Dentist or orthodontist? It can be confusing to many patients in understanding the difference between dentists and orthodontists to resolve their oral health care issues. And while both work specifically with oral health, knowing the difference between dentist and orthodontist can ensure you get the dental care you need.
Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between orthodontists and dentists, and learn how you can decide if you need a dentist or orthodontist to help resolve your oral care issues:
What Dentists and Orthodontists Have in Common
Dental specialists and generalists both attend a four-year school with an emphasis on science courses, such as chemistry, biology, and microbiology, in addition to four years of dental school to achieve their DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or DMD (Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry). These degrees cover the same curriculum, including clinical practices, oral health, and ethics and legal considerations, but dental schools vary in which degree they award.
Both are very knowledgeable regarding tooth and oral anatomy, and can diagnose dental diseases and other issues. Since they are both considered doctors, they can both prescribe medications to help alleviate pain associated with dental diseases or procedures.
In addition, both dentists and orthodontists provide services that are billable to your dental insurance company. This means you may not be entirely responsible for your financial burden, regardless of which type of doctor you need to see.
Dental Specialists vs. Generalists
Since they both specialize in oral health issues, it can be difficult to determine the difference between dentists and orthodontists and deciding which one you need to see. But the differences between dentists and orthodontists significantly outweigh their similarities.
Upon completion of dental school, new dentists can decide if they want to pursue generalist practices or continue their education to become a dental specialist, such as an orthodontist. Specialists usually require several years of additional study.
Dental generalists perform a wide range of everyday dental procedures, including:
- Teeth cleanings and consultations, such as flossing and polishing teeth or offering advice on brushing and flossing
- Crowns (“caps” are placed over existing teeth and can help protect damaged teeth from worsening)
- Cavity filling, including the administration of numbing agents or other pain management
- X rays (often a routine in-office procedure to help identify problem areas or cavities)
- Bridges (a structure that anchors to two crowns to an artificial tooth, typically used when a tooth is missing)
- Dentures (a full or partial set of false teeth)
- Root canal treatments (a treatment used to save a tooth when the inside “pulp” of the tooth becomes infected or decayed)
- Maxillofacial treatments (procedures to the face, jaw, and mouth, such as dental implants or treatment for TMJ)
In addition, some dental practices offer a variety of cosmetic dental services, such as teeth whitening, cosmetic bonding, and Lumineers. Treatments provided by generalists do not require specialized knowledge beyond their initial dental school training.
General dentistry is a must in preserving good oral health and preventing common diseases like gingivitis.
Dentists can elect to complete additional training to become specialists. Each area of study has its own requirements that must be satisfied to receive their certification.
This type of specialist helps patients maintain their teeth using therapies that focus on the soft inner tissue of the teeth. This specialty requires a minimum of two years additional training, though all dentists receive some training on how to diagnose and provide therapy for endodontic cases. Specialists study root canal treatments in deeper scope to help diagnosis and treat more complex endodontic cases.
Prosthodontists specialize in cosmetic dental replacements and restorations, often in the form of implants or dentures (full or partial). A Prosthodontist usually receives 3-4 years additional training.
Oral surgeons can help resolve a multitude of issues in the face, neck, mouth, and jaws, including teeth removal, such as impacted wisdom teeth, reconstructive dental surgery, such as cleft palate or lip, and dental implants. This specialty takes a minimum of four additional years to complete and includes training in anesthesia and pain management.
Orthodontists are Another Type of Specialist
Just like other dental specialists, an orthodontist specializes in a single area of expertise: to correct dental misalignment to achieve a better smile and prevent additional dental issues.
All orthodontists are dentists, but not all dentists are orthodontists. Orthodontists are dedicated to a specialty of dentistry that focus on a specific set of issues. As a result, orthodontists need an additional 2-3 years of training after general dental training to achieve their credentials, including intensive hands-on training from experienced orthodontic specialists. During this training, orthodontists learn how teeth move during corrective treatment and how to properly identify jaw and dental misalignment to help patients achieve the best possible results.
Orthodontists specialize in using orthodontic treatments, including:
- Traditional (metal) braces
- Lingual braces (similar to metal braces, but placed behind the teeth instead of in plain view)
- Invisalign (clear braces)
The orthodontist’s role is highly specialized, which is why most orthodontists only offer these unique services versus full dental care.
When to See an Orthodontist
If you aren’t sure if you need to see a dentist or orthodontist or another type of dental specialist, determine if the following symptoms apply to you:
- You have bite issues, such as an over bite, under bite, or cross bite
- Your teeth are overlapped due to crowding
- You have gaps in between your teeth
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, an orthodontist is your best resource for resolution. Best of all, you don’t need a referral to schedule an appointment with an orthodontist.
Keep in mind a dentist is no substitute for an orthodontist. Likewise, an orthodontist shouldn’t be relied upon to handle your general dental needs. If you are experiencing dental misalignment, you should seek the expertise of an orthodontist that can address these unique challenges. Contact Dunn Orthodontics today to schedule a consultation and let us help you achieve the perfect smile you deserve.