Orthodontics is a specialty within dentistry that concentrates on correcting the alignment of patients’ teeth and other related problems. All orthodontists are thus dentists – but not all dentists are orthodontists. If you are thinking of an orthodontist vs dentist to correct a dental issue you may have, understanding the difference between the two will help you know which one to choose.
Both dentists and orthodontists receive the same early education; they both go to dental school and earn a DMD (doctor of dental medicine) or DDS (Doctor of dental surgery). The two degrees follow the same curriculum, and different dental schools will award one or the other.
While a general dentist starts their practice, the orthodontist serves a residency that lasts two or three years. After completing their residency, many orthodontists then take an exam administered by the American Board of Orthodontics to earn their board certification.
What Kinds of Services Do Dentists and Orthodontists Provide?
Dentists provide general healthcare for people’s teeth. They perform routine check-ups and cleaning. They will also X-ray teeth and fill cavities. A dentist can repair damaged teeth with veneers or crowns.
An orthodontist provides more specialized services relating to straightening teeth. They provide braces and other orthodontic appliances.
Can a General Dentist Straighten Teeth?
It depends on the dentist. A general dentist who wants to provide braces to their patients would have to be able to match the standard of care provided by the average orthodontist. In other words, they would have to be able to do as good a job as the orthodontist. In order to do so, the ambitious general dentist would need to take courses in orthodontics, and they would need to get the necessary experience. When considering an orthodontist vs dentist for your orthodontic care, however, most people prefer to choose a trained orthodontist with more experience.
The Three Classes of Malocclusions
Malocclusion means “bad bite” and thus describes the various bite problems like overbite, underbite, crossbite, etc. The different malocclusions are grouped into three broad classes:
• Class I covers relatively straightforward matters like spacing, crooked teeth or teeth erupting above or below under teeth. Patients with Class I malocclusions do not have misaligned jaws, so they do not need any treatment beyond orthodontics.
• Class II covers overbites and overjets, in which the upper teeth overshoot the lower teeth. In severe cases, the patient also has jaw problems. If they’re a child, they might undergo growth modification in which they have to wear appliances like palatal expanders to make their jaws grow into the correct alignment. An adult will need surgery.
• Class III malocclusions are underbites in which the lower teeth protrude beyond the upper teeth. As with Class II malocclusions, severe underbites indicate misaligned jaws that require either growth modification or surgery, depending on the patient’s age.
The Bottom Line
The orthodontist vs dentist argument is admittedly a gray area that needs to be addressed. Some experienced and skilled general dentists could do a creditable job with the more straightforward malocclusions. Anything that requires jaw surgery should be taken to an orthodontist or oral surgeon, however. A child that needs a palatal expander should be taken to an orthodontist. While there are no rules forbidding a general dentist from providing a palatal expander, the orthodontist will typically have more training and experience with such appliances.
At Dr. Scott Runnels Orthodontics, our experienced orthodontist serves Fort Walton Beach, Niceville, Freeport, Miramar Beach, Santa Rosa Beach, Seaside, Rosemary Beach, Panama City Beach and Panama City with comprehensive orthodontic treatments personalized for each and every patient. Contact us today to learn more about how our orthodontist can help you!