Orthodontist or Dentist: Who Should You See?

So, you’re in need of some dental care and you find yourself debating whether to see an orthodontist or a dentist. It’s a common dilemma, especially if you’re not entirely sure about the differences between the two. Well, fear not, because in this article we’re going to break it down for you and help you make an informed decision. Whether it’s braces, a toothache, or simply routine oral hygiene, we’ll explore the roles and expertise of both professionals, so you can confidently choose who should be your go-to for that million-dollar smile.

What is an orthodontist?

An orthodontist is a specialized dental professional who focuses on correcting and straightening teeth, as well as aligning jaws and improving overall oral health. Unlike a general dentist who offers a wide range of dental services, an orthodontist has undergone additional education and training to specialize in orthodontics.

Getting checked at the orthodontist.
Getting checked at the orthodontist.

Education and specialization

To become an orthodontist, one must first complete the basic dental education required to become a dentist. This typically involves obtaining a bachelor’s degree followed by four years of dental school. After becoming a dentist, individuals interested in specializing in orthodontics must then complete an additional two to three years of specialized orthodontic training. This additional education equips orthodontists with the knowledge and skills needed to accurately diagnose and treat various orthodontic issues.

Services offered

Orthodontists offer a range of services aimed at addressing orthodontic concerns. These include diagnosing and treating misaligned teeth, overcrowded or crooked teeth, and jaw irregularities. They also provide treatment for issues such as overbites, underbites, crossbites, and open bites. Orthodontists utilize various treatment methods, including braces, clear aligners, and other orthodontic appliances, to help patients achieve straighter teeth and a properly aligned bite.

Treatment options

Orthodontic treatment options vary depending on the individual’s specific needs and preferences. Traditional metal braces are a popular choice and consist of metal brackets attached to the teeth with wires threaded through them. Ceramic braces are another option, which are similar to metal braces but use tooth-colored or clear brackets to make them less noticeable. Invisalign, a type of clear aligner, is an increasingly popular treatment option that involves using a series of custom-made, removable aligners to gradually shift teeth into their desired positions. Clear aligner systems from other brands are also available, offering similar benefits to Invisalign.

What is a dentist?

A dentist is a general oral health care provider who focuses on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of various dental conditions. Dentists offer comprehensive dental services to patients of all ages, addressing common issues such as tooth decay, gum disease, and oral infections. While they may not specialize in orthodontics, dentists play a critical role in maintaining overall oral health.

Education and specialization

Like orthodontists, dentists must complete a bachelor’s degree followed by four years of dental school to obtain their dental license. However, while dentists receive thorough training in various dental procedures, they do not undergo the same specialized education and training that orthodontists do. Dentists are qualified to perform routine dental check-ups, cleanings, fillings, and other basic dental treatments.

Services offered

Dentists offer a wide range of dental services to promote oral health and address common dental issues. This includes routine check-ups and cleanings, where dentists examine teeth, gums, and overall oral health, and perform professional cleanings to remove plaque and tartar buildup. Dentists also provide treatments for toothaches, cavities, gum disease, and cracked or broken teeth. Additionally, dentists may offer cosmetic dentistry services such as teeth whitening to enhance the appearance of teeth.

Treatment options

Dentists provide various treatment options for common dental issues. For example, tooth decay and cavities can be treated with fillings, which involve removing the decayed portion of the tooth and filling it with a dental material such as amalgam or composite resin. Root canals may be necessary for cases of severe tooth decay or infection, where the tooth’s pulp is removed and filled to save the tooth. Dentists also perform extractions when a tooth is severely damaged or cannot be saved. Additionally, dentists offer teeth whitening treatments to brighten the color of stained or discolored teeth.

When to visit an orthodontist

While both orthodontists and dentists play important roles in oral health care, there are certain situations where it is necessary to visit an orthodontist specifically.

Misaligned teeth or bite issues

If you have misaligned teeth or bite issues, it is recommended to consult with an orthodontist. They have the expertise to diagnose and develop a treatment plan to correct these issues. Common bite problems include overbites, where the upper teeth protrude over the lower teeth, and underbites, where the lower teeth protrude past the upper teeth. Orthodontists can also address crossbites, where the upper and lower teeth don’t align properly when biting, and open bites, where the front teeth don’t touch when the mouth is closed.

