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What is the Difference Between a Dentist and an Orthodontist?

Dentistry is a broad field that encompasses various specialties, and two of the most commonly confused professions within this domain are dentists and orthodontists. While both professionals play crucial roles in maintaining oral health, they serve distinct purposes and have different areas of expertise.

Dentists: General Oral Health Care Providers

Dentists are primary oral health care providers who are often the first point of contact for individuals seeking dental care. They are responsible for diagnosing and treating a wide range of oral health issues, including but not limited to:

  1. Dental Examinations and Cleanings: Dentists perform routine check-ups and cleanings to assess and maintain overall oral health.
  2. Tooth Extractions: Dentists can remove damaged or decayed teeth when necessary.
  3. Fillings and Restorations: They repair cavities and damaged teeth with fillings or other restorative procedures.
  4. Gum Care: Dentists address issues related to the gums, such as gingivitis and periodontal disease.
  5. Cosmetic Dentistry: They offer cosmetic treatments like teeth whitening and veneers to enhance the aesthetics of a patient’s smile.

Education and Training for Dentists

To become a dentist, one must typically complete the following educational and training steps:

  1. Bachelor’s Degree: Aspiring dentists first obtain a bachelor’s degree in a related field, which typically takes four years.
  2. Dental School: After completing their bachelor’s degree, students must attend dental school, which usually requires four years of education and clinical training.
  3. Licensing: After dental school, individuals must pass the required licensing exams to become a licensed dentist.

Orthodontists: Specialists in Aligning Teeth

Orthodontists are dental specialists who focus primarily on correcting the alignment of teeth and jaws. They specialize in diagnosing and treating issues related to misaligned teeth and malocclusions. Common treatments provided by orthodontists include:

  1. Braces: Orthodontists are known for the installation and maintenance of braces, which help align crooked or misaligned teeth.
  2. Invisalign: They also provide Invisalign treatment, which uses clear aligners to straighten teeth discreetly.
  3. Retainers: Orthodontists often prescribe and monitor the use of retainers after braces or other orthodontic treatments to maintain the results.

Education and Training for Orthodontists

Becoming an orthodontist requires additional specialized education beyond dental school:

  1. Dental Degree: Like dentists, orthodontists first earn a dental degree by completing dental school.
  2. Orthodontic Residency: After dental school, aspiring orthodontists must undertake a 2-3 year orthodontic residency program, where they receive specialized training in orthodontics.
  3. Licensing and Certification: Orthodontists must also pass specific licensing and certification exams to practice as orthodontic specialists.

Key Differences Between Dentists and Orthodontists

  1. Scope of Practice: Dentists have a broader scope of practice and address a wide range of oral health issues, while orthodontists specialize in aligning teeth and jaws.
  2. Education: Both dentists and orthodontists complete dental school, but orthodontists undergo additional years of specialized training.
  3. Treatments: Dentists provide a variety of treatments, including cleanings, fillings, and extractions, while orthodontists focus primarily on orthodontic treatments like braces and aligners.
  4. Referrals: In some cases, dentists may refer patients to orthodontists for specialized orthodontic treatment when alignment issues are identified.


Dentists and orthodontists are both essential members of the dental healthcare team, but they serve different roles and offer distinct treatments. Dentists are general oral health care providers who diagnose and treat a wide array of dental issues, while orthodontists are specialists in aligning teeth and jaws.

Understanding the differences between these two professions can help individuals make informed choices about their oral healthcare needs and seek the appropriate care when necessary.

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8631 Arbor Creek Drive #3
Charlotte, NC 28269