What is the Difference between a Dentist and an Orthodontist?

You know you’re supposed to make an appointment with your dentist for a checkup every six months. But how often are you supposed to see an orthodontist? If you’re like many people, you may not even be 100% sure what an orthodontist does or how their skills differ from a dentist.  Education for both professions begins the same, but the field of orthodontia is a specialty that requires additional training.

What Does a Dentist Do?

You have probably been seeing a dentist since you were a child. Maybe even the same one! Dentists treat patients with regular checkups and care for their overall oral health. Your dentist is your first line of defense for protecting your teeth and gums. Dentists provide the following treatments:

  • Take and interpret x-rays
  • Extract teeth
  • Repair cracked or broken teeth
  • Fill cavities
  • Fill and bond teeth
  • Perform root canals
  • Help prepare and fit patients with dentures or dental implants
  • Whiten teeth
  • Prescribe medications for oral health conditions
  • Install veneers or crowns

A routine dental exam could reveal warning signs about cancer, heart health, and other serious oral health issues. When they spot a problem they are not qualified to treat, a dentist will refer their patient to a medical doctor or another dental specialist such as an orthodontist.

What Does an Orthodontist Do?

Both dentists and orthodontists complete four years of undergraduate education and another four years of dental school. Orthodontists continue their education with a two- or three-year residency in order to specialize. They complete a total of 4,800 additional learning hours after graduating from dental school.

The American Association of Orthodontists explains that orthodontists specialize in the treatment of dental problems that affect jaw or teeth alignment. Using braces, clear aligners, or other orthodontic appliances, an orthodontist creates an individualized plan for each patient to correct their alignment problems.

Orthodontists provide the following treatments:

  • Diagnose/treat malocclusions (misaligned jaws and teeth)
  • Supervise the facial growth of children pertaining to bite and jawline
  • Perform surgery to straighten teeth
  • Install dental appliances such as orthodontic headgear, braces, or palatal expanders
  • Treat temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ)

Like dentists, orthodontists are trained to diagnose and treat problems with oral health such as gum disease. They can also spot warning signs of other health problems and will refer patients to the appropriate specialist. But most orthodontists focus their practice on treating dental issues that affect jaw and teeth alignment.

Should You See a Dentist or an Orthodontist?

When you have a toothache, an injured tooth, suspect you may be getting a cavity, or are worried about your gum health, make an appointment with your dentist. If your dentist detects a problem that requires the advanced skills of orthodontia, they will refer you to a specialist.

Make an appointment with an orthodontist if you think you may need braces or have issues related to malocclusions. Difficulty biting and chewing, changes in your speech, or facial changes are all signs you need the services of an orthodontist.

If you have questions about Invisalign, jaw alignment, or TMJ, contact the friendly team at Gruelle Dempsey Orthodontics. We can help you schedule a virtual or in-person appointment.