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When it comes to selecting an oral health care provider, many are unaware of the differences between a general dentist and an orthodontist, much less the importance of selecting the correct professional for the given condition being treated. This article will help you understand the differences between a dentist and an orthodontist, as well as which treatments each type of doctor is best qualified to provide.

EDUCATION: All orthodontists are dentists, but not all dentists are orthodontists.

Both dentists and orthodontists start out on the same educational path: They both receive bachelor’s degrees and, if accepted into dental school, proceed with four more years of doctoral training. All graduates at this point have earned their D.M.D. OR D.D.S. degrees and are qualified to practice general dentistry.

Those dentists that want to become orthodontists must then serve an additional two-to-three-year residency in orthodontics at a university-affiliated program that is approved by the ADA (American Dental Association).

TREATMENT: General Practitioner vs. Specialist

Infographic showing differences between a dentist and orthodontist

Image source: mylifemysmile.org

Your dentist is your general oral health care provider and should be seen regularly to keep your teeth and gums clean and healthy. In addition to x-rays, exams, and cleanings, your dentist is qualified to provide many other dental services, including fillings, crowns, root canals, bridges and tooth whitening.

Your orthodontist, on the other hand, is a specialist in aligning the teeth and jaws. Your orthodontist is trained to prevent, diagnose and treat conditions such as overbite, underbite, crossbite, crowding of teeth, gaps in teeth, misalignment of teeth and temporomandibular disorders (TMD).

Some dentists offer certain orthodontic treatments such as Invisalign® and Damon®System. Why would I need to go to an orthodontist for these treatments if my dentist is certified?

While we don’t want to step on any of our dentist friends’ toes and we’re sure that some are perfectly capable of successfully treating patients with these technologies, it still comes down to training and experience.

Because a general dentist doesn’t have the specialized training or experience of an orthodontist, there is a greater risk of misdiagnosis and inability to identify and address problems that may arise or changes that may be needed during the course of treatment. If this does become the case, then you will still need to see an orthodontist to properly diagnose and treat your condition and correct whatever may have gone wrong with the original treatment…which adds up to longer overall treatment time and additional costs for you.

Also, keep in mind that orthodontic treatment is not one-size-fits-all, so Invisalign®, for example, may not be the best approach to your unique treatment goals and needs. An orthodontist will be able to accurately diagnose your condition and devise a customized treatment plan for you using one of the many state-of-the-art treatment modalities he has access to and is trained to provide. Should any changes need to be made or issues arise during the course of your treatment, well, your orthodontist has you covered there, too.


If you’re in the local Vancouver, Washington area and are interested in braces, Invisalign® or have other oral health concerns that are best addressed by an experienced orthodontist like Dr. Irwin, give us a call at 360.883.6713 to schedule your free consultation today!

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