The Difference Between Dentists & Orthodontists
Your smile is one of the first things people notice about you. Dentists and orthodontists alike provide beneficial services that improve the health and beauty of smiles. But, did you know there are distinct differences between the two professions?
To understand a core difference between dental care and orthodontics, you should know not all dentists are orthodontists, but all orthodontists are dentists. General dentists are highly qualified professionals who care for the overall health, wellness and beauty of your smile. Orthodontists are dentists who have received additional education to specialize in diagnosing, preventing and correcting teeth and jaws that are out of position.
While this represents the primary distinction, it isn't the only differentiator. The more you know about the difference between orthodontists and dentists, the better prepared you will be to choose the dental professional who best meets your needs.
What a Dentist Does
Dentists are your “go-to” professionals for creating and maintaining a healthy smile throughout your life. You should see your dentist routinely for cleanings and X-rays, as well as occasional dental issues that may arise throughout your life. Most people should visit their dentist every six months, but some individuals need to have a dental visit more frequently.
Educational Requirements for Dentists
The path to becoming a dentist requires a great deal of education ― beginning with a bachelor’s degree in any field, along with a few prerequisite courses ― then gaining admission to, attending and completing a four-year professional dental school program.
Next, they earn one of two degrees: a DDS, or doctor of dental surgery, or a DMD, or doctor of medical dentistry.
Both a DDS and DMD mean the same thing ― the dentist has graduated from an accredited dental school. Both have the same education, it's just two different designations universities make for the same degree.
Once they've earned their degrees, they must also pass licensing exams in the states where they wish to practice dentistry. For those who embrace the commitment and dedication to the education required to become dentists, the rewards go deeper than dollar signs, since U.S. News and World Report identified dentistry as the second-best career in the U.S.
Below, you will learn about a wide range of treatments and services your dentist offers and how different treatments can help you achieve a beautiful smile, maintain your beautiful smile or restore a smile that has lost some of its luster.
While thorough and lasting oral health is your dentist's primary concern, some services and treatments dentists offer also help you achieve the beautiful smile you want to show the world.
Nirvana offers some basic oral health dental treatments you might consider or need over time, including:
- Preventive treatments
- Root canals
- Tooth extractions
- Dental X-rays
- Wisdom teeth extractions
- Cavity treatments, including tooth-colored fillings
- TMJ treatments
- Gum disease treatments
- Emergency dental services
There is another growing field of dentistry to consider as well. Cosmetic dentists restore and create beautiful smiles. The types of cosmetic dental treatments dentists perform have grown in recent years to include the following:
- Tooth whitening
- Dental implants
- Cosmetic bonding
- Invisalign treatments
As you explore the differences between a dentist and orthodontist, you'll find many of these services complement the others. For instance, dental experts recommend a thorough dental cleaning before and after getting braces. Braces can be instrumental components of an effective cosmetic dentistry plan or a smile restoration treatment process.
Family and Kids' Dentistry
The enamel in baby teeth contains less mineralization than permanent teeth, which makes them especially susceptible to dental cavities that result from unchecked oral bacteria. When your child has good oral hygiene habits early in life and receives kids' dentistry regularly, they can experience less tooth decay and tooth loss as adolescents and even adults.
That’s why it’s essential for children to begin visiting the dentist at 6 months old for a dental examination and cleaning of all their erupted teeth. At their 6-month dental checkup, they will receive a fluoride treatment to increase mineralization, build stronger enamel and reduce acids leading to harmful bacteria.
Seeing a family dentist early in life and continuing to get regular checkups offers children healthy oral health foundations that last their lifetime.
What an Orthodontist Does
Nearly 20 percent of U.S. dentists are specialists in one of several different fields, including:
- Oral surgery
- Public health
If you're reading this article, you're probably looking for an answer to the question, "What does an orthodontist do on a daily basis?" That can be a complicated question to answer. Since technology is evolving rapidly, so are the roles of dentists and orthodontists alike. When exploring the difference between dental and orthodontic practitioners, realize orthodontia goes much deeper than straightening teeth for a better smile. Improperly aligned teeth and jaws can lead to a wide range of problems, including:
- Improper chewing and related digestive issues
- Speech impediments
- Social issues and anxiety related to crooked teeth
- Chronic headaches
- Sleep disruptions, like sleep apnea
- Bone Damage
- Damage to other teeth and your gums
Most general dentists will refer patients to an orthodontist in circumstances that require specialty care. However, dental experts recommend parents take their children to visit an orthodontist at least once, before your child reaches the age of 7, to see if there are signs of problems.
Educational Requirements for Becoming an Orthodontist
Orthodontists must follow the path to becoming dentists first. That means they follow the same educational process general dentists follow:
- Undergraduate degree
- Professional dental school
- State licensing
Orthodontists must also:
- Continue their education for an additional two-to three-year orthodontic residency program
- Receive board certification in orthodontics before they can practice
Orthodontia is a highly specialized field within the field of dentistry. Orthodontists often use tools and devices to help correct alignment and encourage healthy jaws, bites and smiles. Not everyone needs to have orthodontic treatment, but it may be required if you have any of the following issues.
- Overbites: When your front teeth stick out over your lower teeth, you have an overbite.
- Underbites: When lower teeth extend too far forward and your top teeth are too far back, you have an underbite.
- Crossbites: When the upper teeth do not come down in front of the lower teeth properly, it creates an improper bite, or crossbite.
- Spacing issues: These include gaps or spaces between your teeth.
