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What Is the Difference Between Dentist and Orthodontist?

Should you Visit a Dentist or Orthodontist? | Smiles of Cary

A dentist and orthodontist are both dental practitioners that share some similarities. They both help patients improve their oral health and deal with teeth and gums but in quite different ways. Their functions may sometimes overlap, to a slight degree.

However the most important dentist and orthodontist difference is that the former covers comprehensive dentistry concerned with managing overall oral health or health of the teeth, gums, tongue, and jaws. On the other hand orthodontics is a specialty of dentistry dealing with occlusion and dental development that includes bite correction, tooth and jaw alignment, teeth straightening, and other such disorders. Smiles of Cary explains what the difference between a dentist and orthodontist is.

Dentistry and Orthodontics Training

Dentists and orthodontists to a large extent get the same education, undergoing the same training but for one minor difference: Orthodontists have to undergo an additional educational certification.

Four years of undergraduate education and four years of dental school are required to become a dentist. The first two years of dental school focuses on classroom and lab training whereas the last two years is comprised of practical training, allowing candidates to work under supervision with patients in a licensed dental school.

Upon completion, a general dentist must also take a written exam and clinical licensing exam called the National Board Dental Examination (NBDE) after which they become licensed professionals, qualified to practice.

On the other hand, orthodontics is a dental specialty involving specific focus, and hence it requires additional training that goes beyond general dentistry. Hence, a person who wants to become an orthodontist must pursue training in the orthodontics specialty. Typically it is comprised of a two to three year residency and more than 4,800 hours of orthodontic training, culminating in a specialty certification in orthodontics.

What Do Dentists Do?

Responsible for patients' overall oral health, dentists conduct regular checkups to diagnose dental conditions related to the teeth, gums, and nerves. These oral ailments include cavities, gum disease, and many others. In addition when there're broken, misshapen, chipped, or missing teeth, they may place veneers or crowns. They may also perform teeth cleaning, whitening, and other cosmetic dental procedures.

Orthodontists perform the following functions:

  • Diagnose dental conditions with regular checkups and dental X-rays, if needed
  • Fill cavities, extract teeth, or perform root canals in case of severe tooth decay
  • Place crowns, bridges, and veneers
  • Treat gum disease
  • Whiten teeth and perform other cosmetic dental procedures
  • Check and manage tooth development in children and teens
  • Perform oral surgery
  • Encourage good oral practices and hygiene for maintaining good dental health

What Do Orthodontists Do?

While dentists manage overall oral health orthodontists specialize in specific domains such as, facial growth, teeth and jaw alignment, teeth straightening, bite correction, and others.

They rectify crooked teeth, tooth gaps, misaligned teeth, cross bites, overbites, under bites crowded teeth, misaligned jaws, and temporomandibular disorders. To correct these issues, they are required to develop a tailored plan to set the teeth and jaws correctly, based on the patient’s existing tooth structure. They typically use orthodontic appliances such as, braces, clear aligners, and other specialized tools.

Orthodontists perform the following functions:

  • Oversee facial growth in children and teens
  • Develop an individualized treatment plan to correct misaligned teeth and jaws, crowded teeth, and bite problems
  • Perform surgery to straighten teeth, if required
  • Fit patients for corrective braces, retainers, and other orthodontic devices

Orthodontist vs. Dentist

What is the difference between a dentist and orthodontist? Dentists are responsible for tasks concerning the health of the teeth, gums, and mouth. Additionally, in some states, dentists can provide orthodontic treatments too. While there may be a slight overlap between the functions performed by a dentist and an orthodontist, typically if a patient has a bite problem, a dentist may refer them to an orthodontist.

On the other hand, orthodontists provide only orthodontic services, that is, treatments that fall within the domain of facial development, teeth and jaw misalignment, bite problems and temporomandibular disorders.

Should You See an Orthodontist or Dentist?

Getting regular checkups from a dentist is necessary to maintain good dental health and ensure your teeth and gums are in good condition. In addition, if you have tooth ache or a broken or missing tooth, again it’d be best to consult a dentist. However, if you have misaligned teeth or jaws or a problem with your bite, your dentist may refer you to an orthodontist. This distinguishing factor best explains what the difference is between a dentist and orthodontist. This is because a dentist may offer some orthodontic treatments but an orthodontist is specialized in the domain and may be better positioned to assist you for problems related to teeth and jaw misalignment and facial development in children and teens.

Another main difference between a dentist and an orthodontist is that you will visit a dentist throughout your life whereas you will have to visit your orthodontist only for the duration of your orthodontic treatment.

Are you facing a dental issue or another type of problem concerning teeth symmetry or jaw line? No matter what your dental challenge, Smiles of Cary can help. Apart from a Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) degree from the University of North Carolina, Dr. Charles Ferzli has several other advanced trainings and certifications including TMJ training from AACP and orthodontic training from Gerry Samson Institute. Plus he has years of experience in various areas of dentistry. To improve your oral health or enhance your smile, schedule your appointment today.


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Smiles of Cary Family Dentistry

  • 1150 NW Maynard Rd,
    STE 120, Cary
    NC 27513
  • (919) 646-6538
  • Monday: 8am – 5pm Tuesday: 9am – 6pm Wednesday: 8am – 5pm Thursday: 9am – 6pm Friday: 8am – 1pm Saturday: 8am – 1pm Sunday: Closed
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