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Orthodontist vs. Dentist

People often wonder what the difference is between an orthodontist and a dentist. Both a dentist and orthodontist are responsible for caring for your mouth and teeth, but there are clear differences in their practices. We’ve outlined the difference between the two professionals to help you better understand the purpose and importance of each.

Is My Dentist Also an Orthodontist?

Your confusion is understandable. After all, both dentists and orthodontists work on teeth. Both provide professional care that helps patients have good oral health, and both are dental school graduates.

Your dentist may even offer orthodontic services, leading you to assume that they are an orthodontist. Despite these similarities, a dentist is not an orthodontist. Even if your dentist is able to put appliances such as aligners or braces on teeth, that does not make them an orthodontist.

Read on to learn more about the role of an orthodontist vs. a dentist.

The Role of Your Dentist

Dentists, who are also known as general (or family) dentists, are concerned with overall oral health. Dentists treat decayed teeth (fillings) and remove failed teeth (extractions). They usually provide services such as crowns, veneers or bonding to improve the appearance and function of teeth that have extensive decay, or are misshapen or broken. Dentists look for abnormalities in the mouth and teach patients how to prevent dental disease.

As knowledgeable as general dentists are, there are some dental problems whose treatment requires additional training beyond dental school. Orthodontics and dentofacial orthodontics is one of those fields. Your orthodontist has invested an additional 24 to 36 months into learning everything there is to know about the alignment of your teeth and jaws.

Orthodontist vs. Dentist Education & Scope of Practice

General dentists are licensed to practice dentistry. Some states allow them to provide specialty care, even if they do not have formal post-dental school training in the specialty services.

For example, a dentist may be able to perform a root canal, but that does not mean they are an endodontist. A dentist may be able to extract a tooth, but that does not mean they are an oral surgeon. Likewise, a dentist may be able to provide braces or aligners to move teeth, but that does not mean the dentist is an orthodontist.

In addition to dental school, orthodontists must complete a program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. This program provides special training focused exclusively on the movement of teeth, jawbones, facial bones, and soft tissue–3,700 hours of training to be exact. This results in a deeper understanding of growth and development (also called dentofacial orthopedists).

To help you distinguish between an orthodontist and a general dentist, be aware of the doctor’s:

Education

  • Dentists and dental specialists both graduate from dental school
  • After dental school, a dental specialist goes on to study full-time in an accredited program in their specialty area for two or more years. After graduating, a dental specialist may call themselves by a title to denote their specialty training (e.g., orthodontist)

Scope of Practice

  • General dentists are licensed to provide general care and, in some states, are allowed to provide specialty care even if they do not have formal post-dental school training in an accredited residency program
  • Orthodontists typically limit their practice to their dental specialty, meaning that they focus on what they do best which is correct movement of teeth, jawbones, facial bones, and soft tissue

The Role of Your Orthodontist

Orthodontists are specialists who focus on your bite and alignment of your teeth. Their job is to not only make sure that your smile looks great, but your bite feels good and functions properly, too.

When it comes to your health you don’t want to cut any concerns. Straightening teeth and aligning the bite are both complex biological processes, requiring more than a quick fix. Orthodontists are experts in both and are equipped to provide a custom treatment plan that is right for you.

Only appropriately trained orthodontists are members of the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO). If you’re looking for a trusted specialist to start your orthodontic journey with, consider finding an AAO orthodontist near you.

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