What Is the Difference Between a Dentist and an Orthodontist?

August 4, 2021

Dentistry is closely related to numerous other professions, including orthodontia. While there is some overlap between dentists and orthodontists, there are also some important differences to keep in mind.


Both dentists and orthodontists undergo extensive education and training before they can begin practicing. The difference comes in the specifics of that training. The two professions have a nearly identical educational background, but orthodontists have an extra two or three years of training afterward.

Dentists need to complete a general dentistry degree. This starts with an undergraduate degree, typically in pre-medicine or pre-dentistry. They then attend graduate school for dentistry. Dental school is typically about four years long. The first half involves classroom and lab instruction. The last two years involve practical experience with a supervising licensed dental school. This typically counts as a dental residency. After all of that education, dentists have to pass the National Dental Examination. At this point, they can practice as dentists.

Orthodontists complete all of the above, and then they attend a residency program for orthodontics. This typically lasts two to three years. It includes more than 4,800 hours of training in orthodontics. They also have to complete extra certification tests to practice orthodontics.


The major difference between a dentist and an orthodontist is their specialties. Dentists like Dr. Sharma offer a variety of services related to oral health. They aim to improve your overall oral health and wellness.

On the other hand, orthodontists specialize in jaw and tooth alignment. They also specialize in dental development and facial growth.

The Type of Treatment They Offer

Those differences in specialties also lead to differences in the type of services that you can expect from each type of dental professional.

You will visit your dentist for dental cleanings and tooth repair, like fillings and crowns. Other services including bonding teeth, repairing cracked teeth, prescribing treatment for your oral health conditions, installing veneers, taking and interpreting dental X-rays, and checking children’s tooth development. Expect dentists to also give you advice on your overall oral health.

If you are looking to get your teeth straightened or fix your jaw alignment, you will see an orthodontist. They treat crowded teeth, overbites, underbites, and misaligned teeth. Some more specific functions of orthodontists include performing surgery to straighten teeth, developing a treatment plan with retainers and braces, diagnosing and treating improperly aligned teeth or jaws, supervising bite and jaw alignment in children, and installing palatal extenders, braces, orthodontic headgear, and other dental appliances.

You can expect an orthodontist to offer options like retainers, traditional braces, and maybe clear aligners. Your general dentist may offer mouth guards and possibly retainers but is unlikely to offer braces.

Insurance Coverage

What your insurance covers depends on the plan you have, but it is more likely that you’ll get coverage for a visit to the dentist than one to the orthodontist. Some insurance companies require your dentist to write a referral to the orthodontist for it to be covered.

Remember that this will vary by plan. Some insurance plans fully cover orthodontic treatment, while others don’t even cover any visits to the dentist.

They Work Together to Improve Your Oral Health

It is important to remember that while dentists and orthodontists have different roles, they work together to care for your oral health. For example, your dentist may recommend that you visit an orthodontist to fix alignment issues. Or, if your orthodontist is checking your braces and notices a cavity, they may encourage you to make an appointment with your dentist.

Do You Need to See a Dentist or an Orthodontist?

Everyone needs to see a dentist regularly, but you may not need to see an orthodontist more than once or twice in your life.

For your regular dental cleanings and checkups, as well as most issues that arise, such as cavities or cracked teeth, you will visit your dentist. They also handle oral infections, oral inflammation, and gum disease.

You only need to see an orthodontist in certain situations. The most obvious one is if your teeth or jaw are not properly aligned. It is very common for a dentist to refer patients to an orthodontist for malocclusion of the jaw, tooth crowding, or palate expansion.

Adults typically do not need to visit an orthodontist unless they need braces or another treatment related to the orthodontist’s specialty. If you think your teeth or jawline are crooked, you should make an appointment with an orthodontist, regardless of age.

However, all children should see an orthodontist when they are around seven years old. This is the suggested age for an evaluation as the orthodontist should have a fairly good idea as to whether the child will need braces. The orthodontist will then likely wait until all or most of the adult teeth have come in to begin treatment.

In most cases, you will only see an orthodontist regularly for several years of your life. By contrast, you should see a general dentist like Dr. Sharma regularly throughout your entire life.

The Bottom Line

Dentists and orthodontists both treat your mouth, but they focus on different aspects of oral care. Dentists focus on your overall oral health while orthodontists focus on the alignment of your jaw and teeth. Both dental professionals are crucial for your overall oral health.

Regardless of your age, you should see your dentist two times a year for regular cleanings. You should also visit them if any issues arise, such as a cracked tooth or tooth pain/discomfort. By contrast, most people only see orthodontists for a brief period in their lives, typically a few years. Everyone should visit an orthodontist at least once for a consultation to see if they need any corrective treatments like braces. This will typically be done through your primary dentist, who will refer you to an orthodontist if they notice issues such as an overbite and crooked teeth. To schedule an appointment with our affordable dentist in Chicago, give us a call today!





You might also like

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}