Orthodontist vs. Dentist: Their Differences and When You Should See Them

Orthodontists and dentists are similar in helping you maintain good oral health and hygiene. However, there are critical differences in their services toward that common goal. Knowing the difference between them is key to ensuring you visit the correct provider. An orthodontist is a specialist with the same education and training as a dentist, plus an extra 2-3 years of specialty schooling in correcting bites and teeth alignment. On the other hand, a dentist is a generalist focused on the overall health of individual teeth and gums and the broader care of your mouth. More patients see dentists than orthodontists.

What Does an Orthodontist Do?

Orthodontists focus on creating the ideal smile for you: one that is both straight and aligned to prevent potential oral health issues later in life. They achieve this by several different orthodontic techniques, commonly braces or Invisalign. Occasionally the actual jaw (top or bottom) has not grown in harmony and the orthodontist will work with a Oral Maxillofacial Surgeon for a combination of orthodontic treatment and jaw surgery. Primarily, orthodontists use the following options to help align and straighten teeth:
  • Braces or Invisalign
  • Palatal expander
  • Spacers
  • Elastic rubber bands
After treatment, which can take anywhere from 6 months to a few years depending on your teeth, orthodontists give you an appliance, called a retainer, to wear routinely. If worn frequently and adequately, the retainer will keep teeth in the same place for most people throughout their life so your teeth do not shift and treatment doesn’t have to be repeated. At your first appointment, an orthodontist will take several photographs, xrays, and evaluate your teeth and potentially take impressions, or molds, of your mouth to have custom-fit appliances made. Alternatively, at our office, we also provide the option of a less invasive digital scan.

What Does a Dentist Do?

Dentists are providers you will regularly see throughout your life. Ideally, dentists recommend that people of all ages see them twice a year. You can expect a complete deep cleaning of your teeth at dental appointments and a thorough checkup of your overall oral health. They will also routinely take x-rays of your teeth to check for any trauma or cavities. They do a full check of the teeth, gums, roots, and nerves to ensure everything is healthy and free of diseases or health problems. Common services they provide:
  • Routine cleanings and checkups
  • Treatment for tooth decay
  • Treatment for mild gum disease
  • X-rays
  • Cavity fillings
  • Teeth whitening
  • Tooth extractions (most commonly wisdom teeth removal)
  • Dental crowns
  • Root canals

Orthodontist vs. Dentist: Who Should I See?

A dentist can treat most issues, and they can always refer you to see an orthodontist or another dental specialist if needed. If you have a sore tooth or need your regular cleaning, a dentist will help you best. If you have concerns about your teeth alignment or want a straighter smile, you should book an appointment with us. In general, the American Association of Orthodontist and Dr. Chelian recommends that everyone see an orthodontist for a consultation after the age of 7 years old. This is mainly to ensure the adult teeth are coming in appropriately and we can avoid severe bite issues. Although you can start orthodontic treatment at any age the best time to correct severe bite issues is between 10-14 so the orthodontist can take advantage of the pubertal growth spurt. Additionally, if you’ve had previous concerns about the following issues, book an appointment with an orthodontist as soon as possible:
  • Overbite or underbite (misaligned jaw)
  • Tooth crowding
  • Misaligned teeth
  • Tooth grinding
Overall, orthodontists and dentists are very similar, even though we provide different services. If you have any questions or are unsure of who to see, our team is happy to point you in the right direction. Call Urban Orthodontics to book your orthodontic appointment today!

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