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What is the difference between an Orthodontist and a Dentist?

posted on 2-28-18

All orthodontists are dentists, but only six percent of dentists are orthodontists. An orthodontist is one of many specialists within the field of dentistry. There are many other specialists within the field as well, including endontists, periodontists, pediatric dentists and oral surgeons. With so many different professionals within the field of dentistry, it is important to know which you need to see. We know that it can be difficult to know when you need an orthodontist vs. a dentist, so we’ve broken down what you should expect from each one.

What is the main difference between an Orthodontist and a Dentist?

Simply put, only an orthodontist has the additional training and experience to give you a perfect bite and healthy smile. They are specialists in aligning jaws and have expert knowledge in orthodontic technologies. They only work in the field of orthodontics, which is a specialized field within dentistry.

Dentists, on the other hand, focus on general oral care and oral hygiene.

How much schooling does an Orthodontist have compared to a Dentist?

Both orthodontists and dentists attend dental school—completing a four year doctoral program. At this point, they both can practice dentistry. However, Orthodontists continue their education at a two- or three-year residency program in orthodontics from a university-affiliated program. A dentist generally completes eight years of schooling after high school, and an orthodontist completes 10-11 years of schooling after high school.

Should I see an Orthodontist or a Dentist?

The oral health care provider you see will depend on your individual needs. A dentist provides care for issues with general oral health or hygiene. An orthodontist provides care for jaw and/or teeth alignment. An orthodontist is far more likely to be able to diagnose and treat issues of alignment than a dentist will.

What care does a Dentist provide?

A dentist provides diagnosis and treatment for issues of general oral health, such as issues with tooth decay and gum disease. Dentists provide routine dental care and treatments including:

  • Oral health check-ups
  • Cleanings and X-rays
  • Root canals
  • Fillings
  • Crowns
  • Veneers
  • Bridges
  • Teeth whitening
  • Dentures

You should definitely see a dentist for routine care and oral health checkups. The recommended time frame for dental checkups and cleanings if every six months. This is especially important during orthodontic treatment, as it is even more important to care for your oral hygiene.

What kind of oral care does an Orthodontist provide?

An orthodontist specializes in the alignment of teeth and jaws and works to correct issues of alignment such as crowded teeth, overbite and underbite, as well as temporomandibular disorders (TMD). Some treatments they use include:

  • Braces
  • Clear aligners
  • Space maintainers
  • Jaw splints
  • Lip and cheek bumpers
  • Palatial expanders
  • Retainers
  • Headgear

Do I need a dentist’s referral to see an Orthodontist?

No, you do not.  While an orthodontist is more specialized, you don’t need a referral from a dentist to see an orthodontist. If you feel that you are having issues with the alignment of your teeth or jaws, if you are regularly having mouth or jaw pain, or other trouble while talking and eating, make an appointment with an orthodontist right away for a consultation.


In general, both dentists and orthodontists care for oral health, just in different ways. You always want to see the right doctor for treatment, as they can provide you with the best treatment to fit your needs. If you are looking into orthodontic treatment for yourself or a loved one, make an appointment with your local Utah Association of Orthodontists member for a consultation today. Many offer a free initial consultation.

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