Taking good care of teeth sometimes requires not just a single professional, but a team. Dentists and orthodontists are both important parts of this team. Although they both have special training in helping you to maintain beautiful, healthy teeth and gums, they have different training and different roles in dental care. Many people wonder, “What is a dentist? What is an orthodontist?” Understanding the difference between a dentist and orthodontist is the key to getting the right care for yourself and your family.
What is a Dentist?
Dentists specialize in the routine care of teeth and gums. This requires a huge amount of education and training, as much as a medical doctor. They handle a wide range of care for teeth, especially preventative care. This includes:
- Diagnosing and removing tooth decay
- Filling cavities
- Treating and/or removing broken or damaged teeth
- Handle sealants and other protective coatings for teeth
- Place whitening treatments on teeth that are yellowed or stained
- Perform x-rays of teeth to identify damage that isn’t yet visible externally
- Perform minor dental surgeries such as root canals and tooth extractions
- Administer anesthesia to keep patients comfortable during procedures
- Recommend preventative care such as routine cleanings, fluoride treatment, and regular brushing and flossing
- Taking measurements for dentures and other dental appliances
While some dentists do provide braces of various kinds, they are not experts in this kind of care. The difference between a dentist and an orthodontist is that orthodontists have the additional special training needed to handle both routine and complex orthodontic issues.
What Is an Orthodontist?
Orthodontists begin by going through dental school, just like dentists. After dental school, however, they undergo an additional two to three years of training in bite, alignment, and malocclusion (the medical and dental term for a bite that is not aligned properly). Getting into these programs is very difficult, with a great deal of competition.
In orthodontic schools, trainees learn about the mechanics and physics of a bite as well as how the jaw and teeth work together. They learn about the different issues that can occur with a bite and how to prevent or treat these issues. Misalignments and malocclusions are not just a cosmetic matter, but rather can cause tooth decay, dental infections, difficulty with chewing, issues with maintaining good dental hygiene, and even issues with speech.
The most common issues with a bite are the following:
- Anteroposterior deviations, also known as underbites and overbites. In these bite misalignments, the lower teeth and upper teeth do not line up properly due to issues with the jaw or tooth placement.
- Overcrowded teeth, one of the most common orthodontic treatments. This can cause damage to teeth and also cause pain and other issues with the bite.
- Aesthetic problems, in which a person’s appearance is negatively affected.
In many cases, orthodontists can identify potential problems before they are visible and provide treatment to prevent them. There are hundreds of different issues that can occur with a bite, each requiring a specific kind of treatment. In addition, treatments must be tailored to the needs of each patient. This requires a great deal of knowledge about orthodontic problems and a wide range of treatments available.
Orthodontic Services for Optimal Whole Body Health
An orthodontic treatment plan often includes more than just braces. Minor surgeries, spacers, and other treatments may be needed to set a good foundation for braces and other orthodontia. In many cases, there is a specific type of braces that will be more effective or require less overall treatment time. The most common options for orthodontic care are:
- Traditional braces, which involve brackets attached to individual teeth connected by an archwire. These are tightened gradually to pull teeth into the desired position.
- Invisalign and other forms of aligning teeth without traditional braces.
- Headgear and other orthodontic appliances that are fitted to the head to correct jaw and tooth alignment.
- Retainers, which are removable devices that are used to keep teeth in the desired position until their bones have grown to accommodate the changes in tooth placement.
In many cases, a combination of these strategies is needed to make a permanent change in bite and prevent future dental and orthodontic issues. Orthodontists are trained in all options for alignment and can prescribe and install the dental appliance that is perfect for each individual patient’s needs.
Why Are Good Dental and Orthodontic Care Important?
There was a time when people considered dental and orthodontic care completely optional. However, we now know more about how oral health can affect the health of the rest of the body.
When people have misaligned teeth, this leads to increased decay and, eventually, tooth loss. This can affect one’s ability to eat healthy foods as well as their self-esteem. In addition, decay can lead to serious infections that are painful and even life-threatening.
In addition, having properly aligned teeth can have a huge impact on a person’s success. Modern people are increasingly expected to have straight and attractive teeth as part of a professional appearance. Crooked or missing teeth are no longer acceptable in most medium to high paying careers. People with visible tooth issues also commonly suffer from issues with body image.
An orthodontist offers much more than braces. They offer an expertise as well as a range of professional services designed to give patients the personalized care and treatment needed for optimal dental health. If you or a loved one needs any kind of braces, Invisalign, or other alignment treatments, call your local orthodontist today.
2002 Richard Jones Road
Nashville, TN 37215
Phone: 615 269 5903
Why Is a Dentist [Not] an Orthodontist?
Dr. Joel Gluck has practiced orthodontics since 1983 when he opened his own office in Nashville. He earned his undergraduate degree at Washington University in St. Louis, and his dental degree at the University of Tennessee. Dr. Gluck then completed an orthodontic specialty residency at the University of Michigan, one of the top five orthodontic training residencies in the country. He also wrote an original thesis and received a Master of Science degree.