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What is the Difference Between Dentists and Orthodontists?

If you are already seeing a dentist twice a year for your bi-annual cleaning, you may wonder why you would also need to see an orthodontist. Especially if you don’t need braces.

While not every person needs to be treated by an orthodontist, everyone can benefit from at least being evaluated by an orthodontist. Especially when they are younger. In fact, it is recommended that children visit the orthodontist as early as 7 years old for an initial screening.

Before exploring why kids as young as 7 can benefit from seeing an orthodontist, as well as adults, let’s take a look at the differences between a dentist and orthodontist. Once you have a better understanding of these differences you will be able to better understand why seeing an orthodontist may be a benefit for you or your child.

What Do Dentists Do?

You may have a general idea of what dentists do just from going to your bi-annual cleaning and screening each year. Each visit is probably similar: getting x-rays, having a dental hygienist clean and polish your pearly whites, and then meeting with the dentist to review any concerns.

These procedures give you a good idea about what dentists do. Dentists focus on oral health and hygiene. This includes cleaning teeth, checking for healthy gums, and looking for cavities. In addition to these basics that you experience during a routine cleaning, dentists also offer other services that help you to maintain a healthy mouth.

What services does a dentist offer?

Oral hygiene covers a lot of different areas. It ranges from the basics for maintaining healthy teeth to surgical procedures and even includes cosmetic treatments.

Common Treatments Provided by Dentists

  • Routine dental care: teeth cleaning and x-rays
  • Oral cancer screening
  • Filling cavities to treat decaying teeth
  • Performing root canals
  • Extracting decayed teeth
  • Designing and placing crowns/caps on severely broken or cracked teeth
  • Creating replacements for missing teeth: bridges, dentures, and individual implants
  • Offering treatment for gingivitis and gum disease
  • Cosmetic procedures: teeth whitening and veneers
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While dentists, being your primary oral health provider, cover a lot when it comes to oral health, there are still several treatments they refer out to specialists. When a dentist notices that a patient has a need beyond the scope of the primary dentist, they will refer them to a specialist like an orthodontist.

How is an Orthodontist Different from a Dentist?

Just like any other form of medicine there are similarities and differences between general practices and specialties. One of the most common things between general practitioners (like dentists) and specialists (like orthodontists) is their initial training.

Orthodontists must first become dentists. Therefore, orthodontists have the same initial training as a dentist. However, a dentist does not have the additional specialized training that an orthodontist has.

Let’s take a quick look at the first steps in becoming a dentist. Then we can talk about the additional training it takes to become an orthodontist.

What Training Does a Dentist Complete?

Both dentists and orthodontists first complete a four-year undergraduate program. This is then followed by four more years of dental school. Dr. Reagin began his journey into orthodontics with a Bachelor of Science degree from the College of Charleston, followed by dental school at the Medical University of South Carolina.

After four years of dental school, a dentist demonstrates their readiness to practice by completing a comprehensive (and rigorous) written test. They also must complete hands-on clinical trials to prove they are ready to practice on future patients.

Once a dentist achieves their license, they can begin working on patients. Another option after becoming a licensed dentist is to pursue a specialty – like orthodontics.

 What Training Does an Orthodontist Complete?

Orthodontics is truly a specialty, as only about 6% of dentists choose to pursue this path. This can be a good indicator that your orthodontist is quite passionate about what they do. Dr. Reagin is certainly one of those who is passionate about what he does!

After completing the requirements to become a dentist, an orthodontist continues with additional training that teaches them how to treat several ailments that go beyond that of their general dental education. For example, learning how to manipulate and move the teeth and jawbones to help correct misalignments.

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This additional training ranges from 2-3 years and is a highly competitive training. At the end of their orthodontic training, candidates complete a comprehensive clinical trial and written exam. This ensures that your orthodontist has a thorough and complete understanding of orthodontics and how to best serve their patients.

What services does an orthodontist offer?

When you hear the word “orthodontist” you probably think of braces. This is understandable since over 4 million people in the United States wear braces!

While braces are a clear focus in orthodontics it is not the only treatment or service that is offered by orthodontists. Although, most of the treatments do align with the purpose behind braces – to treat a misalignment.

Braces are used to treat a misalignment of the teeth. Beyond traditional braces, many orthodontists also offer modern aligners. Modern aligners are made from plastic and are worn 20 hours per day. Helping patients by designing a custom aligner plan is actually one of our specialties here at Reagin Orthodontics.

Orthodontics isn’t just about aligning teeth, it is also about helping to align the jaw. An orthodontist is able to help correct an underbite, overbite, or a misaligned jaw.

Common Treatments Provided by Orthodontists

  • Braces for children
  • Braces for adults
  • Aligners for adults (Invisalign)
  • Aligners for teens
  • Closing gaps between teeth
  • Widening the jaw
  • Treating oral habits that impact the alignment of the teeth
  • Treating overbites and underbites

Learn more about the services we offer here at Reagin Orthodontics.

When Do You Need to See an Orthodontist?

While everyone knows they should see a dentist, not everyone thinks they need to see an orthodontist. Hopefully understanding the difference between dentists and orthodontists will help you decide when you (or your children) may need to visit an orthodontist.

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Early Intervention

Earlier we mentioned that children should see an orthodontist for the first time by the age of 7. This is the recommendation of The American Association of Orthodontists. This recommendation is based on the fact that around the age of 7 children have a mix of baby and permanent teeth. This can result in a lot of changes to the development of childrens’ teeth and jaws.

While many children will not need to be evaluated until the age of 7, if you notice your child has any issues with breathing or jaw pain, then it is recommended to see an orthodontist as soon as possible.

Orthodontics for Adults

The same recommendation goes for adults. If as an adult you have never seen an orthodontist, you may want to go in for an evaluation if you notice any pain with your jaw or teeth.

You may also want to see an orthodontist if you notice any of the following:

  • Clenching your jaw
  • Grinding your teeth
  • Not able to close your lips over your teeth
  • Protruding teeth
  • Difficulty biting or chewing
  • You do not like your smile

You can also see an orthodontist to get a consultation for braces or aligners. Yes, even as an adult! Even though we try to catch and treat misaligned teeth at a younger age, there are plenty of adults taking advantage of aligners to get the smile they always wanted.

Choosing an Orthodontist

Now that you have a better understanding of the difference between dentists and orthodontists, you can choose when you may need to visit an orthodontist. We say when because while you may not end up needing treatment, it is always a good idea to get evaluated.

We know choosing an orthodontist can be a big task. So, to help you make the choice that is best for you and your family, take a look at 9 Things to Know When Choosing an Orthodontist to help you out.


One Response

  1. Thanks for also talking about how modern aligners only have to be worn for 20 hours everyday instead of all the time. I’m interested in looking for an orthodontics clinic soon because two of my canines are a bit crooked. It will be important to fix that while I’m relatively young.

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