Orthodontist vs. Dentist – Who Does What?

Orthodontist vs. dentist – What exactly does a dentist do, and how do orthodontists differ from dentists? We often have patients who don’t know where the line is drawn between dentistry and orthodontics. There is some crossover between the two, so it can be confusing to know which type of doctor you need! Let’s start with the basics and then talk about the differences between orthodontists and dentists.

Female dentist in a lab coat looking at a scan

The Basics

Definition of dentistry

A dentist is a doctor who evaluates, diagnoses, prevents, and treats diseases and conditions in your mouth. Most patients go to a dentist to get their teeth cleaned, gums and mouth examined for disease, and cavities filled. Dentists also perform root canals, tooth extractions, and different types of dental implants. They whiten your teeth and fix any cracks or chips. Dentists go to dental school for 4 years after they graduate with their bachelor’s degree.

A pediatric dentist is a more specialized dentist who primarily treats children. Pediatric dentists go to school for longer and they are specifically trained to treat children and teens. Only 3% of dentists in the United States are pediatric specialists, and we highly recommend taking your children to a pediatric dentist specialist rather than a general dentist.

Definition of orthodontics

Orthodontists diagnose and correct malocclusions, muscular, and skeletal abnormalities. That just means they straighten your teeth and realign your jaw with braces, aligners, headgear, and other appliances. Patients usually come to an orthodontist when they want straighter teeth, and their orthodontist often ends up aligning their jaw at the same time. If you’re wondering which type of doctor specializes in teeth and jaw alignment, it’s an orthodontist!

When you first go to an orthodontist they’ll look at your teeth, bite, and jaw and decide if you need treatment. If you do, then they’ll give you options and you can choose whether or not you want to move forward with treatment.

Orthodontist vs. Dentist

When do I go to an orthodontist?

  • Crooked teeth
  • Misaligned jaw
  • Jaw pain
  • When your dentist recommends you visit an orthodontist

When do I go to a dentist?

  • Toothache
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Missing teeth
  • Bleeding or sore gums
  • Pain inside your mouth
  • Yellow or stained teeth
  • If you haven’t had your teeth cleaned and examined in 6–12 months

Does an orthodontist go to school for longer than a dentist?

Orthodontists do go to school for longer than dentists! To become a dentist you have to finish your undergraduate degree and go to dental school for four years. After those four years are up you can either get licensed as a dentist and start practicing general dentistry, or you can further specialize in something like orthodontics or pediatric dentistry. An orthodontist does a residency for 2–3 years after dental school. A pediatric dentist also does 2–3 years of residency after dental school.

It’s helpful to remember that an orthodontist is just a dentist who has more specialized training. Both dentists and orthodontists go to four years of dental school, but an orthodontist specializes for a few more years after that.

So what’s the difference between a dentist and an orthodontist?

When evaluating dentist vs. orthodontist, try thinking of it in a different way. General practitioners are doctors, and so are orthopedic surgeons. But orthopedic surgeons have additional training and their jobs are very different than general practitioners. If you need knee surgery, you won’t go to a general practitioner for the actual surgery. You’ll go to an orthopedic surgeon.

It’s just the same for orthodontists and dentists. They go to the same school and treat the same area, but for very different things.

At Mountain West Dental Specialists, we have both an orthodontist and a pediatric dentist. We can treat all your child’s dental and orthodontic needs from childhood through their teen years. This reduces stress, dental anxiety, and the time you spend going from appointment to appointment. It’s all in one place! Make an appointment for a free consultation if you live in the Las Vegas area.