Updated on February 7, 2024
5 min read

Orthodontist vs Dentist

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Orthodontists and dentists share many similarities. They’re both dental professionals who provide oral health care and help you maintain a beautiful smile. However, dentists and orthodontists are not the same.

The two have fundamental differences, including their unique, specialized training and what they treat. All orthodontists are dentists, but not all dentists are orthodontists. 

You may be wondering which dental professional you should see. This article explains the difference between a dentist and an orthodontist, including their education, training, and the services they provide.

Orthodontist vs. Dentist: Education and Training 

At first, orthodontists and dentists undergo the same education and training in general dentistry. However, orthodontists complete additional training after they graduate from dental school and before they go into practice.

How to Become a Dentist

All dentists must first complete 3 or 4 years of undergraduate education before applying to dental school.

Then, they take a Dental Admissions Test (DAT) to determine whether or not they’re qualified to enter dental school.

Dental school typically lasts 4 years, leading to a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree.

In dental school, students engage in different levels of training each year:

  • First 2 years — classroom study and laboratory projects.
  • Final 2 years — clinical experience under the supervision of practicing dentists. 

Classes may involve operative dentistry, gross anatomy, oral medicine, and histology.

To become licensed to practice dentistry, they must pass the National Board Dental Examination (NBDE) after graduating. They can become licensed in both general and specialized dentistry.

How to Become an Orthodontist

Orthodontists typically go through a similar process to become a dentist. This includes completing a bachelor’s degree and graduating from dental school.

As dental specialists, orthodontists must undergo additional education beyond a general dental degree. Depending on the curriculum, they must complete an orthodontic residency for at least 2 to 3 years.

Because they’re pursuing a dental specialty, aspiring orthodontists must master many procedures and orthodontic practices during this education.

Orthodontic education includes training in:

  • Application of corrective treatment
  • Understanding facial surgery
  • Understanding how teeth and jaws move

After completing the orthodontic program, they receive a master’s degree or an orthodontics certificate. They must also pass the American Board of Orthodontics (ABO) exam. Once they pass, they earn a certificate and can perform orthodontic treatment.

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Orthodontist vs. Dentist: What’s the Difference?
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What’s the Difference Between a Dentist and an Orthodontist?

A dentist and an orthodontist are both doctors who specialize in dental health, but their responsibilities differ. They both keep your mouth healthy but in distinct ways.

Similarities 

The primary similarity between dentists and orthodontists is that they both provide dental care.

Orthodontists can have their own dental offices and perform the same procedures as general dentists. Both are doctors that handle oral health. However, an orthodontist’s specialization sets them apart from a general dentist. There are nine other types of dentists.

Differences

There are many differences between a dentist and an orthodontist. It’s easiest to distinguish one from the other by the kind of treatment they offer. To further understand what sets them apart, it’s important to know other aspects of each profession. 

What Does a Dentist Do?

Dentists cover a broad range of oral health care, including diagnosing and treating oral diseases. They also teach their patients about good oral hygiene and help prevent dental disease.

A family dentist may provide the following services:

Both dentists and orthodontists can provide clear aligner treatment. Orthodontists tend to have more experience aligning teeth. But with good continuing education, dentists can also prescribe clear aligners.

What Does an Orthodontist Do?

Orthodontists specialize in tooth alignment. Dentists may refer patients to an orthodontist for specialty care.

Many people associate orthodontists with braces. However, braces are just one of many orthodontic treatments. 

Other orthodontic services include:

  • Supervision of facial growth (jawline and bite) in children
  • Diagnosis and treatment of misaligned teeth and jaws (malocclusion)
  • Creating treatment plans that include braces, aligners, and retainers
  • Performing teeth-straightening surgery
  • Correcting an improper bite, such as overbite, underbite, or crossbite
  • Straightening teeth that are crooked or misaligned
  • Making space for crowded teeth
  • Moving teeth into proper alignment
  • Installing dental appliances, such as braces, palatal expanders, or orthodontic headgear

Should You See a Dentist or an Orthodontist? 

Knowing how dentists and orthodontists differ is essential to get the right type of care. Think of a dentist as a general practitioner and an orthodontist as a dental specialist.

When Should You See A Dentist?

A dentist can provide standard dental care. Visit your dentist if you need treatment for:

  • Tooth pain
  • Tooth decay
  • Tooth repair
  • Tooth extraction
  • Gum disease
  • Oral inflammation
  • Oral infections

When Should You See An Orthodontist?

Orthodontic treatment focuses on getting your teeth and jaws to align properly. Visit your orthodontist for special cases, such as:

  • Jaw malocclusion
  • Tooth crowding
  • Palate expansion
  • Teeth straightening
  • Braces

Summary

Dentists and orthodontists are licensed practitioners who provide oral care services for a healthy smile. Both dentists and orthodontists must complete dental school and receive extensive training. Orthodontists are dentists who specialize in orthodontics.

Visit the dentist for oral health issues like tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth repair.

Orthodontic care includes special treatments for jaw alignment, crooked teeth, and palate expansion.

Last updated on February 7, 2024
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 7, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Orthodontic Treatments.” National Health Service, 2023.
  2. DDS and DMD.” American Dental Association, 2023. 
  3. What does an orthodontist do?” Orthodontics Australia, 2021.
  4. Become Certified.” American Board of Orthodontics, nd.
  5. “What’s the Difference Between a Dentist and an Orthodontist?” Ontario Association of Orthodontists, 2023.
  6. Kowarski, I. “How to Get Into Dental School and Become a Dentist.” U.S. News, 2019.
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