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Orthodontists and dentists. They’re both doctors of oral health. But is an orthodontist the same as a dentist? Not really, though there is some overlap. They are both trained in dentistry, but one practices general dentistry, while the other specializes in one aspect of dentistry. Between dentists and orthodontists, one difference is the training they receive.

The dentist we usually think of is the general dentist, who takes care of your overall dental health. They can perform some orthodontic services, but it is not their specialty.  

Orthodontists specialize in a certain field. While they can provide general care, they focus their practice exclusively on that specialty—orthodontic treatments. 

Following is a closer look at the similarities and differences between orthodontists and dentists. We hope to alleviate any confusion over whether you should see an orthodontist or a general dentist and what you can expect from each.

Education and Training: What Makes Someone an Orthodontist or Dentist?

Here are a few interesting statistics about the dentistry profession:

Within dentistry, there are several specialties, including orthodontists, who focus on alignment among teeth and jaws, a bite that functions effectively, and an attractive smile. Other dental specialties include

  • Endodontist (root canals);
  • Periodontist (gum disease);
  • Pediatric dentist (treating children);
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgeon (face, mouth, and jaw);

When it comes to orthodontists vs. dentists, the education is the same, from undergraduate education through dental school. Both specialists and generalists must earn degrees in dentistry, complete rigorous training, and become certified to practice. 

Dental School for Dentists 

Dentists begin with an undergraduate pre-dentistry or pre-medical degree. They then pursue a graduate degree from a four-year dental school program. The first half of dental school is spent in the classroom and the laboratory. Next, students begin working with patients in a supervised setting during the latter two years. Finally, they must complete a residency before certification.

The next step toward becoming a dentist is the written National Dental Examination and a clinical licensing exam to become licensed professionals. Once qualified, they earn the title of Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD).

Dental School for Orthodontists

Orthodontists receive the same education and degrees as dentists. What sets them apart is the additional training beyond dental school that they receive in their specialty. The orthodontic residency program lasts two to three years and requires over 4,800 hours of training. Upon completion, they receive a specialty certification in orthodontics. 

Dentists and Orthodontists: What Do They Do?

Dentists and Oral Health

The general dentist is the general practitioner, the family doctor for your teeth. They take care of preventive maintenance during your semi-annual appointments—routine exams, X-rays, cleaning (by the hygienist), and such. They diagnose and treat problems. They repair, replace, or extract damaged teeth, treat gum disease, and whiten discolored teeth. They may refer their patients to specialists such as orthodontists for more severe problems. The dentist looks after your overall dental health.

Specialists treat you for the duration of a specific condition. A general dentist will treat you for life

Orthodontists and Oral Health

The orthodontist’s specialty involves the alignment of the teeth and jaws. When your teeth aren’t in ideal positions for a healthy mouth, the orthodontist is the one to see if they’re pointing in the wrong direction or overcrowded. Orthodontists use a variety of techniques and appliances to correct alignment problems. 

Typically, orthodontists diagnose and treat misaligned teeth and jaws. They install braces, retainers, clear aligners, and other appliances that move teeth and jaws to more advantageous positions. 

One treatment that has become popular in the past several years is the Invisalign® system of clear aligners. Custom-designed for each patient, they take the place of metal braces. As a result, they are a more comfortable, advanced method of moving teeth into more healthy positions. 

The Invisalign treatment success depends on a series of aligners with each set of two shaped to reflect the gradual movement of the teeth and a precise, tight fit against the teeth throughout the process.

Considering orthodontists and dentists, Invisalign should involve the specialist, the orthodontist. They are trained and certified by the Invisalign manufacturer and can determine whether this will be the most effective treatment for your specific condition.  

Dentist vs. Orthodontist vs. Oral Surgeon

While we’re here, let’s make one more distinction. The oral surgeon differs from the dentist and orthodontist in that they have chosen surgery as their specialty. They have the same education through dental school, but they then have a residency in a hospital for four years in an American Dental Association accredited program. Their training and practice involve the jaws, mouth, and facial bones and tissues. They perform surgery to repair damage or deformities, reconstruct bones, and perform cosmetic procedures.

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Start Your Orthodontic Treatment at Loudoun Orthodontics Today!

Like many professions, the dental field has several branches of practice. If you think of it as a tree, the trunk is general dentistry. Everyone, generalists and specialists alike, completes dental school. However, general dentists stop there and become the family dentists we should all see at least every six months. The profession’s foundation, these doctors provide preventative maintenance services, such as check-ups and cleanings. As needed, they treat damaged teeth and gum diseases. 

Dental specialists form the many branches of the tree. On one branch, the orthodontist specializes in the alignment of teeth and jaws. They correct conditions such as overcrowding, ineffective bites, and anything out of alignment. They use appliances (e.g., braces and clear aligners) to move teeth and jaws into more effective, healthier positions.

At Loudoun Orthodontics, we are experts in treating alignment issues. We are trained and certified in treating patients with the Invisalign system. We are here to give you a healthy bite and a brilliant smile. Contact us and make an appointment to find out how we can make that happen for you! We also invite you to keep up with our blog to get answers to many of the frequently asked questions about maintaining sparkling oral health!