Dentist vs. Orthodontist: What is the difference?

An educational session with Town & Country Orthodontics

A lot of people may be confused about what makes an orthodontist different from a general dentist.  Dentists and orthodontists both take care of teeth and both are doctors – so what makes them different from each other?

Most of us have been to the dentist many times, so we know exactly what they do.  We get our teeth cleaned and our cavities filled among other possible treatments at the dentist.

Orthodontists and dentists actually address the same dental issues, but differ in the methods of care they provide.  Let’s take a closer look at these two health professionals and figure out whom does what and how they are different.

orthodontists vs. dentists


To become a dentist one must complete dental school (4 years).  Dentists are doctors who specialize in problems with the teeth and gums.  They deal mostly with general dental problems like tooth decay, gum disease, tartar, and encourage patients to practice good oral hygiene and get regular cleanings twice each year.



Orthodontists are dentists who went on to complete a two to three year residency program in orthodontics after dental school.  They focus more on tooth and jaw alignment. Most people who have visited an orthodontist did so because their dentist may have advised them that they needed braces.  Orthodontists assess alignment problems, take scans and measurements, and fit patients with the appropriate type of braces to correct their concerns and straighten their smiles.  The orthodontic curriculum involves intensive study of growth & development of the jaw and how the teeth move.  Orthodontists primarily treat malocclusions, or problems with an individual’s bite.  Some of the primary issues include:

  • Overbite
  • Underbite
  • Crowded Teeth or Misalignment
  • Crossbite
  • Improperly Spaced Teeth

It is appropriate to think of an orthodontist as a dentist who specializes in the alignment of the teeth.  There are dentists who specialize in a number of other types of oral care.  A periodontist, for example, is a specialist who treats the gums and the bone around the teeth.  Periodontists treat gingivitis and periodontitis.  Other dental specialists include endodontists, pedodonitsts, prosthodontists, dental radiologists, oral surgeons and oral pathologists.

Summary of Differences Between Dentists and Orthodontists

  • Both are doctors who specialize in oral care and both are dentists.
  • Orthodontists complete an additional two to three years of training in orthodontics – the treatment of irregularities in the teeth and bite.
  • All orthodontists are dentists, but only 10% of dentists are orthodontists.
  • Dentists refer their patients to an orthodontist if they have problems with the alignment of their teeth or a bite abnormality of some kind.
  • Orthodontists are specialists who can fit patients for corrective braces and other dental devices, like retainers and expanders.
  • Orthodontists and dentists work closely together to care for their patients!

Now that we’ve helped answer some of these questions, please give Town & Country Orthodontics a call and set up your complimentary consultation with Dr. Carin Domann and Dr. Angela Orfanos.  We look forward to meeting you!


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