Difference Between Orthodontist And Dentist

Difference Between Orthodontist And Dentist

If you have a child who is nearing the age of braces or maybe you yourself are interested in getting fitted for braces, you may be wondering what the difference between an orthodontist and a dentist is. In this blog post, we will go over the differences and similarities between the two dental professionals.

Orthodontists and dentists both help patients improve their oral health and keep their teeth health, just in different ways. Dentistry itself is a broad medical speciality that deals with teeth, gums, nerves and jaws. Orthodontics is a specialty within dentistry that focuses on correcting bites, occlusion and straightening teeth.

How are orthodontists and dentists similar?

The most obvious similarity between dentists and orthodontists is that they both deal with oral care. An orthodontist can work in a dental office and even give the same care that a dentist gives, but a dentist cannot work as an orthodontist. They are both considered doctors and they both work with patients’ teeth and gums.

How are orthodontists and dentists different?

It may be surprising to you, but there are actually more differences between dentists and orthodontists than there are similarities. More schooling is required to become an orthodontist than a dentist. Think of it like a doctor who wants to become a surgeon, additional schooling, training and certifications are required. Another difference is that orthodontists specialize in helping patients with the alignment of their teeth, improving their bite and fitting them with braces and other corrective devices. For example, if a patient has an overbite or needs braces, the dentist will refer them to the orthodontist. Just like if a female patient comes to her primary care physician because she is pregnant, she will be referred by her primary care doctor to an OBGYN.
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How are orthodontists and dentists different?

Dentist Services

Here are the services that dentists provide:

  • Tooth decay
  • Root canal
  • Gum disease: Gum disease, like gingivitis, can be treated in a variety of ways from non-surgical to surgical methods
  • Crowns: Larger cavities or fractured teeth are restored using a crown that is placed over the entire tooth
  • Bridges: Your dentist can use a porcelain bridge to restore an area missing one or two teeth
  • Dentures: If you are missing a large number of teeth, your dentist can make a denture for you to restore form and function to your mouth
  • Veneers
  • Teeth whitening: Most dentist have in-office whitening used to brighten your smile.
  • Whitening can be especially helpful if you are having restoration work done.
  • Whitening before will give your veneers or crowns a brighter shade to be matched to X-Rays
  • Routine check-ups and cleanings
  • Filling cavities: A smaller amount of decay can be restored with a tooth-colored resin composite filling
  • Extracting teeth Repairing cracked teeth:
  • Teeth can chip and crack from injury or simply from wear-and-tear.
  • Fill and bond teeth
  • Perform oral surgery
  • Oversee how child patients’ teeth are developing
  • Other services that encourage and promote good oral hygiene

Dentists work with you on a regular basis to establish and maintain good oral health and determine when you need restorative work.

Cosmetic Dentistry

There is another dental field growing in popularity and that’s cosmetic dentistry. Here are some common cosmetic dentistry procedures:

  • Tooth whitening
  • Dentures
  • Dental implants
  • Veneers
  • Cosmetic bonding
  • Crowns
  • Invisalign treatments

Orthodontist Conditions

Orthodontists, on the other hand, offer dental services related to:

  • Misaligned teeth: Upper and lower teeth that are properly aligned fit into one another
  • Crooked teeth: Your orthodontist will use surgery, braces or another orthodontic device to straighten crooked teeth
  • Crowded teeth: Teeth that do not have the appropriate room to stand straight can be spaced and moved Spacing issues: These include gaps or spaces between a patient’s teeth
  • Overlapping teeth: The overlaps between teeth make it very easy for food particles and bacteria to be trapped which is why it’s vital for your dental hygiene that these issues get fixed
  • Misplaced midlines: this happens when the centers of your upper and lower teeth are not aligned
  • Overbite: An overbite is when a patient’s upper teeth protrude over the lower teeth by about 30 - 50 percent. Removing teeth, braces and surgery are all methods to fix an overbite
  • Underbite: An underbite is when a patient’s lower jaw protrudes beyond the upper jaw. Underbites can lead to jaw pain, Gum Disease and even speech issues. There are a few different orthodontic devices that can fix an underbite.
  • Crossbite: A crossbite is when the top teeth and bottom teeth don’t come together or bite correctly. These can be treated with different orthodontic devices such as braces, retainers and in severe cases, surgery.
  • Openbite: This happens when the front upper and lower teeth slant outwards and don’t touch when the mouth is shut. This is commonly caused by thumb and pacifier sucking,
  • TMJ and skeletal problems. Braces and surgery are the top fixes for this problem.
  • Overjet: Overjet happens when the upper teeth protrude outward and sit over the bottom teeth. It can be fixed with braces, veneers, dental bonding or crowns.
  • Spaces between teeth: Braces and other orthodontic devices can fix spaces in patients’ teeth
  • Treatment of temporomandibular disorders (TMD) Jaw problems
  • Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ): Medications, orthodontic devices or surgery may be needed to treat TMJ.
  • Supervise the growth of jawline and bite in child patients
  • Diagnose and treat misaligned teeth and jaws
  • Create a treatment plan that involves braces and retainers
  • Perform teeth straightening surgery
  • Install dental appliances like braces, palatal expanders, orthodontic headgear or Herbst appliances
  • Clear Aligners