- Crowding: When there are too many teeth for a limited amount of space, you can experience crowding.
- Misplaced midlines: This occurs when the centers of your upper and lower teeth are not aligned.
Any of these problems may require one or more of the following orthodontic services from Nirvana Dental to correct.
- Fixed appliances
- Fixed space maintainers
- Aligners, such as Invisalign treatments
- Removal space maintainers
- Lip and cheek bumpers
- Jaw positioning or repositioning appliances
- Palate expanders
- Removable retainers
Working with your general dentist can help you determine whether you need orthodontic treatments or wish to pursue other treatment options for your oral health concerns.
Why Dentists and Orthodontists Are Both Important to Your Oral Health
Both categories of dental professionals are essential for your oral health. Dentists and orthodontists often work closely together to come up with an effective treatment plan that takes your total oral health into account. That means they work cooperatively to help you have the healthiest possible smile.
Your Dentist's Role in Your Oral Health
Your general dentist is your first line of defense against potentially serious oral health issues that can contribute to severe overall health problems if left untreated. Your dentist helps provide you with all the preventive care you need for better oral health, as well as routine maintenance for your smile and the occasional cosmetic upgrade. Your dentist is your best primary resource for your lifelong good dental health.
Developing a healthy relationship with your dentist is essential for the long-term health of your smile because your dentist will be the first one to notice specific changes that could indicate problem spots or correction needs. These problem spots may include a variety of things, such as:
- Gum disease, like gingivitis
- Tooth decay
- Oral cancer
Dentists are responsible for providing a full complement of dental and oral health care to patients of all ages and in varying states of dental health and hygiene. Dentists not only have the task of helping improve overall oral health, but also providing instruction and guidance to patients about the following:
- Daily oral care routines
- Nutritional considerations for healthy teeth and smiles
- Environmental or behavioral factors that can have negative effects on oral health, such as smoking and using tobacco
- Warning against products or home remedies that claim to help brighten and whiten smiles but harm teeth instead
Many of the services dentists provide are preventive. Some would say the most critical services dentists play in the oral health of their patients is by preventing cavities, infections and abscesses requiring more invasive treatments through routine cleanings and thorough patient education.
Your dentist can help you keep the healthy smile you’re going for by doing all the following and more:
- Preserving oral health
- Providing education about the state of your dental health
- Delivering the appropriate treatments necessary to maintain the beauty of your smile
One of the most important roles your dentist plays is one most people don’t even realize. It has little to do with your smile and everything to do with your heart. According to Harvard Health Publishing, there is a definitive link between gum disease and cardiovascular disease. Your dentist can help improve your gum health so you can avoid potential heart health problems down the road.
Also, experts suggest an oral health and diabetes connection. Inflammation that begins in the mouth can weaken the body's capability to control blood sugar. Further, the gum infection known as periodontitis has been associated with low birth weight and premature birth.
A lifelong relationship with your dentist can mean the difference between preserving the integrity of your teeth and the beauty of your smile or investing in extensive and extraordinary efforts to restore the beauty of your smile and the integrity of your teeth.
Your Orthodontist's Role in Your Oral Health
By contrast, orthodontists specialize in specific treatments. Their training extends beyond what your dentist has to offer for certain dental conditions. In most cases, your dentist will recommend you seek orthodontic care if needed, or work in partnership with an orthodontist who provides the type of care you need if you require more specialized treatment.
Orthodontic treatment is designed to deliver healthier smiles by improving alignment. Doing this helps do the following:
- Boosts self-confidence
- Straightens teeth
- Improves alignment, creating a better ability to speak and chew food
- Reduces risks of damage to facial bones
- Relieves tension-related headaches and other health problems
Early detection and orthodontic treatment can be instrumental in helping your child achieve and maintain a healthy smile. The American Association of Orthodontists recommends early ages for evaluation by an orthodontist, including the fact that initial treatment may offer results that won’t be possible once your child’s face and jaw have finished the growth process.
Other benefits of early orthodontic treatment include:
- Orthodontists can identify areas of concern for jaw growth while baby teeth are still present.
- Orthodontists may be able to identify developing problems they can correct preemptively.
- Orthodontists can provide early treatment to eliminate the need for further procedures later and may decrease the duration of the treatment.
That doesn’t mean you won’t need orthodontic treatment later in life. Sometimes accidents or injuries require orthodontic treatment to repair in adults. It can still be highly effective as a tool for treating those injuries, correcting bone problems and so much more.
Contact Nirvana Dental for Your Dental Needs
Both dentists and orthodontists are vitally important to help maintain solid oral health, better overall health and an improved quality of life. After all, your smile says so much to the world. You want to start now preserving your smile for a lifetime to come. That only happens when you have the right professionals on your side.
Schedule your appointment with our dentist, Dr. Prachi Vartikar, DMD, twice a year for routine maintenance and at the first signs of trouble as they arise. Her family, kids', cosmetic and orthodontic services can address specific oral health conditions. She has been providing high-quality dental care for entire families in the Bedford, Euless and Colleyville, Texas, areas for more than the past five years.
Whether you’re looking for a comprehensive oral health dentist or one that can offer a wide range of cosmetic and orthodontic services, you’ll find what you’re looking for at Nirvana Dental. Contact us today by filling out our contact form or calling 682-703-0101 to learn more about the full scope of dental care we offer here at Nirvana Dental and how we can help you with specific dental health concerns or for your overall oral health.