You’ve likely heard the wise advice to visit your dentist every six months. However, as you start orthodontic treatment (or if you’re considering scheduling an appointment), you might start to wonder: what exactly is the difference between dentistry and orthodontics? Do dentists and orthodontists provide the same services, and are you making the right decision by visiting both?

We want you to understand dentistry and orthodontics are each important parts of a healthy, well-rounded approach to oral health. From healthier teeth and gums to a straighter smile, each medical discipline plays in part in keeping your smile looking good and working well for the long term. 

In this article, we’ll break down some of the biggest misconceptions about how orthodontics and dentistry are similar, and give you a clearer picture of when to seek help from either doctor.


What’s the difference between dentists and orthodontists?


Dentists and orthodontists can seem similar at first glance. Though both doctors will help you get and maintain a healthy smile, they do have different levels of training and education. Dentists complete an undergraduate degree plus 4 years of dental school. They provide a general array of basic services for the whole family but don’t typically specialize in a particular area of dental health or advanced treatments.

Orthodontists also finish both an undergraduate degree and graduate level education in dental school. After dental school, orthodontists also pursue at least two additional years of specialty education that focuses specifically on bite alignment – from tooth position to jaw correction.


What does an orthodontist do?


Orthodontists do much more than tighten your braces and remind you to stay compliant with your retainer. Their job is to help patients get better bite performance and symmetry, which can improve everything from poor chewing and persistent jaw pain to crowding and gaps between teeth.

While dentists will provide general care needed to keep teeth and gums clean and healthy, orthodontists can provide interventions and treatments that include any of the following:

  • Braces
  • Permanent retainers
  • Removable retainers
  • Gum line correction
  • Aligners
  • Mouth guards 

Some dentists offer minor corrective devices like Invisalign, but it’s always best to work with an orthodontist that specializes in teeth and bite alignment issues. Their expertise and experience help ensure you get the best possible results and avoid any complications. Dr. Oppenhuizen explains this further in the video below, and he reminds patients why it’s important to research all available options. Unfortunately, patients aren’t always informed that a specialist like an orthodontist is the best option for providing the care they need.

Lastly, visits to the dentist usually operate with a consistent timeline and set of preventative care and cleanings, while working with an orthodontist will involve a different consultation process and timeline for a specific set of treatments.  You can learn some of the key differences by reading our full article on understanding the orthodontic treatment process.


What does a dentist do?


Dentists do much more than tell you to floss more and schedule another checkup in 6 months. They specialize in cleaning, repairing, and protecting teeth. To help patients keep their teeth, gums, and tongue clean and healthy, general dentists provide a variety of routine services like the following:

  • Teeth cleaning
  • Cavity fillings 
  • Crowns
  • Veneers
  • X-rays
  • Dental bonding
  • Teeth whitening
  • Basic extractions

You should think of dentistry as the foundation of good oral health. While in some states dentists can receive licenses to perform specialty work, anything beyond general routine care should be handled by a specialist. If a patient needs help with an advanced complication, dentists will (and should) often make a referral to an orthodontist for additional work. 


Should you prioritize visits to the dentist or the orthodontist?


While dentist visits are a normal part of many people’s health care habits throughout their life, orthodontic treatments only happen once or twice a lifetime for most patients. This is because even severe orthodontic problems can often be fixed with a single treatment (especially if the issue is addressed early enough). 

Don’t skip visits to the dentist even when you’re undergoing orthodontic treatment! Regular cleaning and checkups with your dentist are still incredibly important when you’re wearing braces or another orthodontic implement. In fact, a good cleaning is vital for keeping food and plaque buildup from causing cavities, chronic bad breath, and other infectious complications. 

The short answer is that you shouldn’t skip either visit, and they both matter for keeping strong, healthy, functional teeth. 


Orthodontia FAQs


  • Do orthodontists just do braces?
    • No, orthodontists provide a wide range of services that help with persistent cosmetic or functional issues like malocclusion, underbites, crowding, and much more.
  • Do orthodontists do surgery?
    • It depends. Most orthodontists provide non-surgical treatments and will refer this work to other specialists. Consult your orthodontist for a full explanation of their capabilities. 
  • Are all orthodontists dentists?
    • Yes, but not all dentists are orthodontists.
  • Does orthodontic expertise matter?
    • Yes. Orthodontists are trained how to address even the most severe bite and alignment issues, while dentists are trained on general oral health and care. Orthodontists know how to diagnose, design, and implement the right treatments. 


Other oral health specialties


  • Periodontists specialize in treating issues like periodontal disease, a painful, chronic inflammatory condition affecting teeth and gums. 
  • Maxillofacial surgeons help with complicated surgical interventions and routine procedures like wisdom teeth removal. 
  • Endodontists help correct especially complicated tooth issues like abscesses and root canals. 
  • Pediatric dentists work specifically with young children. 

If you’re wondering whether an orthodontist is the right choice to help you or a family member, schedule an appointment today to learn more about how Oppenhuizen Orthodontics can help, and why we’re the preferred provider in Zeeland and Holland.