Dentist Versus Orthodontist: What’s the Difference?

All orthodontists are dentists, but not all dentists are orthodontists. For that reason, it is easy for people to confuse the two. An orthodontist typically works within a particular dental specialty and receives extra education and training. By definition, a general dentist performs a wider variety of services related to oral care.

Services Provided

An orthodontist primarily provides services related to the teeth’s alignment. Orthodontics concentrates on correcting conditions such as underbites or overbites. When teeth are crowded or misaligned, orthodontic treatment uses braces, aligners, or other appliances to slowly guide them into the proper position. Once a dentist goes on to become an orthodontist, he or she will typically only perform orthodontic services despite having the education in general dentistry to do more.

The scope of a general dentist’s practice is much wider. General dentistry involves preventing tooth decay and other oral diseases with cleanings and other prophylactic care. It also involves diagnosing and treating such conditions when they do arise. General dentists may extract failed teeth and then replace them with bridges, crowns, or dentures. They also provide cosmetic services like teeth whitening or veneers.

The laws of some states allow general dentists to provide services that would typically be performed by a specialist. Therefore, depending on where you live, you may have had braces applied or aligners fitted by a general dentist rather than an orthodontist. However, performing orthodontic services does not automatically make a practitioner an orthodontist.

Education Required

Dentists and orthodontists start out with the same level of education. Each attends a four-year dentistry school and receives a degree, either a DDS or a DMD. An orthodontist goes on to receive further education particular to the specialty by serving an orthodontic residency, which can last two to three years. The final step to becoming an orthodontist is passing an exam to complete the training. From the time that a candidate finishes high school to the time that he or she completes the residency and passes the exam, it can take 10 to 11 years of postsecondary education to become an accredited orthodontist.

Though not required, some orthodontists seek board certification from the American Board of Orthodontics. This is a voluntary credential that involves additional examination and continuing education.

Dentists and orthodontists end up taking very different paths, yet each has a significant role to play in improving and maintaining oral health. For more information about the services that an orthodontist provides, please contact an orthodontist, like an orthodontist in Dana Point, CA, for an appointment today.

Thank you to the experts at John Redmond Orthodontics for their input into orthodontic care.