What is the Difference Between a Dentist and an Orthodontist?
Both dentists and orthodontics are doctors who specialize in oral healthcare, so it's not terribly surprising that some people are a bit confused on the differences between the two. There are more than subtle differences that distinguish the two practices however, and knowing the difference can be very helpful in your journey to a healthier, happier smile.
What is a Dentist?
Dentists are doctors that most of us have probably seen at some point in our lives, especially if we've experienced any tooth pain, mouth injuries, or generally wanted to take good care of our oral health.
A dentist is a doctor who's trained in general dentistry treatments, which means they have specialized in the medical field as teeth doctors. Dentists, however, do much more than just look at our teeth.
Dentists provide their patients with a wide range of oral healthcare treatments, including, but not limited to:
- Cleaning teeth - though this is often done by dental hygienists, as well
- Treating gum disease
- Conducting and interpreting dental X-rays
- Filling cavities
- Repairing cracked teeth
- Filling and bonding teeth
- Extracting damaged or decayed teeth
- Detecting and treating jaw injuries, diseases, or disorders
- Treating tooth decay
- Placing bridges, crowns, veneers, and other dental repair appliances
- Prescribing treatments including prescription drugs for oral health conditions
- Overseeing the development of teeth in children
- Performing oral surgery
- Promoting oral hygiene and health in adults, teenagers, and children
What is an Orthodontist?
An orthodontist is a licensed dentist who has specialized in the improvement of specific dental flaws not treated by general dentists. They work to correct flaws like crooked teeth, overcrowding, and misaligned bites.
Your orthodontist will evaluate your bite to determine the best treatment plans required to correct these issues that can impact your oral health in unique ways, as well as look less attractive.
When you go to see an orthodontist, it's for:
- Diagnosis and treatment of misaligned teeth and jaws - known as malocclusion
- Teeth straightening - done with braces, retainers, or other dental appliances
- Supervision of facial growth (jawline and bite) for children
- Teeth straightening surgery
- Installation of braces, palatal expanders, Herbst appliances, or orthodontic headgear
What's the Difference Between a Dentist and an Orthodontist?
Dentists and orthodontists alike obtain Bachelor's degrees before attending dental school for four years for general dentistry. At this point, both can begin practice as a dentist. Someone who wishes to become an orthodontist then continues in education to receive a two or three year residency program, specializing in orthodontics, focusing on malocclusions.
When a dentist becomes an orthodontist, that person limits their practice to orthodontics and does not continue practicing as a dentist.
This means that at the most base level, the difference between a dentist and an orthodontist is two to three years of residency working in teeth alignment corrections.
How Do I Know Which to See?
If you think of your oral healthcare practitioners like you do your other healthcare providers, you can think of your dentist as your general practitioner and your orthodontist as your specialist. Most of your general dental concerns will be resolved by visiting your dentist, but sometimes you need some specialized oral healthcare, and that's when you see an orthodontist.
If you're experiencing any of the following, these are concerns for your dentist:
- Tooth pain
- Dental emergencies - such as a chipped tooth, missing tooth, or lost filling
- Sore gums
- Bleeding gums
- Tooth decay
- Jaw pain
For specialized care, you'd see an orthodontist for:
- Crooked teeth
- Overcrowding of teeth
- Palate expansion
- Thumb sucking after the age of 2
It's also highly recommended that all children are assessed by an orthodontist by the age of 7 to see if braces are needed or if other oral flaws are of concern. If your child has never seen an orthodontist yet but has reached this age, call Orthodontics of Santa Barbara today to get the journey started.
Can a Dentist Also be an Orthodontist?
Technically speaking, every orthodontist is a dentist. However when orthodontists begin their specialization training, they are putting aside general dentistry to become experts in their field of orthodontics. They do this to maintain their on-going education and practice as experts in the field of orthodontics.
There are other dental specialists, as well.
- Endodontists - root canal specialists
- Periodontists - gum disease specialists
- Pediatric dentists - specialists in dental care for those under 21
- Maxillofacial surgeons - specialists of mouth, jaw, and face surgery
- Oral surgeons - specialists in tooth extraction
This is not to say that dentists cannot perform some of these functions. Some general dentists do, in fact, perform root canals, treat gum disease, and extract teeth. They do not have the additional specialized training. However, when possible, it's most ideal to trust your care to the right specialist, like our doctors at Orthodontics of Santa Barbara, to ensure you or your child receives the most advanced care.
What's the Difference Between General/Family and Pediatric Dentistry?
While general dentists are capable of treating pediatric patients, there is a such thing as pediatric dentistry. This is when a dentist specializes in care for children under the age of 18 or may even focus on oral healthcare for children under the age of 12.
Baby teeth are more susceptible to dental cavities than adult teeth, which can result in unchecked bacteria, which causes tooth decay and other health and dental health problems. This is why it's so important to begin your child's dentist visits at the age of 6 months, when teeth start to emerge.
At this six-month check up, your baby will receive a fluoride treatment to increase the missing mineralization, reduce acids in the mouth, and build stronger enamel on their teeth. Continuing these six month checkups are vital for your entire lifetime to maintain healthy teeth.
Do you need to see an orthodontist? Contact Orthodontics of Santa Barbara today to set an appointment.