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Orthodontist or Dentist: Which Do You Need?

Orthodontist or Dentist: Which Do You Need?
January 22, 2019 / By medadmin

Orthodontist or Dentist: Which Do You Need?

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Orthodontics is a branch of dentistry that diagnoses and treats malocclusion, a condition in which the teeth are not correctly positioned when the mouth is closed. Malocclusion results in an abnormal bite.

An orthodontist also specializes in making the teeth straight and ensuring the jaws are aligned.
Sometimes treatment can be cosmetic, to improve a person’s appearance, but it often aims to improve oral health and function, too.

An Orthodontist is Different from a Dentist

Orthodontists and dentists share many similarities, but they actually work in very different and distinct ways. Dentists cover a wide range of oral health issues. An orthodontist is a dental specialist who focuses on straightening teeth and fixing abnormal bite patterns.

All orthodontists are dentists, but not all dentists are orthodontists. There are several key differences between orthodontists and dentists.


  • Complete a 4-year postgraduate dental degree, attaining a general dental degree.
  • Are general practitioners who diagnose and treat problems with the mouth, gums, and teeth.
  • Apply general dental care and maintenance for people of all ages.
  • May perform cosmetic dental procedures such as veneers, crowns, and tooth whitening.
  • Are not trained in orthodontic protocols and generally refer patients needing that type of treatment to an orthodontist.


  • Complete an additional three years to five years of training after attaining a dental degree.
  • Post-dental school studies focus on biology, facial growth and development, and biomechanics of the jaw and oral cavity.
  • Apply orthodontic protocols which diagnose and treat crooked teeth, improper bites, and misaligned jaws.
  • Are trained in orthodontic treatments and technologies for children, teens, and adults.

General dentists and orthodontists often collaborate to produce the optimal outcome for the patient.

An Early Childhood Orthodontic Assessment is Recommended

A rule of thumb is that a child should have an orthodontic evaluation by the age of 7. The orthodontic professional will assess problems with teeth spacing, bite abnormalities, and jaw issues. An orthodontist can also identify developing problems that result from the loss of baby teeth and the eruption of permanent teeth.

Many conditions are much more easily treated if caught in the early stages of a child’s natural growth processes. Sometimes, severe dental challenges that might require extreme measures, such as oral surgery, can be averted through early intervention

Furthermore, there’s a quite a bit of diversity in tooth development at the age of seven. An orthodontist can accurately identify if a child has or is developing an orthodontic problem. These are issues that a general dentist may not have the specialized training to recognize.

An Orthodontist and a Dentist Working Together Can Optimize Results

Regular dental check-ups and cleaning should continue throughout orthodontic treatment. Treatments that strive for maintaining good oral health should remain a priority.

A referral from a dentist is not required for you to be seen by an orthodontist. But if you have a reliable family orthodontist in San Clemente, CA, you may want to ask about a referral to an orthodontist with whom they have a good working relationship. If you need another reliable resource–check with the American Association Of Orthodontists.


Thank you to our friends and contributors at John Redmond Orthodontics for their insight into orthodontics vs. dentistry.