Dentists and orthodontists may be synonymous to a layperson; however, their functions are quite different and highly specialized. Both are practitioners who have been trained to improve oral health, just not in the same way. Dentistry is a broad medical specialty. It deals with teeth, gums, nerves, and even the jaw. Orthodontics is more to do with focusing on the correction of bites, straightening teeth, and occlusion.
Orthodontists are dentists, but not all dentists are orthodontists with a license. It is important to keep in mind this difference. An orthodontist has to go through additional schooling during his or her dental specialty. A dentist usually refers a patient to an orthodontist to align teeth, improve the bite, or to fit the patient with corrective braces or devices. Dentists and orthodontists often work side by side.
Getting into treatment specifics
Typically, dentists see after your oral hygiene. Services provided by them include the tending to:
- Root canal – A condition when a tooth is severely decayed or infected. For treatment, the nerve and pulp of the tooth are cleaned and sealed. If not, the tissue that surrounds the tooth may also get infected.
- Tooth decay – The destruction of a tooth’s enamel (the hard, outer layer) leading to the formation of plaque on the teeth constantly.
- Crowns and bridges – Types of dental restoration techniques.
- Gum disease – Infection of the tissues that hold the teeth in place typically caused due to poor brushing habits that lead to plaque formation.
- Teeth whitening – to make your smile more appealing.
- Veneers – Shells of tooth-colored material designed for covering the front surface of teeth. Typically to improve appearance.
Orthodontists, on the other hand, specialize in treating the following, providing orthodontics services for the following:
- Crowded teeth – Caused due to disharmony between the size of the teeth and the size of the jaw.
- Overbite – This is when the upper jaw overlaps the lower jaw.
- Misaligned teeth – Problem in the way teeth are aligned. This can develop due to childhood habits (such as thumb sucking), it could cause difficulty in chewing.
- Underbite – When the lower jaw is protruding.
Orthodontics VS Dentistry, what it takes
Both dentists and orthodontists undergo the same training initially, but as mentioned earlier, orthodontists are required to go through additional training even after graduating from dental school.
After their years of education (undergraduate studies) in dental school, dentists need to pass a challenging written exam and an exam to grant them a clinical license as well, before they can become qualified to start practice. You will find that such dentists have the letters DMD (Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry) or DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) added to their qualifications/descriptions. Following this, some dentists might choose to pursue a specialty (such as orthodontics) additionally, for which they will need to undergo further training. The course that they need to take up for this goes beyond dental training and focuses on more specific aspects of highly specialized corrective dentistry.
Dentists and orthodontists do share many similarities. Both of their goals are to achieve beautiful smiles. Dentists have coverage over a broad range of oral issues like cavities, broken or missing teeth, gum disease, etc. But, on the other hand, orthodontists are to focus only on jaw and teeth alignment.
Since orthodontists only do orthodontics, this makes them specialists in the field, and they are the most qualified to provide efficient and comprehensive treatment options about straightening your teeth. For the best possible results to be achieved, dentists need to work with orthodontists. This will surely help patients have the best dental health overall.
Here are the key differences between dentists and orthodontists that you need to remember to make an informed decision regarding what kind of treatment you are looking for:
- They have to complete a dental degree and a three-year specialist degree additionally.
- They are specialists in dental development and facial growth. Early intervention is recommended to reduce the need for orthodontic treatment.
- Their key focus is on the jaw and tooth alignment.
- They offer various kinds of treatments, from clear aligners to retainers and braces (traditional, ceramic), and can assist you in choosing what is best for you.
- They need to complete a general dental degree.
- Dentists provide a wide range of essential services, from cleaning to repairing teeth. Dentists are as important as your family physician in maintaining your overall dental health.
- They are not specially trained in working with braces or aligners.
- They will probably refer you to orthodontists based on your treatment requirements. It is best to take their advice on it.
Who to see, when?
These services stated above may overlap in some cases, which is fine. Both orthodontists and dentists are happy to work with each other and refer each other for the patient’s benefit. Most clinics have access to both parties. Some dentists are also permitted in performing some orthodontic treatments such as braces in addition to their usual services, based on certification, and additional training received. It cannot be the other way around; orthodontists only do what orthodontists are meant to do.
So, if you are suffering a bad toothache or suspect that you have a cavity due to increased sensitivity, then your general dentist is your go-to person. If you are wearing braces or retainers or any other device that needs to be tightened, checked or repaired, you will need to see an orthodontist. When you are prescribed an orthodontal treatment, you must visit your orthodontist frequently during that treatment. Once the treatment is finished, you may not have a reason to keep in touch with your orthodontist at all. However, your relationship with a dentist will be different because you will need to visit him or her to maintain the general health of your teeth and oral hygiene.
Both orthodontists and dentists play a valuable role in your oral health and look. It is important to know when to consult whom to obtain the best results.