Why Is a Dentist Not an Orthodontist?

Since both dentists and orthodontists provide dental care, many people are confused by what the difference is. This difference becomes even more confusing when some dentist offices offer some orthodontic services to patients. gif courtesy of giphy.com

Though the two jobs share some similarities, a dentist and an orthodontist are not really similar at all. It is important to understand “why is a dentist not an orthodontist” so that you can find the right dental practitioner for your own unique needs.


The main difference between a dentist and an orthodontist is that they have entirely different levels of education. At the start of their education, the process for both a dentist and an orthodontist is mostly the same. Before dental school, a prospective student must have a bachelor’s degree. They can then seek admission into a dental school. For the first two years, students mostly learn information in the classroom. The last two years of dental school are spent practicing with real patients under trained supervision. Students must then successfully pass both part one and part two of the National Board Dental Examination. A dentist may receive a Doctor of Dental Surgery or a Doctor of Dental Medicine Degree, but the two degrees are equivalent. Some dentists may take a few extra courses, so that they can be certified to apply basic braces, but they do not have the depth of knowledge and experience about the human jaw and teeth that an orthodontist has.

After graduating from a dental school, the educational path of an orthodontist and a dentist diverge. Instead of immediately beginning to work like a dentist can, a prospective orthodontist must undergo more training and classes. Getting into an accredited orthodontic program is usually very competitive, so only the best and the brightest of dental school begin studying as orthodontists. These programs last between two to three years, where they work with patients and attend more classes. At the end of the orthodontic program, a potential orthodontist must pass a written exam by the American Board of Orthodontics. To become an officially certified orthodontist, students must then present six cases they treated to the board and explain all of their clinical decisions on the cases. If the board is satisfied, then the person becomes a certified orthodontist.

The regulations placed on dentists and orthodontists are somewhat different. Orthodontists are certified through the American Board of Orthodontics, and after being properly certified, orthodontists still have to renew their certification every ten years. In order to renew the certification, orthodontists will once again have to have some of their cases examined. Unlike orthodonture, there is no national board that oversees all dentists. Instead, most dentists are licensed through their state’s dental board. Depending on the state, different fees or exams must be dealt with by the dentist. Therefore, there is no national standard that dentists must meet, leading to a great deal of irregularity, while orthodontic practices are much more standardized.


In general, the services offered at an orthodontic office and a dentist office fall into two completely separate categories. Technically, an orthodontist can do most of the things that a dentist does, but typically, an orthodontist focuses on doing the tasks that dentists cannot do. Orthodontists specialize in straightening teeth, while dentists primarily focus on overall oral health.



Often, people go to a dentist’s office regularly for a professional teeth cleaning and a checkup. At a general checkup, a dentist will make sure that the patient is not developing any tooth or gum issues. Dentists diagnose dental diseases and then provide treatment for a patient. Much of a dentist’s job consists of restoring, replacing, or removing teeth. If the patient is diagnosed with an issue that the dentist cannot treat, the dentist will refer the patient to a specialist, such as an orthodontist.

Orthodontists mostly work on aligning a patient’s jaw or teeth. This can be as simple as fixing a few crooked teeth or as complex as reforming the entire alignment of the jaw. Typically, orthodontists spend their time consulting with patients, creating treatment plans, and installing braces or other components to fix or prevent misalignment. Like dentists, orthodontists may have patients of all ages, but they are likely to work mostly with adolescents or young adults.


A dentist can offer a variety of procedures in addition to their general checkups and cleanings. Dentists can diagnose and treat gum disease. If a tooth is decaying, a dentist can remove the decay and fill the cavity in the tooth. Sometimes, if the entire tooth is being too problematic, such as a wisdom tooth, a dentist may be able to remove it. Many dentists can also provide root canal treatment for teeth with damage on the interior of the tooth. Patients who are missing teeth can talk to a dentist about bridges or other dentures to restore functioning teeth of a patient. Often, the procedures done by a dentist have a cosmetic benefit. Teeth whitening and veneers can provide a patient with confidence and a feeling of beauty.

Orthodontists work to fix overbites, underbites, and crooked teeth. Orthodontists often install braces in order to

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move teeth into proper alignment. Invisalign, and other types of aligner trays, are another method that orthodontists use to realign teeth. Orthodontists may use other devices, such as plates or headgear, to further relocate the jaw bones and teeth. After teeth are aligned, orthodontists usually prescribe a retainer to prevent the teeth from moving again.

If you think you need to see an orthodontist for your dental needs, look no further than Beecroft Orthodontics. Dr. Matt Beecroft is affiliated with the American Association of Orthodontists, and he is one of the most talented orthodontists in King George. Call us today to schedule a consultation at one of our three convenient locations and experience the best of King George orthodontics.

Beecroft Orthodontics - 10472 Georgetown Dr, Fredericksburg, VA22553 Phone: 540 898 2200

Why Is a Dentist Not an Orthodontist?

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