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The top 3 differences between a dentist and an orthodontist that you should know about

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Oral health is one of the most important aspects of a human's body. Everybody needs to take good care of their teeth, gums, and mouth and prevent tooth decay, bad breath, and gum disease. With good oral health, you can keep off medical disorders that arise due to an unhealthy mouth practice.  

Most people are aware of the profession of a dentist, but the majority does not know about an orthodontist. Patients normally go for a check-up in a dentist's office and are left wondering what an orthodontist does when they are referred to one by their dentist.

Here's a look at the top three differences you need to know between a dentist and an orthodontist.

Number of years studying

When it comes to studying, dentists normally complete their studies, graduate and immediately get into practice. On the other hand, orthodontists have to proceed with 2 to 3 more years of residency for approval at an ADA-approved program for dental certification at a Masters or Doctorate level, which allows them to register as specialist orthodontists with the General Dental Council.

Some are also certified by the American Board of Orthodontics before starting practice. In general, dentists take 8 years to complete their studies while orthodontists go to 10 to 11 years to specialize.


A dentist normally specializes in diagnosing, preventing and treating diseases that affect the oral parts of the body. Orthodontics refers to a branch of dentistry that deals with how the teeth, jaws and facial features develop. They mostly use fixed braces or removable aligners to correct any problem related to these parts of the body, such as alignment of the teeth and jaws through surgery. The alignment of these parts involves straightening of the teeth and strengthening of mouth muscles for easy biting during eating.

The extent of treatment

A dentist and an orthodontist both work towards fixing different oral problems. You might be wondering whether you need a dentist or an orthodontist and one of the guidelines is which part you need to be treated.

Oral health issues such as jaw pains which are caused by infections or an abscessed tooth can be addressed by a dentist. A dentist handles the proper care for your gum health, cleaning of your teeth, removal or repair of problematic teeth, whitening of teeth, among other general oral health problems. Your dentist can also advise you on the treatment to use such as cavity filling or root canal as well as prescribe the medicine that would reduce the pain.

An orthodontist is more specialized and assists with more complicated issues, diagnosing and treating alignment issues such as malocclusions as well as help by recommending a safer way to resolve the misalignment or incorrect relation between the teeth.

Apart from malocclusions and the straightening of teeth, part of the treatment that orthodontists carry out include fitting and providing retainers to prevent tooth movement, using braces or other teeth straightening treatments and corrective appliances that widen the jaw or retrain jaw muscles.

Even though they normally have the same level of experience and training to some extent, most regular dentists would refer you to an orthodontist for complex cases. For those that want to straighten teeth, whether for cosmetic or oral health reasons, consult with your dentist or orthodontist.