Orthodontist vs. Dentist: What's the difference?

Orthodontist checking girl’s dental braces

Discover and understand the difference between dentists and orthodontists in order to have an informed understanding of which is best for you or your family. Do you know what orthodontists do? Chances are you don’t unless you’ve been to one already. That’s okay, we’re here to give you the download. By the end of this article, you’ll know the difference between your dentist and your orthodontist.

Table of Contents

What is a Dentist?

A dentist, or dental surgeon, is a healthcare professional who specializes in dentistry. The dentist’s supporting team assists them in providing oral health services. A dental team can include dental assistants, dental hygienists, technicians, and dental therapists.

What is An Orthodontist?

We all know what a dentist does, right? We’ve all been to our annual cleaning or maybe even got a filling. A dentist is a doctor trained to specialize in teeth, gums, nerves, and jaw. Orthodontists are dentists too, but they specialize in correcting bites, occlusion, which is how your teeth come in contact with one another, and the straightness of your teeth, according to the American Association of Orthodontists. 


What's the difference?

  • conduct and interpret dental X-rays
  • fill cavities
  • extract teeth
  • repair cracked teeth
  • promote oral health and oral hygiene
  • fill and bond teeth
  • treat gum disease, such as gingivitis
  • prescribe treatment, including prescription drugs, for oral health conditions
  • whiten teeth
  • install crowns or veneers
  • oversee the development of children’s teeth
  • perform oral surgery
  • supervise facial growth (jawline and bite) in children
  • diagnose and treat misaligned teeth and jaws (malocclusion)
  • create a treatment plan that includes braces and retainers
  • perform teeth straightening surgery
  • install dental appliances, such as braces, palatal expanders, orthodontic headgear, or Herbst appliances

How to Determine Whether You Need a Dentist or An Orthodontist?

Your local dentist is a great place to start when you’re unsure if you need to see a dentist or an orthodontist. Chances are you can find both professionals in the same office or network.

Find a Great Orthodontist Near You

If you have one of the needs listed in the chart above, you may want to find and consult a family orthodontist from our network. Searches like the best orthodontist near me can help you narrow the search and find an appointment that suits your schedule and comfort level.  

Orthodontist and Dentist FAQs

No, being an orthodontist is not the same as being a dentist. While both are dental professionals, they have different areas of expertise. Dentists are primarily concerned with oral health, diagnosing and treating many dental issues, including tooth decay, gum disease, and oral infections. Orthodontists, on the other hand, specialize in aligning teeth and jaws, using braces, retainers, and other orthodontic appliances to correct misalignments and improve the bite.

While orthodontists are trained as dentists, they undergo additional specialized training to become experts in orthodontic treatments.

The main difference between a dentist and an orthodontist is their area of focus within the field of dentistry. Dentists are general oral health care providers who diagnose and treat various dental issues, including cavities, gum disease, and oral infections. Orthodontists, on the other hand, specialize in aligning teeth and jaws. They primarily address issues related to crooked teeth, misaligned bites, and jaw irregularities, using treatments like braces and retainers.

While dentists and orthodontists receive dental training, orthodontists undergo additional specialized training to become experts in orthodontic procedures.

Yes, there are several similarities between dentists and orthodontists. Both dental professionals start their education with dental school and earn a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree. They both provide oral health care and focus on the well-being of a patient’s teeth and mouth.

Dentists often perform routine check-ups and cleanings and address many dental issues, while orthodontists specialize in correcting misaligned teeth and jaws. In some cases, they may collaborate, with dentists referring patients to orthodontists for specialized orthodontic treatment when needed to ensure comprehensive dental care.