Overcrowded or crooked teeth

Orthodontists are skilled in assessing and treating overcrowded or crooked teeth. Overcrowding occurs when there is insufficient space in the mouth for all the teeth to fit properly. This can lead to dental issues such as tooth decay, gum disease, and bite problems. Orthodontists can recommend orthodontic treatments, such as braces or clear aligners, to gradually shift and align teeth, creating a more harmonious and functional smile.

Jaw pain or temporomandibular joint disorders

If you experience chronic jaw pain, clicking or popping sounds when opening or closing your mouth, or difficulty in fully opening or closing your mouth, it may be indicative of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders. Orthodontists are knowledgeable in the diagnosis and management of TMJ disorders. They can evaluate the alignment of your jaw, and if necessary, recommend treatment options to alleviate pain and improve jaw function.

When to visit a dentist

While orthodontists specialize in specific areas related to tooth alignment and jaw issues, dentists provide comprehensive dental care to maintain overall oral health.

Routine check-ups and cleanings

Regular visits to the dentist are vital for routine check-ups and cleanings. Dentists can examine your oral health, detect and prevent dental issues such as tooth decay and gum disease, and provide professional cleanings to remove plaque and tartar buildup. These routine visits are essential for maintaining healthy teeth and gums.

Toothaches and cavities

If you experience tooth pain or notice signs of cavities, it is important to see a dentist promptly. Dentists can assess the cause of toothaches and recommend appropriate treatment options, such as fillings to restore decayed teeth. Early intervention in treating cavities can prevent further damage and the need for more extensive treatments like root canals or extractions.

Gum disease

Dentists play a crucial role in diagnosing and treating gum disease, also known as periodontal disease. Gum disease can range from mild inflammation to more severe cases that can lead to tooth loss if left untreated. Dentists can perform deep cleanings, scaling, and root planing procedures to remove plaque and bacteria from the gums, and provide necessary guidance and treatment to manage gum disease effectively.

Orthodontic treatments

Orthodontic treatments are designed to correct misaligned teeth, jaw irregularities, and bite issues. Orthodontists have a range of treatment options available to achieve a properly aligned and functional smile.

Metal braces

Metal braces are a popular and effective orthodontic treatment option. They consist of metal brackets attached to the teeth and connected by wires and elastic bands. The wires place gentle pressure on the teeth, gradually moving them into the desired position. Metal braces can effectively treat various orthodontic issues and are often preferred for their durability and affordability.

Ceramic braces

Ceramic braces are similar to metal braces but use tooth-colored or clear brackets, making them less noticeable. This makes ceramic braces a popular choice for individuals who desire a more discreet orthodontic treatment option. They are effective in treating a wide range of orthodontic issues, but may require extra care to prevent discoloration or breakage.


Invisalign is a popular and highly sought-after orthodontic treatment option. It utilizes a series of clear, custom-made aligners that gradually move the teeth into the desired position. Invisalign aligners are removable, allowing for easier hygiene and the ability to eat and drink without restrictions. This flexibility and the nearly invisible appearance of the aligners make Invisalign a preferred choice for those seeking discreet orthodontic treatment.

Clear aligners

In addition to Invisalign, several other brands offer clear aligner systems. These aligners work similarly to Invisalign, using a series of custom-made clear aligners to gradually shift teeth into proper alignment. Clear aligners offer the advantage of being removable and virtually invisible, providing a convenient and aesthetically pleasing option for orthodontic treatment.

Dental treatments

Dental treatments encompass a wide range of procedures aimed at addressing common dental issues and maintaining oral health.


Dental fillings are used to treat cavities caused by tooth decay. The decayed part of the tooth is removed, and the resulting hole is filled with a dental material such as amalgam or composite resin. Fillings restore the strength and function of the tooth while preventing further decay.

Root canals

Root canals are necessary when the inner pulp of a tooth becomes infected or inflamed. During a root canal procedure, the infected pulp is removed, and the inside of the tooth is cleaned and filled. This treatment prevents the spread of infection and saves the natural tooth, avoiding the need for extraction.


Extractions are performed when a tooth cannot be saved or poses a risk to oral health. This may include severely decayed teeth, impacted wisdom teeth, or teeth that are crowded and causing alignment issues. Dentists perform extractions using local anesthesia to ensure patient comfort.

Teeth whitening

Teeth whitening treatments are cosmetic procedures aimed at improving the appearance of discolored or stained teeth. Dentists offer both in-office and at-home teeth whitening options. In-office treatments typically provide more immediate and noticeable results, while at-home treatments involve the use of custom-fitted trays and whitening gels.

Cost difference

Orthodontic treatment costs and dental treatment costs can vary significantly based on several factors, including the specific treatment needed, the severity of the issue, geographic location, and individual dental practices.

