The Difference Between A Dentist And An Orthodontist (And Why You Need Both!)

You may remember from math class long ago that while every square is a rhombus, not every rhombus is a square. It’s the same with orthodontists and dentists: while all orthodontists are dentists, not all dentists are orthodontists. That’s because while all dentists go through four years of dental school, only those who continue on for an additional two to three years of formal training in orthodontics become orthodontists.

So which is better, a dentist or an orthodontist? You might think that because we are orthodontists, our answer would be orthodontist, but it’s not. For optimal oral health, you need both.

Why You Need a Dentist

Everyone should visit the dentist regularly. Dentists check for decay as well as cracked, chipped, loose, or missing teeth. They look for gum inflammation or recession. Most even look for signs of oral cancer during routine check-ups. They have specialized imagining machinery to see what’s going on with a patient’s teeth as well as all the tools and techniques required to take care of fillings, crowns, and more. Dentists who specialize in cosmetic dentistry are also highly skilled in working with whitening, veneers, bridges, and implants. Plus, a routine visit to the dentist usually includes a cleaning by a dental hygienist. This cleaning, which is recommended twice a year, gets rid of hard plaque before it causes problems. 

In short, dentists (with their hygienists) help keep their patients’ teeth and gums healthy and track their oral health over time.

Why You Need an Orthodontist

Since an orthodontist is also a dentist, you may think that means they will check for cavities and do cleanings, too. This is not the case, but it is a common misconception. Orthodontists typically leave these things to dentists and instead focus their time and attention on the art and science of straightening teeth and jaws.

Another misconception is that orthodontic treatment is all about appearance. This is not true! It’s about health and function, too. Crooked teeth can lead to tooth decay and gum disease, and may make simple things like biting and chewing more difficult. A misaligned jaw can lead to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), which can cause popping in the jaw, headaches, and other neuromuscular pain.

An orthodontist can diagnose problems with the teeth and jaw and provide treatment so you not only end up with a smile that’s more attractive, but healthier, too.

Working Together for Optimal Oral Health

If you’re undergoing orthodontic treatment, be sure to continue going to your regular dentist. As stated above, your orthodontist will not do cleanings or check for cavities; plus, braces and other appliances can increase the risk of swollen gums and cavities if teeth are not well taken care of during treatment.

Both of us have a lot of respect and appreciation for the dentists in our community, and we consider them partners in our collective pursuit giving our mutual patients the best oral health possible. Without the hard work from the dentists we respect so much, we wouldn’t have the success we do as orthodontists.