Orthodontist Vs. Dentist – What is the Difference?

Orthodontists and dentists are both dental professionals that help to improve the appearance of the smile. Moreover, they promote oral health and hygiene in different ways. To describe both the dental fields in broad terms – general dentistry deals with the healthcare of the teeth, gums, nerves, and jaw.

On the other hand, orthodontics is a specialty that deals with complex smile corrections such as malocclusions, misalignment, and correcting the uneven bite. (1) This article will give you an idea of how orthodontist is different from general dentists.

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Is there any similarity between an orthodontist and a dentist?

Ideally, both the dentists and orthodontists undergo formal education to receive a dental degree. However, orthodontists complete further training in a residency program. Both the dentists and the orthodontist primarily focus on the oral health of the patient. (2)

What is the difference between the two?

There are more differences between an orthodontist and a dentist as compared to similarities. As mentioned above, orthodontists undergo additional training in a residency program for 2-3 years post-dental degree. Another difference is that orthodontists provide dental care that primarily focuses on the alignment of the teeth using corrective dental devices. Some of the critical responsibilities of orthodontist include –

  • Orthodontists specialize in facial and dental growth and development of the patient.
  • They intervene during an early age to reduce the need for aggressive orthodontic treatment. Moreover, they focus on providing improved results.
  • They help in maintaining proper teeth and jaw alignment (3)
  • They use specialized dental devices such as metal and ceramic braces, clear aligners and retainers
  • They are trained in interpreting complex dental radiograph that determine the growth patterns of the skeletal and dental structures
  • Although the orthodontists restrict their practice to treating patients with malocclusions, they are equally trained in general dentistry as compared to dentists.

The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children should visit the orthodontist at least once before the age of seven. This helps the orthodontist to diagnose complex cases such as crooked smile, overcrowding, tooth spacing, overbite, underbite, and misalignment of teeth and jaw.

Dentists, on the other hand, do not undergo specialization. They start their dental practice after passing state licensing exam post-graduation from a dental school. Moreover, dentists are often referred to by their degree as DDS/DMD. Some of the critical responsibilities of general dentists include –

  • They primarily focus on the oral health and hygiene of the patient
  • They treat dental diseases like tooth decay, gum disease, tooth fracture, and periodontal diseases.
  • Additionally, general dentists are like family doctors hat carry out routine dental examinations and provide professional teeth cleaning and repair to prevent disease spread
  • Dentists carry out routine x-rays to identify the dental condition of the patient(4)
  • Unlike orthodontists, dentists are not trained in treating patients with malocclusions. Therefore, they often refer such patients to the specialist.
  • Some of the procedures performed by dentists include tooth filling, tooth extraction, root canal treatment, and fluoride

How to choose between the two?

It is essential to identify the dental issue before consulting a specialist. If you experience the following dental problems, you must consult a general dentist –

  • Tooth pain and sensitivity
  • Tooth cavity or extensive decay
  • Swelling around the gums
  • Bad breath and yellow teeth (5)
  • A cracked tooth or tooth filling

On the other hand, consult an orthodontist if you have the following concerns –

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  • You have misaligned teeth
  • Protruding front teeth
  • Crooked smile
  • Inability to chew food or speak properly
  • Constant pain and aches due to uneven bite

Ideally, both the orthodontist and the dentist pay a crucial role in maintaining the health of your teeth. However, patients must be aware of the treatments offered by both dental professionals. This will help them to get the right treatment for their dental condition.

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