Dentists and Orthodontists: What’s the Difference?

Brittany Swiderski
Board Certified Orthodontist

Dentists and Orthodontists have a lot in common! They both go to dental school and obtain a professional degree in dentistry and are licensed in their field. They go through rigorous clinical training to be able to keep your mouth as healthy as possible. So what’s the difference? Great question!

What is a Dentist?

Dentists are healthcare professionals who are trained to diagnose, prevent, and treat a wide range of issues that affect the teeth, gums, and other parts of the mouth. They can perform a variety of procedures, including cleanings, fillings, root canals, implants, and extractions. They have extensive knowledge about the anatomy of the mouth and teeth, how to diagnose and treat various dental conditions, and how to use a variety of dental tools and technologies. Dentists work closely with dental hygienists, dental assistants, and other members of the dental team to provide the best possible care for their patients.

What is an Orthodontist?

Think of it this way: All orthodontists are dentists but very few dentists have completed the additional two to three years in a certified orthodontic specialty training program which is required to become a specialist in the field of orthodontics.  Orthodontics specialty residency is highly competitive, only accepting a few applicants per year. Once accepted into the orthodontic residency they must complete a two to three-year program in orthodontics at a university accredited by the American Dental Association. The curriculum of this residency program focuses on the correction of dental malocclusions (poor bites, crooked misaligned teeth, facial growth, correction of skeletal discrepancies and much more.) . A dentist must complete 8 years of higher education, while an orthodontist must complete 10 or 11 years to become a specialist.

An orthodontist is specifically trained to diagnose and/or treat dental flaws such as overcrowded teeth, crooked teeth, bite patterns, airway constrictions, overbites and underbites. An orthodontist evaluates your bite to determine the best solution for your needs, such as braces or clear aligners therapy such as Invisalign. Common orthodontic issues such as crooked or misaligned teeth are not just an esthetic concern– they can contribute to a number of more functional problems, including headaches, jaw pain, grinding and tooth wear. 

The American Association of Orthodontics recommends that children visit an orthodontist for a check-up no later than age 7. This allows the orthodontist to detect potential problems as soon as possible and help guide the child’s growth and development. Both dentists and orthodontists are highly educated and must obtain extensive educational training before practicing their respective professions. But another important distinction is that an orthodontist, as a specialist in their field, must limit their practice to orthodontics such as braces and Invisalign!

In summary, the main difference between dentists and orthodontists is the focus of their practice. Dentists are trained to provide a wide range of dental services, while orthodontists specialize in correcting misalignments of the teeth and jaw. Both are important members of the dental care team and play a vital role in maintaining the health and well-being of our teeth and mouth.

Reasons to see a dentist as soon as possible:

  • Concern about the general health of your teeth or gums
  • Dental pain, lost filling, tooth decay, or gum disease
  • Oral hygiene to prevent disease or other dental issues

If any of these criteria sound familiar, you should see an orthodontist:

  • Consultation to see how orthodontics can improve your bite and smile
  • Your teeth are crooked, malaligned, or overcrowded
  • Overbite, underbite, tooth wear

An orthodontist will be able to evaluate the alignment of your teeth and determine the best course of action to provide you with a functional bite and a beautiful smile. 

Please call Storms and Swiderski Orthodontics at (479) 751-2003 if you have any questions about alignment of your teeth, braces, or Invisalign. We are proudly serving patients from Northwest Arkansas including Springdale, Fayetteville, Siloam Springs, Fort Smith, Rogers, Bentonville, Lowell, Cave Springs, Elm Springs, Tontitown, Elkins, Prairie Grove, Gentry, Goshen, Farmington, Oklahoma and more!