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Orthodontist vs Dentist—Does it Matter Which One You Visit?

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Some people are familiar with the difference between an orthodontist and a dentist because they’re used to visiting both.

But like most other folks, you might be confused about the two terms and think that dentists and orthodontists are the same thing.

Dentists and orthodontists actually work in two different fields of dentistry. We’re going to explain the differences and explain how you can choose the right treatment provider when comparing orthodontist vs dentist.

What is a dentist?

A dentist is a doctor for your mouth. He or she is someone who has gone through all the schooling, training, experience, and licensing procedures required to treat the teeth and gums of others.

Dentists do more than just fill cavities and perform root canals; they also play an important role in preventing dental health problems. Regular visits to the dentist can help you avoid the need for painful or expensive dental treatment.

There’s much more to your oral health than meets the eye. Your teeth are highly complex and they’re surrounded by an equally-complex network of nerves, bone, ligaments, gums, and blood vessels. Since there’s so much to learn about the health and treatment of all these tissues and the way they interact, dentistry has several branches of specialty medicine.

what is a dentist

This means that there are different kinds of dentists for treating different problems with your mouth. There’s more than one kind of dentist you can choose from.

Type of dentists

All dentists start out with the same basic education: four years of study for their bachelor’s degree and then another four years of doctoral study. Depending on the dental school program or undergraduate studies, this total period of study can vary from five to eight years.

For those who go on to study in a field of specialty, they have to complete at least two years of additional schooling to become a specialist dentist.

Some of the most common types of dental specialists include the following:

Remember that these are all dentists; they just focus on treating different kinds of patients, conditions, or parts of the teeth.

What does a general dentist do?

A general dentist refers to someone who practices with those eight years of basic dental schooling. They got their degree, became licensed to practice as a dental doctor, and now work in a dental office or clinic.

General dentists do all those things that come to mind when you think of a dentist: fillings, crowns, bridges, cleanings, and so on.

'A general dentist is usually the one you call when you have a toothache or need a dental cleaning. If you have an issue that requires treatment that your dentist can’t provide, then he or she will refer you out to a specialist.'

Many dentists market themselves as “family dentists” since they provide a wide spectrum of basic dental services for patients of all ages. Some dentists consider themselves to be “cosmetic dentists” because they focus on providing treatments like implants, veneers, or even Invisalign.

What is an orthodontist?

Before dip into what is an orthodontist, we have to understand some things. First of all, the origin of the word, to better understand the orthodontist meaning.

The word orthodontist comes from the Greek words orthos that mean ‘correct,’ and odon that means ‘tooth.’ So, if we talk about what is orthodontics (referred to the treatment) or whats is orthodontia (the appliances used on that treatment), we could tell that is something related to fixing your smile.

Whit this known, we can go on what is an orthodontist and what they do:

'An orthodontist is a dentist who specializes in the movement of teeth and the way they fit together in the mouth.'

An orthodontist gets those first eight years of dental school out of the way. Next, they participate in a two-year residency program to become officially accredited as an orthodontist.

Some orthodontists choose to expand their education and credibility even further by taking an additional exam to become a Board Certified Orthodontist.

General dentists often refer patients out to orthodontists when they have problems with their teeth alignment. It’s especially common for kids and teens to be referred to an orthodontist since teeth move more easily in youth.

What does an orthodontist do?

Orthodontists assess the overall bite of their patients. They evaluate the occlusion, or the way the teeth fit together, to see if there are any problems. Orthodontists then prescribe, place, and monitor the progress of braces.

An orthodontist is good at determining what factors contribute to crooked teeth. If you visit one, he or she could show you how jaw alignment, dental fillings, genetics, and even habits like thumb sucking could have caused your teeth alignment problems.

An orthodontist can also explain your risk for developing problems from having crooked teeth.

Just some of the problems caused by improperly-aligned teeth include:

what does an orthodontist do

Orthodontists offer a variety of treatment solutions for controlling the movement of teeth. Traditional braces, lingual braces, clear aligners like Invisalign, space maintainers, and more are all on the menu at an orthodontist’s office.

Orthodontists may also prescribe the removal of unnecessary teeth to reduce crowding. They also remove orthodontic wires for cleaning and other dental treatment and teach patients how to keep their teeth clean and healthy while wearing braces.

The differences between a dentist and an orthodontist

Both general dentists and orthodontists are actual dentists. But not all dentists are orthodontists.

This table can help you compare the differences between orthodontist and dentist:

 DentistOrthodontist
Education5-8 years of schooling; doctorate7-10 years of schooling; doctorate plus residency accreditation
Treatment FocusRepair of tooth decay, replacing missing teeth, diagnosing and preventing dental problems.Moving teeth into correct alignment, diagnosing tooth or jaw alignment problems, “balancing” out a bad bite.
Patient BasePatients of all agesMostly younger patients
Cost of TreatmentWide variety depending on treatment needs; many procedures like crowns and fillings are in the hundreds of dollars range.Treatment price varies by case but most cases start out around $3,000.
Providers to Patients Ratio60 dentists to every 100,000 people3 orthodontists to every 100,000 people

Orthodontist vs Dentist: how to choose the right provider for your smile

Does something about your tooth alignment bother you? Do you wish you had straighter teeth? Want to get rid of that gap in your smile? Ready to experience a more comfortable bite?

If you want to make major changes in your tooth alignment, then an orthodontist is the way to go. Orthodontists are dental specialists who have the knowledge and experience needed to get the job done.

Some regular dentists don’t suggest visiting an orthodontist or even notice the subtle signs that your bite is off. That’s why you might want to just go ahead and contact an orthodontist for yourself and schedule a consultation.

But you can opt to first see a regular dentist for a checkup. Once you’re all caught up on necessary dental treatment and you know your teeth are healthy, you can ask for a referral to a trusted orthodontist in the area.

'An actual orthodontist is your best bet for finding out orthodontic methods that will successfully straighten your teeth.'

Some bite alignment or gapping issues are actually quite small and can be quickly corrected in a dental office without spending years in braces. A bit of bonding material or some light drilling may be all you need to adjust your bite and close up the gap.

orthodontis vs dentist how to choose
dentist or orthodontist choose

An experienced general dentist will let you know based upon your age, oral health, and other circumstances whether a cosmetic dental procedure is a good substitute for traditional orthodontic treatment.

But if your bite is really off, then there is no shortcut, and you’ll need to see a specialist like an orthodontist to get the job done right. If you don’t know where to go or find a good professional, check our article “The best orthodontist near me” to find the best specialist in your area.)

Most initial orthodontic consultations are complimentary, anyway. So you may as well take advantage of one to find out whether you have any serious bite alignment issues and what your treatment options are. Then, you can compare this with what you learn from a regular dentist and then make an informed decision about your treatment.

So do you need to visit a dentist or an orthodontist? Well, the answer is actually: both!

A regular dentist won’t be able to fix your teeth if they’re very crooked, but they still play an important role in helping you avoid dental disease and in choosing the right orthodontist.

So while orthodontists provide specialist services that other dentists don’t, both kinds of dentists are essential to maintaining a beautiful smile!

orthodontist vs dentist differences
orthodontist vs dentist differences

Bullet points touching on what dentist does, what orthodontist is and does, difference, how to choose which one you need.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Afton Jackson

    Thank you for helping me understand all the things that an orthodontist can specialize in, especially teeth pain and overbites. I’ve had so many dinners ruined by the fact that my teeth have just decided to grow too large or too far forward and end up biting my lip constantly by accident during the meal. I feel like if I don’t do anything about it, I’ll have to live like this forever, so I’ll take your advice and look for any orthodontists I can consult about this.

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