For those who are unfamiliar with the world of oral health, dentists and orthodontists may not appear to be very different. After all, dentists and orthodontists are similar in many ways: we both attend dental school and we both work with teeth.
Given these commonalities, we here at Beverly Hills Orthodontics understand why new patients don’t always have a clear understanding of what orthodontists actually are. In fact, we spend many of our consultations explaining what sets us apart from dentists. Some of the most common questions we hear from patients include:
- Is my dentist an orthodontist?
- Are dentists orthodontists?
- What sets an orthodontist apart from a general dentist?
- Do I need an orthodontist for Invisalign?
- Can my family dentist provide braces?
If you’ve been asking yourself the same questions, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, we’ll attempt to clear up any “dentist vs. orthodontist” confusion by answering these questions and more. By the end of the blog, you’ll be able to tell the difference between dentists and orthodontists so you know which of these physicians is best suited to treat your specific issues.
Are Dentists Orthodontists?
No!—But All Orthodontists Are Dentists
If the headline above seems confusing, give us a minute to explain. Dentistry is a medical field focused on maintaining the health of:
- The mouth
- The jaw
- Facial tissue
- Oral Function
Hopefully, you have been visiting a dentist regularly since you were around 12 months old. From this point on, all people should visit the dentist twice a year for essential services, including:
- Gum and tooth cleanings
- Gum, teeth, throat, and neck examination
- Basic restoration work (e.g,. fillings, root canals, etc.)
A dentist who provides these services is called a general dentist. Anyone who graduates from dental school can become a general dentist once they pass their three National Board Dental Examinations.
Some dental school graduates, however, pursue further specializations. The American Dental Association (ADA) recognizes 12 dental subspecialties, including:
- Orthodontics, which focuses on diagnosing, preventing, intercepting, and correcting bite problems and misaligned teeth
- Periodontics, which focuses on diagnosing, treating, and preventing issues related to the gums and surrounding tissue
- Endodontics, which focuses on studying and treating problems in the dental pulp and gum tissue.
- Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, which focuses on treating injuries, defects, and diseases affecting the mouth, jaw, and face
Dentists, Orthodontists, and Why Specialties Matter
Now that we’ve established that dentists are not orthodontists, we can focus on why we differentiate between dentists and orthodontists at all.
Structurally speaking, the human mouth is complex. Although we don’t often realize it, basic tasks like eating, speaking, and laughing require bones, gums, teeth, and muscles to work in harmony. A general dentist can provide basic oral care, but complex issues—like bite problems—require a specialist.
Distinctive Dental Training
After graduating from dental school, orthodontists attend a 3-year residency training program focused only on orthodontics. Their study concentrates on understanding how teeth move and learning to correct complicated alignment problems such as:
- Open bite
- Deep bite
- Dental crowding
- Spacing issues (i.e., tooth gaps)
General dentists do not receive this training. Correcting bite problems requires a deeper understanding of oral function, tooth movement, facial growth, and facial orthopedics—far more than what standard dental school covers.
Residency programs provide orthodontists with the expertise and experience required to:
- Diagnose bite issues in patients as young as 5
- Prescribe interceptive orthodontic treatments to improve bite problems at an early age
- Craft treatment plans that align with patient lifestyles and personal preferences
- Use accelerated orthodontic treatments to correct bite problems more quickly
- Identify possible complications during treatment and pivot accordingly
While dentists are typically not trained to perform these specialized tasks, some do offer Invisalign services. They are able to do so because the manufacturer-supplied software creates treatment plans for them. Invisalign software is advanced enough to design aligners, although each face is unique and can present complications midway through treatment.
The difference between dentists and orthodontists is similar to knowing you should visit a general doctor for a cold vs. understanding you need an ophthalmologist for eye surgery. If you want a perfect smile without the risks and limitations of dentist-provided Invisalign, schedule an appointment with a licensed orthodontist.
Schedule a Consultation at Beverly Hills Orthodontics Today
Dentists provide many important services, like cleaning teeth and gums, identifying problems, and performing procedures to keep your mouth healthy. Many also specialize in cosmetics, like veneers. Orthodontists and general dentists often work closely to provide patients the best care possible.
If you are serious about improving your smile, you want to partner with a professional orthodontist like BHO’s own Dr. Monica Madan. Dr. Madan and the BHO team understand what it takes to create custom treatment plans that meet the lifestyle preferences of each patient. Whether you have mild crowding issues or severe bite problems, BHO can give you a perfect smile using methods that work around your schedule. Call us today to learn more.
NOTE: All blog content is intended to supplement—NOT REPLACE—the expertise of a healthcare professional and should not be construed in any way as medical advice. Consult a professional orthodontist directly, like the ones at BHO, to assess your individual needs and advise the best course of treatment.