Orthodontists Dentists

If you're a patient seeking dental care, two terms you'll most likely come across often are "orthodontists" and "general dentists." People often wonder what the differences between these two terms are and which of them they should consult for dental treatment.

To put the differences between both professionals simply, you should note that while all orthodontists are dentists, not all dentists are orthodontists. A general dentist is a professional trained to take care of your overall dental care and help you maintain the beauty of your smile. On the other hand, orthodontists are dentists with specialized training that allows them to diagnose and correct teeth and jaw alignment issues.

Although this is the primary difference between these two fields, other factors set them apart. Understanding the differences between what these two professionals do will help you choose the right person to meet your dental care needs at any time. Read on to discover how orthodontists differ from general dentists.

Who is a Dentist?

Dentistry is a broad field of medicine that deals with oral care. A dentist is a professional that treats health issues relating to your teeth, gum, and mouth in general. You can liken a dentist to a general practitioner with in-depth knowledge across the field of dentistry.

What does a Dentist do?

General dentists tend to the oral health of patients. Typically, they become qualified to practice dentistry after a pre-medical or pre-dentistry course, then a few years at a school of dentistry. An average of 80% of dentists practice general dentistry. Their job mainly involves diagnosing and treating various oral health issues relating to gums, teeth, tongue, and mouth.

A general dentist focuses on helping patients maintain their oral health. Even without a dental problem, a routine visit to the dentist's office is recommended on a six-month or yearly basis. Dentists offer preventive care that helps address issues before they arise. They may also provide restorative treatment for simple dental problems such as fillings, crowns, bridges, root canal work, and dentures. Some general dentists also do a little bit of specialized services, such as hygienists specializing in teeth cleaning services and cosmetic dentists that carry out procedures like dental implants, veneers, teeth whitening, and so on.

Some of the services provided by a dentist include:

  • Carrying out and interpreting dental X-rays
  • Filling cavities
  • Extracting teeth
  • Repairing cracked teeth
  • Treatment of gum disease, such as gingivitis
  • Prescribe treatment for oral health conditions
  • Perform oral surgery

Who is an Orthodontist?

Orthodontics is a specialty within the field of dentistry that is concerned with treating issues related to a person's bite, teeth alignment, and how the teeth meet together. Although an orthodontist has gone through basic dentistry training, they also have further training, which gives them additional knowledge of the medical field they specialize in.

What does an Orthodontist do?

An orthodontist is a dentist with a specialty in treating tooth and jaw alignment issues. Certified orthodontists are trained to treat and diagnose general oral health conditions. However, they primarily focus on treatments that ensure your jaws and teeth are set correctly.

Unlike a general dentist, you don't need to see an orthodontist unless you have a teeth alignment issue. However, parents are often advised to take their children to see an orthodontic professional at least once before the age of seven (7) to see if there are any signs of dental problems. Orthodontists usually offer the following services:

  • Supervise the growth of facial bones (jawline and bite) in children
  • Diagnosis and treatment of malocclusions (misaligned teeth and jaws)
  • Create and monitor treatment places that include the use of braces, retainers, and/or clear aligners like Invisalign
  • Perform surgery to straighten teeth and jaw bones
  • Installation of dental appliances for teeth and jaw straightening

Orthodontist vs. Dentist Qualifications

One way to put the differences between an orthodontist and a general dentist in a better context is to understand the differences in how they're trained. Dentists and orthodontists often start at the same point by receiving the same dentistry training. However, to qualify as an orthodontist, you will need additional certification.

Dentists attend a graduate school of dentistry after a few years of pre-dentistry degree. During their dentistry course, they're extensively trained in the practice, and they also complete a residency program and pass a certification exam before they can start practicing dentistry.

They spend the first two years of their dental course doing classroom and lab work, while the last two years are spent in a residency program where they work with patients under close supervision. The National Dental Examination is the final certification exam all general dentists must pass to become licensed to practice.

Orthodontists go through this training as well. However, after they have completed their basic dentistry training and passed the certification exam, they're required to do an additional two to three years of training and write certification tests to become a specialist in the field of orthodontics.

Should You See an Orthodontist or a Dentist?

Both general dentists and orthodontists are essential for the dental health of patients. In many cases, your dentist has to work together with your orthodontist to develop an effective treatment that guarantees the best outcome while considering your oral care. Many people start by seeing a general dentist who then refers them to an orthodontist for specialized care when necessary. However, most issues never make it to the orthodontist since they can be easily resolved by a visit to the dentist's office.

For basic teeth and gum issues such as toothache, tooth repair, decay extraction, inflammation, and gum disease, a dentist can diagnose and recommend the best treatment. However, if you have a more complex issue, such as jaw malocclusion (underbite, overbite, crossbite), tooth crowding, and other related dental problems, you may be referred to an orthodontist.

It is also possible to skip going to a dentist and go straight to an orthodontist. If you have misaligned teeth or a crooked jawline and would like to correct it, then a visit to an orthodontist will be right for you. However, note that direct visits to an orthodontist like this may not be covered by insurance. Most insurance companies consider an orthodontist's office visit as specialist care and will only cover it if a dentist recommends it.


At the end of the day, both dentists and orthodontists are needed by patients, but one may be more appropriate than the other, depending on the specific case in question. As a dedicated orthodontist that serves New Hampshire, Massachusetts & Connecticut, we offer specialized teeth and jaw straightening services for patients in need of the best of orthodontist care. OMG Smiles can care for the most complex orthodontic issues thanks to a highly knowledgeable team of experts. Call now to schedule a consultation and learn more about our services.