Many people confuse orthodontists and dentists. While orthodontists and dentists share similarities in their focus on oral health, they are not the same type of medical practitioner. Orthodontists and dentists offer a different range of services, with different backgrounds, experiences, and degrees.

orthodontist vs dentist

What Do Dentists Do?

Dentists are essentially doctors who specialize in oral health. Dentists complete medical school, then go on to complete post-graduate dental training. They handle generic dental problems, such as tartar, gum disease, tooth decay, and promotion of good oral hygiene. Most patients see a dentist twice a year for basic cleanings to maintain their oral health. If a dentist is concerned with tooth or jaw alignment during a patient’s bi-annual visit, then the patient may be referred to an orthodontist for further assistance.

What Do Orthodontists Do?

Orthodontists are dentists who completed dental school, then progressed to complete another 2- or 3-year orthodontics residency program. When patients first consult an orthodontist, it is typically because they have been referred to one by their primary dentist. The study of orthodontics deals with tooth and jaw alignment. As a result, one of the most common types of orthodontic treatment is braces. However, it is not the only orthodontic treatment that is offered.

Orthodontists address the following dental and oral concerns:

  1. Crowded teeth
  2. Improper spacing between teeth
  3. Overbite, underbite, or crossbite

Comparison of Orthodontics and Dentistry

Dentists are seen by most persons with insurance twice each year. They are beneficial for general upkeep of oral hygiene. Dentists can also help spot more serious conditions which may require more specialized attention from an orthodontist or periodontist.

The following is a summary of how the fields of orthodontics and dentistry compare:

  • All dentists and orthodontists are doctors.
  • All orthodontists are dentists.
  • Only about 10% of dentists are orthodontists.
  • Dentistry covers basic oral hygiene, tooth decay, tartar or plaque buildup, and gum disease.
  • Orthodontics covers all irregularities in the teeth, most frequently including improper tooth or jaw alignment.
  • Dentists refer patients to orthodontists as needed, when teeth or jaws are maligned.
  • Some people may never have to see an orthodontist, because they do not suffer from improper tooth or jaw alignment.
  • Only orthodontists may fit patients for corrective alignment devices, such as braces, retainers, or headgear.
  • On rare occasions, it may be necessary to visit an orthodontist for emergency reasons, such as bite irregularities from car accidents or sports injuries.

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