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What is the Difference Between a Dentist and an Orthodontist?

What’s the difference between the orthodontist and the common dentist you meet twice per year? While the orthodontist is educated in specialized medicine, you wouldn’t seek out the expert for a simple toothache. Your local family dentist should be the initial point of contact for any oral health concerns , e.g., tooth pain. The common dentist addresses possible tooth decay, treats teeth with crowns, veneers, bonding or extractions and watches for any circumstances that impact the oral well-being.

But, what about your orthodontist? You may need to see an orthodontist if you have a serious condition like gum disease or periodontitis. Orthodontists are licensed dentists, but not all dentists are orthodontists. Orthodontists have specialized training that tend to be more in depth than other dental specialists. They usually concentrate on the movement of the teeth and/or straightening them. Orthodontics can also help with the treatment of gum disease.

But, when do you see each professional? Is your tooth pain worth a trip to the orthodontist, or can your regular dentist help? Can your family dentist straighten your teeth, or would an orthodontist be a better option? To best distinguish between the two, let’s focus on the schooling/training required for each and the common practices and procedures of each profession.

Schooling and Training

To become a dentist, you must first get a bachelor’s degree and apply at an accredited dental school. Dental schools have a reputation for being highly selective with only those who pass the entrance exam. Once accepted into dental school, one must complete the four-year program. Once one completes that program and graduates, they are then allowed to practice general dentistry. Depending on the dental school in which they attended, they could either receive a D.D.S. (doctor of dental surgery) or D.M.D. (doctor of dental medicine) degree.

To become an orthodontist, one must follow the same steps to graduate through dental school. However, they receive more specialized schooling afterwards in which general dentists do not. They must complete a two-three year residency program in orthodontics. Once that is completed, they can (and should) be certified by the American Board of Orthodontics. Therefore, while both general dentists and orthodontists require extensive schooling and training, those wishing to become an orthodontist must complete a few more years of specialized training.


With regard to specific procedures and treatments done by dentists and orthodontists, there are some differences. Your primary dentist is responsible for treating you as well as your family members. They will also provide care for your teeth and gums. They will provide your yearly checkups which may include x-rays, fillings, and similar treatments. They can usually also repair broken or cracked teeth and assist patients with fitting for dentures. Here is a small list (not all) of normal procedure that your primary dentist can provide to you:

However, if there are further procedures that need to be done by an orthodontist, your general dentist will refer you to such. Situations in which a dentist may refer you to an orthodontist are usually related to the structure or alignment of your jaw, bite, or teeth. Most of the time, these procedures are done at a separate office from the dentist’s office that houses the orthodontic team. Here are some procedures in which seeing an orthodontist might be beneficial:

  • Crooked or misaligned teeth
  • Problems with an over or under bite
  • Needing braces or retainers, or both
  • Any corrective appliance for your mouth, teeth, or jaw

If you are wondering what dental specialist to see about your dental health questions, your best bet is to call your primary dentist or a local family dentist’s office near you and ask specific questions about your needs. They can either see you in their office for evaluation or recommend that you see an orthodontist near you if it is something that they are better suited for. If you do not have a local family dentist, give Maestri Family Dentistry a call. Dr. Maestri provides both general dentistry and orthodontic services. Your oral health is very important, so taking action sooner is better!


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