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What's the difference between a dentist and an orthodontist?

Lady orthodontist with an adult patient
Lady orthodontist with an adult patient

Although orthodontists and dentists are both dedicated to helping patients improve their oral health, they do so in different ways. Dentistry as a whole deals with teeth, gums, nerves, and jaws. Orthodontics is a specialty area of dentistry, and focuses on alignment of the teeth, bite, and jaws. All orthodontists are dentists, but not all dentists are certified orthodontists.

How are they similar?

The main similarity between a dentist and orthodontist is that they both focus on oral care. They are both considered doctors, and both deal with teeth and gums.

How are they different?

There are important differences between dentists and orthodontists. An orthodontist has both become a dentist and pursued additional schooling to specialize in orthodontics. This is similar to a physician doctor who obtains additional schooling to become specialized in surgery.

Another difference is that orthodontists specialize in helping patients with the alignment of teeth and improving their bite. They are able to provide services related to misaligned teeth, overcrowded teeth, overbite, underbite, spacing, and open bite to name a few.

On the other hand, a general dentist encourages oral care and provides a broad range of general services related to tooth decay, root canals, gum disease, crowns, bridges, veneers, dentures, and tooth whitening.

After becoming a dentist, an orthodontist must complete a 2 to 3 year residency.  That is 3700+ hours of additional accredited training.  Some take it a step further to become Board Certified. While a dentist may have had a brief introduction to orthodontics in dental school, trusting your smile to an orthodontist can offer more experienced care and better balance the different procedures you require.

Why see an Orthodontist?

If you are considering aligning your smile or giving the gift of a straight smile to your child, it is essential to see an orthodontist for the following reasons:


  • Orthodontists are specialists in aligning teeth, jaws, and the bite

  • Education and training specific to moving teeth and jaws

  • Use of up to date technology and techniques

  • Office dedicated to orthodontic treatment

  • Variety of treatment options and retainers available

We have all seen ads for do-it-yourself aligners, and some general dentists offer tooth alignment.  With so many options, it can be confusing! Just as a nice golf club set does not make a great golfer - tools do not create skill.  Orthodontic tools (like braces and Invisalign) do not make an orthodontist.  They team together with education, talent, and experience. Tooth movement is complex, and involves a variety of factors to achieve success and keep your teeth healthy.


To learn more about the differences between different types of dentists, schedule your complimentary consultation with Dr. Godley, or give our team a call at (317) 913-2828.


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