Orthodontists vs. Dentists: Understanding the Distinctions

When it comes to dental health, understanding the roles of different specialists is crucial. While both orthodontists and dentists play vital roles in maintaining oral health, their areas of expertise and the services they offer are distinct. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the differences between an orthodontist and a dentist, the specific roles they play, and when you might need to see each one. By the end, you’ll have a clearer understanding of how these professionals contribute to your dental health and what orthodontics can do for you.

What Is A Dentist?

A dentist is a healthcare professional who specialises in oral health. Dentists are responsible for diagnosing, preventing, and treating a wide range of dental issues. They complete a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree, which typically requires four years of dental school after completing a bachelor’s degree.

Dentists provide general dental care, including:

  • Routine check-ups and cleanings
  • Filling cavities
  • Performing root canals
  • Extracting teeth
  • Placing crowns, bridges, and dentures
  • Educating patients on oral hygiene and preventive care

General dentistry covers a broad range of procedures aimed at maintaining oral health, preventing dental diseases, and addressing common dental problems.

What Is An Orthodontist?

An orthodontist is a dentist who has undergone additional specialised training in the field of orthodontics. Orthodontics is a branch of dentistry that focuses on diagnosing, preventing, and treating dental and facial irregularities. Orthodontists complete an additional two to three years of training in an accredited orthodontic residency program after dental school.

Orthodontists specialize in:

  • Correcting misaligned teeth and jaws (malocclusion)
  • Designing and applying braces, retainers, and other orthodontic appliances
  • Managing tooth movement and guiding facial development in children

Orthodontic treatment aims to improve the function and appearance of the teeth and jaws, enhancing both oral health and aesthetics.

Two Key Differences

  1. Scope of Practice
    • Dentists: General dentists provide a wide range of dental care services, including preventive care, restorative treatments, and cosmetic procedures. Their primary focus is on maintaining overall oral health and addressing common dental issues.
    • Orthodontists: Orthodontists specialize in correcting misalignments of the teeth and jaws. Their practice is dedicated to orthodontic treatments, such as braces and aligners, and they do not typically perform general dental procedures.
  2. Training and Education
    • Dentists: After earning a bachelor’s degree, dentists complete four years of dental school to earn a DDS or DMD degree. Their education covers a broad range of dental topics and procedures.
    • Orthodontists: In addition to completing dental school, orthodontists undergo an additional two to three years of specialized training in orthodontics. This advanced training focuses on the intricacies of tooth movement, jaw alignment, and the use of orthodontic appliances.

When To See A Dentist Vs. An Orthodontist

Knowing when to see a dentist versus an orthodontist is crucial for receiving the appropriate care and ensuring your oral health is well-maintained. Both professionals play significant roles, but their areas of expertise and the types of treatments they offer differ. Understanding these differences will help you make informed decisions about your dental care.

When To See A Dentist

Routine Dental Check-Ups and Cleanings: Regular visits to a dentist are essential for maintaining oral health. Dentists perform thorough examinations to detect any potential issues early on, clean your teeth to remove plaque and tartar, and provide guidance on how to keep your mouth healthy. These check-ups are usually recommended every six months.

Addressing Cavities, Tooth Decay, and Gum Disease: Dentists diagnose and treat cavities and tooth decay by filling cavities and performing procedures to restore damaged teeth. They also manage gum disease (gingivitis and periodontitis) through deep cleanings, scaling, root planing, and providing advice on maintaining healthy gums.

Root Canals, Extractions, and Fillings: If you have a tooth infection or severe decay, a dentist may perform a root canal to save the tooth. They also handle tooth extractions when a tooth is beyond repair or needs to be removed for orthodontic reasons. Fillings are used to restore teeth that have been damaged by cavities.

Crowns, Bridges, and Dentures: Dentists provide restorative treatments such as crowns to cover damaged teeth, bridges to replace missing teeth, and dentures for patients who have lost multiple teeth. These prosthetics help restore functionality and aesthetics to your smile.