Orthodontist Services

Here are some of the most common orthodontic services and devices to fix the above common problems:

  • Braces
  • Fixed appliances Fixed space maintainers
  • Aligners, including Invisalign
  • Removal space maintainers Lips and cheek bumpers
  • Jaw positioning or repositioning appliances
  • Palate expanders
  • Removable retainers
  • Orthodontic headgear

Reasons To Call Dr. Hunter Harrison

Your Orthodontist will correct tooth alignment which, if left as is and not corrected, can cause a number of different problems. Recurrent decay is common in overcrowded teeth and patients may develop a clenching and grinding problem called bruxism. Improperly aligned teeth can also lead to a slew of problems if left untreated, including:

  • Improper chewing and related digestive issues
  • Speech impediments
  • Social issues, lack of confidence and anxiety in relation to crooked teeth
  • Chronic headaches
  • Sleep problems like sleep apnea
  • Lock jaw
  • Bone damage
  • Damage to other teeth and jaws

Other benefits of orthodontic treatment:

  • Orthodontists can help identify areas of concern for jaw growth while a patient still has their baby teeth in tact
  • Orthodontists may be able to identify problems as they develop that can be corrected preemptively before they turn into severe issues
  • Orthodontists can provide early treatment to eliminate the need for further procedures later on and also may decrease the length of certain treatments

What kind of training is required for dentists?

Dentists are doctors of oral health. Generally, a person interested in becoming a dentist will go to a four-year college for a pre-dentistry or pre-medical degree and then they will attend graduate school for dentistry— dentist school. If accepted to dental school, they must complete a four-year doctoral program. Just like any doctor, dentists are required to be extensively trained and in most states must also complete residency before they can become certified. In order to become certified, a person muss pass a comprehensive exam. About 80 percent of dentists practice general dentistry. Certified dentists can diagnose and treat oral health conditions of a patient’s teeth, gums, tongue, and mouth. They check for signs of cancer and hold you accountable for dental hygiene: “are you flossing daily?” They’re also able to clean your teeth, but dental hygienists usually take care of that.

What kind of training is required for orthodontists?

The path to becoming an orthodontist is similar to that of a dentist as in a person will go to college and then dentistry school. After that, they will need additional education and training to become certified in orthodontics. They will complete a 2-3 year orthodontic residency program to get a specialty certification in orthodontics. Ideally, an orthodontist will be certified by the American Board of Orthodontics. Orthodontist training covers things like the biomechanics of tooth movement, the anatomy of the face and neck, and orthodontic treatment planning. Some programs also allow students to earn a master's degree in dental science. Certified orthodontists are trained to diagnose and treat oral health conditions of patients’ teeth, gums, and mouth. But mostly, orthodontists focus on making sure the teeth and jaws are set correctly.

So, when comparing the educational backgrounds of a dentist versus an orthodontist, both require extensive education before they are able to practice. A dentist must complete eight years of higher education while an orthodontist must complete 10-11 years in order to become a specialist.

Should I see a dentist or orthodontist?

Think of your dentist as a general practitioner and your orthodontist as your specialist. Most standard dental issues can be resolved by visiting your dentist. If you are experiencing tooth pain, decay or you need a tooth pulled or extracted, all of that can be treated by a dentist. A dentist can also care for gum disease, oral inflammation and oral infections. If you have a more complex dental problem such as tooth crowding, jaw malocclusion or you are in need of palate expansion or braces, your dentist will refer you to an orthodontist. It’s also recommended that kids are assessed before the age of seven to see if they will need braces.

Is a visit to the orthodontist covered by insurance?

It’s important to note that not all orthodontic care will be covered by your insurance, even with dental coverage. Because orthodontists are considered specialists, your insurance company will most likely require a referral from your dentist before they will pay for your orthodontic care.

Dentists and orthodontists often work together if a patient needs extensive treatment. A lot of times, orthodontics is needed to prepare teeth for restorative work, for example, before an implant can be properly placed. If you are in need of a complete smile makeover, orthodontics may be the first step in the plan for your treatment. When you need this kind of extensive work, it’s best to start with a dentist who will then refer you to a dentist that they frequently work with and have a standing relationship with so they can work with each other and provide you with continuous, quality care.


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