What’s the difference between an orthodontist and a dentist?

A lot of people think that dentists and orthodontists are the same things. As it happens, they’re similar in some ways, but there are a few significant differences as well. If you’ve often confused the two, then hopefully this blog post helps clear things up.

What is a dentist?

Simply put; a dentist will care for the oral health of their patients. Dentistry is a medical specialty that covers a load of different issues. A dentist will typically help you with some of the following things:

There are many other things a dentist can do, and they also carry out regular oral health checkups to see that your teeth and gums are in the right shape. It’s recommended that you see your dentist a few times per year to maintain good oral health. They diagnose a range of issues and provide solutions to try and keep your teeth and gums as healthy as can be.

What is an orthodontist?

An orthodontist is a dentist that’s gone on to specialize in the field of orthodontics. Here, the main focus is on teeth alignment and correcting issues with the jaw. An orthodontist can help with the following issues:

  • Misaligned teeth
  • Overbite
  • Underbite
  • Crowded teeth
  • Large spaces between teeth
  • TMD (Temporomandibular disorder)
  • Additional problems with the jaw

Orthodontists are dentists, but not all dentists go on to be orthodontists. Fortunately, Boston Dental provides leading orthodontic services as well as general and cosmetic dentistry. The most common way that an orthodontist treats patients is by using braces or Invisalign to straighten teeth and improve the alignment. They’re also able to carry out extractions if necessary for the treatment.

How are dentistry and orthodontics similar?

Orthodontics and dentistry are somewhat similar. For one, orthodontists and dentists are both responsible for looking after your oral health. Their main aim is to ensure that your mouth stays healthy, but they take slightly different approaches.

Also, they’re similar in the sense that orthodontists are technically dentists too. A qualified orthodontist could work in a dental office and carry out regular checkups and treatments if they wanted. But, they also have the qualifications to provide orthodontic treatments as well.

Typically, both orthodontists and dentists will work in the same place as well. A dentist will see patients, diagnose their problems, then refer them to an orthodontist if required.

How do dentists and orthodontists differ?

The differences between these professions greatly outweigh the similarities. The most obvious difference is that orthodontists need to go through more training to gain the right qualifications. There aren’t any college degrees that automatically make you an orthodontist. First, you’re required to obtain your qualifications as a dentist. Then, you have to complete a few more years of additional training – while also completing an orthodontic residency. From here, you have to take the American Board of Orthodontics examination – and pass it.

A dentist can stop after they’re gained their qualifications through dental school. Here, they can practice dentistry and get a job in a practice. Orthodontics is a specialty, so it requires more training and experience.

Another difference is that orthodontists are capable of doing things a dentist can’t. Your dentists might be able to tell you that you need braces, but they can’t actually fit them. An orthodontist handles this, and they carry out all the checks to ensure the braces stay tight and are working correctly.

Orthodontists mainly rely on braces as the best form of treatment, but they also use other methods too. If your mouth is too overcrowded, then they use extractions to pull teeth out and create more space.

But, you won’t see an orthodontist for some of the more common oral health problems. Issues with tooth decay and gum disease are handled by dentists. Similarly, any cosmetic procedures are taken care of by them, and they also help fit dentures, bridges, and provide a host of other treatments to keep your mouth in good condition.

There’s also a big difference in how you encounter dentists and orthodontics. Usually, you only see an orthodontist if you’ve been referred by your dentist. During a checkup, your dentist can detect problems like overbite, underbite, teeth misalignment, and so on. Then, they refer you to an orthodontist, who will take care of the issues for you.

So, to summarize the main differences:

  • Orthodontists are dentists that have gone through extra training to specialize in the field of orthodontics
  • Dentists take care of the more common oral health issues like tooth decay, etc.
  • Orthodontists only focus on teeth alignment, bite problems, and your jaw
  • You’re likely to be referred to an orthodontist by a dentist, but not vice versa

How can an orthodontist help you?

Why might you need to see an orthodontist? Well, if you’ve been experiencing any of the following issues, then you may benefit from orthodontic treatments:

  • Jaw pain
  • Sore teeth/gums
  • Wonky teeth
  • Large gaps between teeth
  • Teeth that haven’t dropped down from your gums properly
  • Too many teeth
  • Persistent headaches

When you have pain in your jaw – which often causes headaches – then you could have an issue with your temporomandibular joint. An orthodontist is the person to see as they know how to diagnose TMJ issues and figure out what’s causing the pain. A lot of the time, it’s down to your bite and the alignment of your jaw. So, treatment is provided to realign things and ease your pain.

The same applies to problems with your teeth as well. If you look in the mirror and see there are gaps, or that your mouth is too crowded and your smile is wonky, then an orthodontist is here to help. Again, they help solve the problem by forcing your teeth into their correct alignment. They can use braces or other tools to gradually pull teeth together and straighten them out. If you have persistent tooth pain, it could be down to an overcrowded mouth. As such, an orthodontist can provide teeth extractions to give your mouth more space and relieve your pain.

Essentially, if you have any problems relating to the alignment of your teeth, your jaws, or your bite, then an orthodontist can help.

Do you need to see an orthodontist?

How do you know if it’s time to see an orthodontist? In most cases, if your dentist hasn’t mentioned anything, then you should be fine. As we touched upon before, they will notice any severe issues and give you a referral.

However, a dentist isn’t going to refer everyone with slight teeth alignment issues. A couple of wonky teeth won’t cause much harm to your overall oral health. So, they only really refer patients who have advanced problems that will cause harm if left untreated.

With that in mind, you might need to see an orthodontist if you have any problems that are causing you mental distress. A dentist might not see an issue with your wonky smile, but it could create confidence issues for you. The same goes for any gaps in your teeth that you hate or a slight overbite that’s never been fixed. If you want to straighten your smile and feel more confident, then it will benefit you to see an orthodontist.


Hopefully, this piece has helped you understand the main differences and similarities between orthodontists and dentists. Both of these medical professionals will help improve your oral health. But, for issues revolving around teeth alignment and your jaw, you need to see an orthodontist.

If you feel like you have problems that can be solved by orthodontic treatments, then feel free to contact Boston Dental today. We can book you in for an appointment with an experienced orthodontist, and they will assess your mouth and provide solutions to your problem. Contact our team today if you want to learn more, or give us a call to schedule an initial consultation.

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