The Difference Between a Dentist and Orthodontist

Many people wonder what the difference is between an orthodontist and a dentist. Both dental care professionals contribute significantly to the field of oral health, but their areas of expertise, day-to-day responsibilities, and specialized training have distinct differences.

But what is an orthodontist exactly, and when might you need an orthodontist instead of a dentist? At Brodie Bowman Orthodontics, we love educating our patients. Let’s take a look at how a dentist differs from an orthodontist.

A Closer Look at the Role of a Dentist

Much like a general physician that you see for routine physical exams, dentists are typically the first professional you see for oral health concerns. They’re essentially the primary care providers for patients of all ages and backgrounds and help ensure the comprehensive management of the oral health of each one of their patients.

A dentist’s scope of work is quite broad and includes diagnosing, managing, and treating various oral health issues. Tasks they typically perform involve:

  • Performing routine dental check-ups and cleanings
  • Filling cavities
  • Conducting root canals
  • Extracting teeth
  • Providing specialized gum care
  • Diagnosing oral health conditions related to the teeth, gums, jaws, and mouth in general
  • Using advanced equipment like X-ray machines

Dentists are also educators, providing guidance and help on diet, brushing, flossing, using fluoride, and more. Each of these aspects of care is designed to help patients prevent dental diseases from developing.

The Road to a Dentist Degree

A dentist’s education journey is quite extensive. After getting their four-year undergraduate degree, they must complete an additional four years of dental school. During their dental school education, they not only receive academic learning but also supervised clinical practice. Depending on the specifics of their education, they may receive a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree.

Orthodontics Explained

Orthodontics is a specialized field within dentistry focused exclusively on correcting teeth and jaw alignment problems through mostly non-surgical treatments. To draw a comparison in the medical field, this would be similar to the difference between a family doctor and a cardiologist. Both have the training to help with the whole body, but the cardiologist has specialized training in matters of heart health.

So, what is an orthodontist? The intricate work of orthodontics holds the answer. Orthodontists diagnose and treat malocclusions, which are improper bite alignments resulting from irregularities in the teeth, disproportionalities in the jaw bones, or a combination of both.

Orthodontic treatments involve using specific appliances like braces, clear aligners, and retainers. These devices apply force to the teeth over an extended period of time in order to realign them gradually into a healthy position.

Aside from this, orthodontists also help with dentofacial orthopedics, which is the practice of managing facial growth and guiding tooth movement. They also deal with complex oral health cases that may involve surgical interventions, in which case they also collaborate with oral and maxillofacial surgeons.

The Extra Mile in Training for an Orthodontist

When it comes to exploring orthodontist vs. dentist differences, one key feature distinguishing a dentist from an orthodontist is the substantial training orthodontists receive in addition to standard dentist training and education. After dental school, aspiring orthodontists have to go through a competitive two- to three-year accredited residency program. This involves rigorous training to equip them with in-depth knowledge of tooth movement and facial development, as well as the skills to address both. 

Only after successfully completing this training can they be recognized in their industry as orthodontists. This rigorous training ensures that orthodontists are experts who can provide the best possible care to their patients.

Orthodontist vs. Dentist: Which Dental Care Professional Is Appropriate for You?

Once you have a clear understanding of the differences between orthodontists and dentists, you can make informed decisions about your oral health care. As a general rule of thumb, you should consult with a local dentist for:

  • Regular check-ups and cleanings
  • Acute dental issues like toothaches, cavities, or gum diseases
  • Other general dental concerns

There are certain issues that an orthodontist can best address, however. Consult an orthodontist if you’re experiencing issues related to:

  • Misaligned teeth
  • Crowded teeth
  • Overbite
  • Underbite
  • Crossbite
  • Other conditions that affect the positioning and straightness of the teeth

Your dentist may refer you to an orthodontist for care. Because orthodontists have specialized training in correcting malocclusions and misalignments of the teeth and jaw, they are better equipped to both recommend and administer the appropriate treatment modalities to address your needs.

These treatment modalities may include traditional braces, ceramic braces, or clear aligners. Additionally, orthodontists contribute to complicated cases that require specialized care. For example, if your child has a cleft lip and palate, then you will likely have an orthodontist on your team of specialists. 

The Impact of Dentistry and Orthodontics

Dentists and orthodontists are dental care professionals who often collaborate to provide the best care possible to their patients. By combining their expertise, they address not only immediate concerns but also long-term aesthetics and functionality of your teeth and jaws.

Take, for example, an aesthetic smile. Your dentist is the one who helps keep your teeth clean, healthy, and cavity-free. They also offer cosmetic treatments like veneers and teeth whitening. These services contribute to you having and maintaining a bright and healthy smile.

But if your teeth need to be aligned or your bite is unhealthy, then the orthodontist steps in with braces, aligners, or other orthodontic devices. The result of these combined efforts is a beautiful, straight smile that enhances the aesthetics and functionality of your smile.

Dentistry and Orthodontics Explained: Complementary Roles in Pursuit of Oral Health

Both dentists and orthodontists play essential roles in maintaining and improving oral health for their patients. By understanding these unique roles, you can make the right choice when faced with a dental issue and ensure you receive the best care possible. 

At Brodie Bowman Orthodontics, we take pride in providing an enjoyable orthodontic experience for every patient — with exceptional results. To schedule an orthodontist consultation in Fort Walton Beach, FL, contact us today.