Orthodontist Vs. Dentist

What are the differences?

Should You See an Orthodontist or a Dentist?

It goes without saying that great dental care is an important part of your overall health and well-being. But sometimes, it can be tricky deciding which kind of dental care is right for you. Should you see an or orthodontist or a dentist? It really boils down to your personal needs and goals.

To help you decide on the dentist vs orthodontist question and determine which is right for you, we’ll first highlight the main aspects of each, then explain the difference between dentists and orthodontists.

What is an Orthodontist?

An orthodontist is a licensed dentist who specializes in the improvement of dental flaws such as overcrowded teeth, crooked teeth, and over- or under-bites. In order to become an orthodontist, a dentist must complete at least two additional years of coursework that’s specific to the field of orthodontics. An orthodontist evaluates your bite to determine the best solution for your needs, such as braces. A dentist may refer patients to their preferred orthodontist if it’s determined that further oral care is needed beyond the scope of general dentistry.

Common orthodontic issues such as crooked or misaligned teeth are not just unattractive, superficial concerns. They can contribute to a number of more serious problems, including headaches, lockjaw, speech impediments, and bone destruction, just to name a few. That’s why it’s important to talk to your general dentist to see if orthodontics is recommended.

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.

Dentist with patient

What is a Dentist?

Most of us have probably seen a dentist at some point in our lives – hopefully on a regular basis for professional cleanings and X-rays to maintain good dental health. Dentistry is a broad medical field that focuses on the health of the teeth, gums, mouth, and jaw. Dentists treat a wide variety of oral health issues and diseases including cavities, tooth decay, and gum diseases such as gingivitis.

For most people, seeing a dentist twice a year is optimal to ensure the best dental health possible. Ideally, you can designate one visit just for cleaning, and the other for cleaning as well as X-rays of your mouth and jaw to detect any potential problems.

Orthodontist vs. Dentist: What’s the Difference?

A dentist and an orthodontist both must obtain a bachelor's degree and then apply to, and be accepted into a dental school. They must then complete a four-year doctoral program to become a general dentist. At graduation, both parties have the ability to start practicing dentistry. It is at this stage that a dentist who wants to become a specialist in orthodontics must apply and be accepted into an orthodontic residency. Orthodontics specialty residency is highly competitive, only accepting 2-4 applicants per year. Because of this only the brightest and most dedicated dentists are accepted. 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.)

As one can see both dentists and orthodontist must obtain extensive educational foundations before practicing their prospective profession. Your dentist must complete 8 years of higher education, while your orthodontist must complete 10 or 11 years to become a specialist.

Another important distinction is that an orthodontist, as a specialist in their field, must limit their practice to orthodontics! As a result, your orthodontist is best suited to treat and care for you or your child's orthodontic needs.

There is definitely some overlap between a dentist and orthodontist. Think of it this way: all orthodontist are dentist but very few dentist have undergone the extra 2-3 years in a certified orthodontic specialty training program which is required to become a specialist in orthodontics. Orthodontists typically specialize in aligning teeth and jaws, while dentists can help patients achieve a cleaner, healthier smile through cleanings, X-rays, and even surgery.

If you meet any of these criteria, then you should see a dentist as soon as possible:

  • You’re concerned about the general health of your teeth or gums
  • You suspect you may have a cavity, tooth decay, or gum disease
  • You want to learn more about how to keep your mouth clean to prevent disease or other dental issues

The dentist will be able to evaluate your oral health and provide you with the hygienic care you need.

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

  • Your teeth are crooked, misaligned, or overcrowded
  • You have an over- or under bite
  • Your teeth affect your ability to chew food or speak properly
  • Your teeth are giving you various aches and pains

An orthodontist will be able to evaluate the alignment of your teeth and determine the best course of action to correct your bite.

Dr. W. Glenn Lewis

Doctor Lewis obtained his predoctoral education at The Georgia Institute of Technology, his four-year dental degree at Emory University and his three-year specialty in orthodontics also at Emory University. He has been practicing the specialty of orthodontics for 28 years. Dr. Lewis is also a member of the American Association of Orthodontics, the Southern Association of Orthodontist and the Georgia Association of Orthodontist. He attends numerous continuing education seminars yearly to stay abreast of the newest treatment modalities and technology.

We here at Masterpiece Smiles hope that we’ve helped to clarify the difference between a dentist and orthodontist. If you have any further questions about our services or want to learn more about whether a dentist or orthodontist is right for you, contact us today.

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