Skillful young female dentist is treating human teeth

Do you know the differences between a dentist and an orthodontist? Most people aren’t aware of the similarities and differences in how both of these types of professionals fix issues in your mouth. Basically, a dentist and orthodontist undergo the same eight-year schooling curriculum, but the orthodontist completes two or three additional years of training and education to learn how to correct bite issues, or “malocclusions.” Dentists focus on treating and managing your overall oral healthcare, such as fillings, gum care, crowns, veneers, etc. Orthodontists focus on correcting the alignment of teeth and jaws.

Orthodontists don’t just deal with braces, although that is a large part of what they do. And braces aren’t just for straightening out crooked teeth to give you a power smile; braces and other corrective appliances are also used to retrain your teeth and mouth muscles in cases of tooth gapping, tooth crowding, overbites, and underbites.

Tooth Gaps

Diastema Of The Upper Jaw

A diastema is a larger-than-normal gap between two teeth. Typically, you’ll see gaps between the two top front teeth, but diastemas can occur between any two teeth in your mouth. These gaps can occur because the teeth are too small for the jaw; when the labial frenum (the piece of tissue that extends from the inside of your upper lip to the gum just above your two front teeth) is too large and grows into the space between those teeth; a child or teen sucks his thumb; when an incorrect swallowing reflex pushes the tongue between the teeth instead of up against the roof of the mouth; when a permanent tooth has fallen out or been extracted; or in cases of severe periodontal disease.

Your orthodontist will determine the cause of the diastema and then decide the most efficient method of correcting it. Treatments can include braces, a small surgery called a frenectomy, dental implants, and other appliances.

Tooth Crowding

Crowding Of The Teeth Of The Lower Jaw

Tooth crowding happens when there are too many teeth for the size of the jaw, or if the teeth are too large. It might happen because you have a naturally small jaw, or it might happen when baby teeth don’t fall out when they should and permanent teeth begin growing in too early. With too many teeth fighting for space in the jaw, it’s easy to suffer from cavities and tooth decay. You might even be shy of smiling widely and showing off your twisted, crowded chompers.

Orthodontists relieve tooth crowding by using braces and dental arch expanders to give patients that straight-toothed smile.



An overbite is a condition where the upper teeth protrude over the lower teeth. It is usually a factor of genetics or prolonged thumb sucking, pacifier use, or bottle feeding. This misalignment can cause jaw pain and severe wear on the enamel of lower teeth. A small overbite is generally corrected for aesthetic purposes rather than because it is causing problems, but a severe overbite can eventually lead to tooth decay and gum disease as the tooth enamel is worn away.

Most overbites can be corrected with braces, but very serious cases might require tooth extraction or jaw surgery to correct. Orthodontists often use a combination of corrective procedures to lessen the chances of resorting to surgery.


[image credit: Steve Brown & John Verklier]
An underbite, or prognathism, is the opposite of an overbite. A person with an underbite will have lower teeth that protrude forward of the top teeth. Moderate to severe underbites often make it difficult for a person to chew their food, speak, or breathe properly. The wearing away of tooth enamel from the top teeth can lead to tooth decay, and stressed jaw muscles can succumb to TMJ or trigger headaches and ear pain.

It’s best to treat malocclusions like an underbite while a child’s jaw is still young and more easily manipulated. An orthodontist might prescribe an upper jaw expander that gently forces the upper jaw to extend beyond the lower jaw. In some situations, an orthodontist will use a reverse-pull face mask (headgear) that pulls the lower jaw back into the correct position.

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