Orthodontic treatment costs

Orthodontic treatment costs tend to be higher compared to general dental treatments. The complexity of the orthodontic issue and the chosen treatment option can influence the total cost. In general, traditional metal braces are often the most cost-effective option, while more discreet options like ceramic braces or Invisalign may be pricier. It is important to consult with an orthodontist and inquire about the total cost of the recommended treatment plan, including any follow-up visits or aftercare requirements.

Dental treatment costs

Dental treatment costs can vary depending on the type and extent of the procedure. Routine dental check-ups and cleanings are typically more affordable compared to treatments such as root canals or extractions. The materials used and the complexity of the procedure can also impact the cost. Dental insurance coverage can help alleviate some of the costs associated with dental treatments.

Insurance coverage

Insurance coverage for orthodontic treatments and dental treatments may vary depending on the specific insurance plan and individual coverage details.

Orthodontic insurance coverage

Orthodontic treatment may or may not be covered under dental insurance plans. Some plans may provide partial coverage for orthodontic treatments, particularly for children or individuals with severe orthodontic issues. It is important to review the insurance policy and inquire about orthodontic coverage before starting treatment. Many orthodontic offices offer flexible payment plans to accommodate patients without insurance coverage.

Dental insurance coverage

Dental insurance typically covers a range of preventive and basic treatments, such as routine check-ups, cleanings, and fillings. More extensive treatments like root canals or extractions may also be partially covered, although coverage varies among insurance plans. It is advisable to review the coverage details of your dental insurance plan and discuss any potential costs or coverage limitations with your dentist prior to undergoing treatment.

Choosing between an orthodontist and a dentist

Choosing between an orthodontist and a dentist depends on your specific oral health needs and treatment preferences. Here are some factors to consider:

Consultation and evaluation

If you are unsure whether you require orthodontic treatment or general dental treatment, it is best to begin with a consultation and evaluation with a dentist. Dentists can assess your overall oral health and refer you to an orthodontist if necessary. Dentists provide a comprehensive evaluation, ensuring that any dental issues are addressed before proceeding with orthodontic treatment.

Personal treatment preferences

Consider your personal treatment preferences when deciding between an orthodontist and a dentist. If you have specific concerns related to tooth alignment, bite issues, or jaw irregularities, an orthodontist would be the appropriate choice. However, if you require routine dental care, preventive treatments, or general dental procedures, a dentist would be the primary point of contact.

Referrals and recommendations

Referrals from friends, family, or general dentists can provide valuable insight into the reputation and expertise of orthodontists and dentists in your area. Seek recommendations from trusted sources and consider their experiences before making a decision. Online reviews and testimonials can also offer helpful information in selecting a qualified orthodontist or dentist.

Collaboration between orthodontists and dentists

Orthodontists and dentists often work collaboratively to ensure comprehensive and well-rounded oral health care for patients.

Coordinated treatment plans

In cases where patients require both orthodontic treatment and additional dental procedures, orthodontists and dentists work together to create a coordinated treatment plan. This collaboration ensures that the orthodontic treatment aligns with any restorative or cosmetic dental work that may be needed during or after orthodontic treatment. This comprehensive approach ensures optimal results and long-term oral health.

Interdisciplinary approach

Orthodontic and dental practices often have interdisciplinary teams where orthodontists and dentists collaborate with other dental specialists, including periodontists, oral surgeons, and prosthodontists. This interdisciplinary approach allows for a comprehensive evaluation and treatment plan, particularly for complex cases involving multiple dental specialties.

Continued care and maintenance

Following orthodontic treatment, patients typically require ongoing dental care and maintenance. Dentists play a critical role in monitoring oral health, ensuring proper hygiene habits, and addressing any potential issues that may arise after orthodontic treatment. Continued collaboration and follow-up between orthodontists and dentists aid in maintaining the results of orthodontic treatment and overall oral health.

In conclusion, both orthodontists and dentists are essential providers of oral health care, each with their unique areas of specialization. While orthodontists focus on correcting tooth alignment, jaw irregularities, and bite issues, dentists offer comprehensive dental care to address general oral health concerns. Choosing between an orthodontist and a dentist depends on your specific needs, treatment preferences, and the collaborative efforts between these professionals contribute to optimal outcomes and continued care. Whether you require orthodontic treatment or general dental care, prioritize regular check-ups and consultations with qualified professionals to achieve and maintain a healthy and confident smile.

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