The Differences Between an Orthodontist and a Dentist

Just about everyone knows what a dentist is, and hopefully made at least a few visits to one. You may also be aware that an orthodontist and a dentist, though they work with oral health, are not exactly the same. When you need your teeth cleaned twice a year, you head to your dentist. If you need your teeth straightened, you seek out an orthodontist. But the differences don’t stop there. Although both have similar schooling requirements and help you advance your oral hygiene, their unique roles tend to be much more different than you may realize.

Education Requirements

To be eligible to practice, both dentists and orthodontists need to obtain an advanced degree and pass a certification exam that proves their understanding and skills. With a DDS or a DMD (a four-year degree in addition to an undergraduate degree), a dentist can immediately begin his or her own practice. On the other hand, an orthodontist must participate in a residency program (an additional two or three years) to learn and become specialized in the field. Did you catch that an orthodontist goes to at least 10 years of school after high school?

Type of Work

The most significant difference between dental and orthodontic practice is in the specialization of work. Some areas may overlap. For example, both may be able to treat patients with Invisalign, but overall, they are different departments. Orthodontists do not drill cavities or perform cleanings like dentists do. On the other side, dentists rarely provide or prescribe braces to patients. Dentists and orthodontists will tend to refer patients to one another for services that are outside of their scope.

Different Types of Treatments

Your dentist can take care of things like veneers, crowns, fillings, or whitening your teeth. If you need your jaw aligned or your teeth straightened, that is where an orthodontist comes into play. The treatment you get from an orthodontist is intended to diagnose and treat things such as malocclusion (bite problems), corrected with solutions like retainers or braces. For easy reference: 

Dental Treatments

  • Preventive treatments – like cleanings
  • Root canals
  • Crowns
  • Bridges
  • Tooth extractions (including wisdom teeth)
  • Tooth decay
  • Gum disease treatment
  • Emergency services

Orthodontic Treatments

  • Alignment of teeth
  • Alignment of jaws – treating for crossbite, over or under bite
  • Jaw expansion
  • Creating space for implants
  • Compensating for missing teeth
  • Improving smile astetics

Conclusion – Who Do You See?

It really boils down to dentists are generalists and provide a wide array of services and orthodontists specialize in the prevention and correction of poorly positioned teeth and jaws

If you are looking for a local orthodontist, Bates Orthodontics is here for you! We have three locations in the Richmond area and offer a variety of services to suit your needs. Not sure exactly what you need for your smile? Book a free consultation with Dr. Bates and you will be well taken care of. We can’t wait to meet you!