Cosmetic Dental Procedures: Dentists also offer cosmetic procedures to enhance the appearance of your teeth. These can include teeth whitening to remove stains and discoloration, veneers to cover imperfections, and bonding to repair chipped or cracked teeth.

Overall Oral Health Maintenance and Preventive Care: General dentists focus on preventive care to help you avoid dental problems. This includes educating patients on proper oral hygiene practices, applying sealants to protect teeth from decay, and providing fluoride treatments to strengthen enamel.

When To See An Orthodontist

Misaligned Teeth or Malocclusion (Bad Bite): Orthodontists specialize in correcting misaligned teeth and jaws. If you have crooked teeth, gaps, or a malocclusion (an improper bite), an orthodontist can assess your condition and recommend appropriate treatments to align your teeth and improve your bite.

Crowded or Spaced Teeth: When teeth are overcrowded, they can overlap and make cleaning difficult, leading to increased risk of cavities and gum disease. Conversely, spaced teeth can cause gaps that affect the appearance of your smile. Orthodontists use braces, aligners, and other appliances to correct these issues and ensure proper spacing.

Overbites, Underbites, or Crossbites: Orthodontists treat various types of bite issues. An overbite occurs when the upper front teeth overlap the lower front teeth excessively. An underbite is when the lower teeth protrude beyond the upper teeth. A crossbite occurs when some upper teeth sit inside the lower teeth instead of outside. Correcting these bite issues can improve both function and aesthetics.

Braces, Aligners, and Orthodontic Appliances: If you need braces, clear aligners, or other orthodontic devices to straighten your teeth, an orthodontist is the specialist to see. They design and apply these appliances, monitor your progress, and make adjustments as needed to ensure effective treatment.

Jaw Growth and Development in Children: Orthodontists often work with children and adolescents to guide the growth and development of their jaws and teeth. Early intervention can prevent more severe issues later on and may involve the use of expanders, retainers, or other devices to correct growth patterns.

Improving Function and Appearance of Teeth and Jaws: Orthodontic treatment goes beyond aesthetics. By properly aligning the teeth and jaws, orthodontists can improve your ability to chew, speak, and maintain oral hygiene. Proper alignment reduces the risk of dental problems and enhances your overall oral health.

Discover What Orthodontics Can Do For You!

Orthodontic treatment offers numerous benefits beyond just a straighter smile. It can improve your oral health, boost your confidence, and enhance your overall quality of life. Whether you’re dealing with crooked teeth, an uneven bite, or jaw misalignment, an orthodontist can provide the specialized care you need.

At DKO Orthodontics, we have several convenient locations to serve you:

Orthodontic treatment can address a variety of dental issues, including:

  • Improving oral function: Properly aligned teeth and jaws can make it easier to chew, speak, and maintain oral hygiene.
  • Preventing dental problems: Orthodontic treatment can reduce the risk of tooth decay, gum disease, and other dental issues by making it easier to clean your teeth effectively.
  • Enhancing aesthetics: A straighter smile can boost your self-esteem and confidence, positively impacting your personal and professional life.
  • Promoting long-term oral health: Addressing misalignments early can prevent more serious dental problems in the future, saving you time and money on dental care.


Understanding the difference between an orthodontist and a dentist is essential for making informed decisions about your dental health. While dentists provide a wide range of general dental care services, orthodontists specialize in correcting misalignments of the teeth and jaws. Knowing when to see each type of specialist ensures that you receive the appropriate care for your specific needs.

Whether you’re looking for routine dental care or specialized orthodontic treatment, it’s important to choose a qualified professional who can provide the best possible care. At DKO Orthodontics, our experienced team is dedicated to helping you achieve a healthy, beautiful smile. With multiple convenient locations, we’re here to serve you and your family’s orthodontic needs.

For more information about our services or to schedule a consultation, visit one of our locations.

Remember, a healthy smile is a happy smile. Don’t hesitate to seek the care you need to maintain and improve your oral health.