When it comes to oral healthcare, the roles of dentists and orthodontists are often misunderstood. While both professionals contribute to maintaining oral health, their scopes of practice differ significantly. Let’s delve into the distinctions between dentists and orthodontists to better understand their roles and qualifications.
Dentists, commonly referred to as general or family dentists, are primarily focused on overall oral health. They address issues like tooth decay through fillings, perform extractions for failed teeth, and offer procedures such as crowns, veneers, and bonding to enhance the functionality and aesthetics of damaged teeth. Dentists also identify oral abnormalities and educate patients on preventive measures against dental diseases.
In our region, we are blessed with some really wonderful dentists, and we frequently work with many of them. For example, dentists might refer patients to our practice for an orthodontic evaluation, and we might refer a patient to a dentist to seek dental care before or during treatment.
In fact, we stress to our patients that regular checkups at your dental office are essential to successful orthodontic treatment. Just because you’re seeing us on a regular basis during your active treatment phase does not mean you don’t have to see the dentist.
While dentists possess considerable knowledge and skills, certain specialized areas within dentistry require additional education beyond dental school. Orthodontics is one such specialty, and this is where orthodontists come into play.
Orthodontists are dental specialists who undergo extensive training after completing four years of general dental education. Following dental school, they enroll in accredited programs that focus intensively on their chosen specialty for two or more years.
Similar to orthodontists, other dental specialists undergo specialized training for their respective fields. Some examples are:
- Endodontists, who specialize in root canals
- Periodontists, who specialize in the treatment of gum disease
- Pediatric dentists, who provide dental care for those under 21
- Oral and maxillofacial surgeons, who perform face, mouth, and jaw surgeries
Orthodontists specialize in assessing how teeth meet and function, their alignment, positioning within the jaws, and the harmony between upper and lower jaws. Unlike general dentists, orthodontists possess specialized training to address these complex issues effectively.
While general dentists are licensed to practice dentistry, some states allow them to provide certain specialty services, as well, without formal, post-dental school training.
Still, the only dental professionals who have advanced, specialized training in the movement and alignment of teeth are orthodontists.