Orthodontics vs. General Dentistry: What’s the Difference?

You are not alone if you feel confused about what separates the two specialties. Orthodontists and dentists both help you maintain good oral health, but in different ways. Dentistry is the umbrella term used to describe medical specialties that deal with teeth, nerves, gums, and the jaw. Orthodontists usually focus on bite correction, occlusion, and teeth straightening. Both dentists and orthodontists go to dental school. However, orthodontics requires two to three years at an accredited residency program following dental school. They are both doctors, and they are both vital in aiding your oral health.

How are they different?

An Orthodontist specializes in helping to straighten your teeth and improve your bite. If a patient has an overbite, underbite, or crossbite, a dentist will most likely refer them to an orthodontist. You’ll visit a dentist for your bi-annual teeth cleanings. Dentists look for signs of cavities and gum disease and prescribe treatment for these conditions.

Dentists usually provide services related to:

  • Teeth Cleaning
  • Root Canals
  • Gum Disease
  • Crowns
  • Bridges
  • Veneers
  • Teeth Whitening

Orthodontists usually provide services related to:

  • Teeth crowding
  • Overbite
  • Crossbite
  • Underbite
  • Misaligned teeth

When to See a Dentist

Going to the dentist is very important in maintaining good oral health and preventing severe dental conditions. Parents should take their child to their first visit to the dentist by their first birthday or within six months of their first tooth coming in. From that point on, someone with generally good dental health should see their dentist every six months for a routine teeth cleaning and checkup. Some groups of people may benefit from seeing the dentist more often, such as smokers, pregnant women, diabetics, those with gum disease, a weak immune system, and people prone to cavities and plaque buildup.

You should brush and floss daily as part of your regular oral health routine. But even if you do that, you still need those professional cleanings and checkups from your dentist. Regular checkups could catch harmful dental conditions, gum disease, and oral cancer.

When to See an Orthodontist

The earlier a dental condition is caught, the better an Orthodontist can resolve it. The American Association of Orthodontists recommends children have their first orthodontic consultation by age 7. Early diagnosis and evaluation can positively impact a child’s developing mouth, including the teeth and jaw. Often, early treatment can eliminate the need for surgery or the development of more serious conditions down the road.

Orthodontists are experts in tooth and jaw alignment and often treat the following conditions:

  • Overcrowding
  • Misaligned Teeth
  • Tooth Gaps
  • Teeth that Protrude

Some early problems that an Orthodontist can detect:

  • Underbite, Overbite, Openbite or Crossbite
  • Spacing Issues
  • Protruding Teeth
  • Overcrowding
  • Midlines

How to Become an Orthodontist

If you’re detail-oriented and enjoy working with your hands, solving problems, and have good stamina, you might enjoy being an orthodontist. Becoming an orthodontist requires a lot of rigorous schooling. It takes a total of 10 to 11 years of school to become certified and licensed to practice as an orthodontist. That’s around four years of undergraduate school, four years at an accredited dental school, and two to three years at an accredited residency program for orthodontics. You’ll have to check each item off the following list to become an orthodontist.

  • Obtain an undergraduate degree
  • Pass the Dental Admission Test
  • Apply and get accepted to dental school
  • Complete dental school and residency
  • Pass the National Board Dental Examination
  • Obtain a license to practice orthodontics as a specialty, which may require a particular state exam

Other Specialties in Dentistry

Orthodontics is one specialty within the dental field, but there are many others. Other specialties include:

  • Endodontics
  • Periodontics
  • Prosthodontics
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Radiologist
  • Dental Anesthesiology
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology
  • Pediatric Dentistry
  • Orofacial Pain (OFP)
  • Oral Medicine
  • Dental Public Health (DPH)

Regardless of your specific needs, dentistry, orthodontics, and other specialties are essential for your oral health. Our orthodontists focus on helping people correct their smile and achieve greater confidence than they ever thought possible with Invisalign clear aligners. We help teens and adults fix their bites, straighten their teeth, and feel proud of their smiles.


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