is the Difference Between a Dentist and an Orthodontist?

Are you looking to get some work done on your teeth?

In most cities, there are a lot of options when it comes to oral healthcare. Whether you need some fillings, a crown, a whole set of veneers, or even some straighter teeth, you have your choice of professionals.

But who are you supposed to choose? What’s really the difference between these different careers? What is the difference between a dentist and an orthodontist?

If you’re a little confused, that’s totally reasonable. You may know people who have gone to an orthodontist for what you would consider dental work, and someone who has gone to a dentist for what you would consider orthodontic work.

What gives?

Keep reading so that we can talk you through it and maybe clear the air a bit.

What Is a Dentist?

A dentist is someone who’s gone to school for the purpose of giving all of their patients healthy mouths.

They are doctors of oral health. They generally have some kind of undergraduate experience in medicine or dentistry before going to dental school as their post-graduate education.

While there, they learn to treat common problems and perform general dentistry, or the kind of dentistry that the average person will need at some point in their lifetime.

All dentists have graduate degrees and they’ve all received extensive training. A dentist is not the same as a dental hygienist, who you may also see at a dentist’s office.

A hygienist isn’t quite as trained as a dentist, and they focus on more of the surface level work under the watchful eye of the dentist.

What Can a Dentist Do Or Fix? 

A dentist is a good “all-around” tooth doctor. They’re the people that you’re going to see when you have a toothache, a cavity, or when you just need a good cleaning.

Dentists can fix cracked teeth, manage teeth whitening, handle wisdom tooth extractions, perform X-Rays, and diagnose complicated oral problems like periodontal disease. Dentists are also able to prescribe medications or treatments depending on the problem that you have.

Dentists do all of the preventative work. They’ll do cleanings, they’ll do quick fixes to delay future problems, and they’ll encourage overall oral hygiene. They can also do the more complicated work of root canals, managing tooth decay, and installing veneers.

Some dentists focus specifically on a particular kind of dentistry, like pediatric dentistry (or dentistry for children). Others stay in the area of general dentistry and choose to learn everything without specialization.

This is where it starts to get complicated, and where many people may get confused.

Dentists are also often able to do orthodontic work.

Not all dentists are going to be comfortable with this and not all of them have the resources. Many dentists, though, are able to complete simple orthodontic procedures and many even offer popular options like Invisalign.

What Is an Orthodontist? 

An orthodontist is (or was) also a dentist.

After dental school, they continue their schooling in a slightly different direction. They choose to specialize in conditions of the teeth and jaw that can’t be dealt with through standard dental care.

Orthodontists continue their training for 2 to 3 more years while they practice, learning intricacies of the mouth that dentists may not be as in tune with. There’s nothing wrong with stopping as a dentist, but orthodontists just have more specialized training.

Some orthodontists may have further specializations. They may focus on severe jaw abnormalities, cosmetic orthodontia, or pediatric orthodontia (learn more about your child’s orthodontic care here).

What Can an Orthodontist Do Or Fix

Orthodontists can do much of what standard dentists do. They’re qualified to do all of the routine cleaning, extractions, fillings, and other things that your home dentist can also do. That said, this isn’t what they went to school for.

Orthodontists are better-suited for problems that may be too complicated for your family dentist.

While dentists can offer orthodontic care, like braces, an orthodontist is going to spend more time ensuring that everything goes smoothly. Orthodontia isn’t just about having straight teeth, even if that’s why most of us opt for it.

An orthodontist is going to be more aware of the placement of your jaw, the way that your teeth connect (or your “bite”), and all of the conditions that you might not even realize that you have.

Straight teeth are nice, but not at the risk of causing harm to your teeth and jaw. A good orthodontist will know how to navigate this.

Orthodontists are more likely to offer different kinds of braces. They will likely be highly-recommended providers of Invisalign, but they can also offer traditional braces, headgear, lingual braces, and more. Some also offer fast-track braces like 60-Day Smiles or Invisalign express.

They can do this because they know the teeth and jaw better than any other professional.

In other words, a dentist is similar to your GP or family doctor. An orthodontist is a specialist who your dentist may refer you to.

So What’s the Difference Between a Dentist and an Orthodontist? 

In short, dentists and orthodontists are both doctors of oral health. They can both treat oral conditions that range from simple to complicated, and some can offer surgery.

So what’s the difference between a dentist and an orthodontist? Several years of training and a specific focus in the field.

When you need a check-up, go to a dentist. They have everything that you need. When it’s time to do complicated work like straightening your teeth or working with jaw alignment, you want to see an orthodontist to get the most professional work done.

They’re both valuable practitioners, they just fill different voids.

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