What Is An Orthodontist?
Many people are unsure about the difference between dentists and orthodontists. Although there are similarities between the two, significant differences relate to education and services provided. We want to help our patients understand the difference between a dentist vs orthodontist.
Dr. Redford and Dr. Burke believe it is essential to know what distinguishes an orthodontist from a dentist. This knowledge allows patients to make educated decisions and choose the best provider for their needs.
Educational Differences Between a Dentist and Orthodontist
The first thing to understand is that all orthodontists are dentists. However, not all dentists are orthodontists. Both dentists and orthodontists must obtain a bachelor’s degree and attend four years of dental school. After dental school, they either earn a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree. The degrees have the same curriculum, but the designation simply differs between dental schools.
After obtaining their DDS/DMD degree, dentists can begin practicing general dentistry. However, dentists who want to specialize in orthodontics must undergo a 2-3 year residency in orthodontics at a university affiliated program approved by the American Dental Association (ADA).
After completion of the specialty program, dentists may call themselves an orthodontist. Other dental specialties include:
- endodontists (root canals specialists)
- periodontists (gum disease specialists)
- pediatric dentists (specialists for patients under the age of 21)
- oral/maxillofacial surgeons (face, mouth, and jaw surgery specialists)
After successfully completing a specialty program, these dentists receive their orthodontic certificate and can limit their practice to orthodontics. Dr. Redford and Dr. Burke both have their orthodontic certificate. Some orthodontists go even further and become certified by the American Board of Orthodontics. This is the only specialty board recognized by the ADA. Board-certified orthodontists are known as Diplomates of the American Board of Orthodontics.
In summary, dentists have 8 years of higher education, while an orthodontist has 10 to 11 years. Only orthodontists can receive an orthodontic certificate, become board-certified in orthodontics, and use the title “orthodontist.”
Most specialists focus their practice on their area of expertise. However, some states allow dentists to provide specialty care even if they haven’t attended an accredited residency program after dental school. This means that a dentist might offer orthodontic services, but this doesn’t mean they are an orthodontist. Fortunately, Dr. Redford and Dr. Burke have each received the education, training, and certification and have over 30 years of combined experience.
How Services Provided by a Dentist and Orthodontist Differs
The services provided are the other major area where dentists and orthodontists differ. Dentists typically focus on overall oral health. Orthodontists focus on a patient’s bite, which includes the alignment of the teeth and jaw.
Services provided by dentists usually focus on:
- conducting routine dental work, such as check-ups, cleanings, and x-rays
- improving the color appearance of teeth (teeth whitening)
- educating patients about oral hygiene practices
- treating decayed teeth (filling cavities)
- providing treatment for gum disease and gingivitis
- removing failed teeth (extractions)
- performing root canals
- creating crowns, veneers, or bridges
- making dentures or placing implants for missing teeth
Services provided by orthodontists focus on:
- correcting malocclusions (bad bites), such as overbites, underbites, and crossbites
- aligning teeth
- addressing issues related to overcrowded teeth
- closing gaps in teeth
- widening the jaw
- fixing alignment issues between teeth and jaws
- dealing with the early loss of baby teeth
- treating oral habits that affect teeth position
An orthodontist uses a variety of tools—such as braces, Invisalign, retainers, and orthodontic appliances—to address the issues listed above.
Which Specialist Do You Need?
Most people see a dentist before an orthodontist. Dentists usually refer patients to an orthodontist when they see issues that require orthodontic treatment. However, the ADA and the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommend that children be evaluated by an orthodontist no later than age 7.
This early screening allows orthodontists to detect developing problems. Early intervention is called interceptive orthodontics (or Phase 1 treatment). Most Phase 1 treatment focuses on fixing improper bites, guiding jaw growth, managing crowded jaws, and ensuring teeth don’t become impacted beneath the gums. Although most kids don’t receive orthodontic treatment until the ages of 9 to 14, early intervention is critical for certain types of issues.
In general, patients should see a dentist twice a year for cleanings, check-ups, and x-rays. During these visits, the dentist will identify and fill cavities. They will also diagnose and fix other issues. This might include treating gum disease or performing root canal and extraction. Dentists should be consulted if patients break a tooth or have a toothache. Dentists can also provide cosmetic procedures, such as tooth whitening. Here are some great reasons and differences when looking at a dentist vs orthodontist specialist.
Patients should consult an orthodontist if they have problems with the alignment of their teeth or quality of their bite. Reasons to see an orthodontist include:
- difficulty biting, chewing or speaking
- protruding teeth
- crooked teeth
- not enough space in the mouth for teeth
- clenching or grinding teeth
- jaw pain/noises
- inability to close lips over teeth
Although most patients won’t continue to see an orthodontist once treatment is complete (except for periodic assessments), orthodontic treatment can last from 6 months to several years. During treatment, patients visit the orthodontist every 8 to 12 weeks, depending on their required course of treatment.
Is My Dentist Also An Orthodontist?
As explained earlier, all orthodontists are dentists, but not all dentists are orthodontists. However, this doesn’t mean that an orthodontist will clean your teeth or fill your cavities. Sometimes, though, a dentist might offer orthodontic treatments, such as Invisalign or braces. Let’s elaborate a little more about the difference between a dentist vs orthodontist and their training.
However, just because a dentist offers orthodontic treatments doesn’t mean they are an orthodontist. Dentists might view online tutorials and take classes on Invisalign. They then offer Invisalign to their patients—without the 2 to 3 years of specialized training that orthodontists undergo.
When dentists offer orthodontic services without the accompanying specialized training, problems can arise. For example, teeth may be straighter, but bite problems may be left untreated.
Another issue is that dentists might offer orthodontic treatments as a sideline to their regular practice. Unlike orthodontists who practice their skills every day, dentists may only provide orthodontic treatments periodically. Who would you rather straighten your teeth—someone who does it every day with more years of education and experience, or someone who offers it as an added service to their practice? We hope you’ve learned the differences between a dentist vs orthodontist, but let us know if you have any questions.
To learn more about the best orthodontic services in Temecula and Lake Elsinore offered by Burke & Redford Orthodontists, call our office at (951) 699-8011 to schedule a free consultation. You can also fill out the form on our website, and our staff will contact you during business hours.