Orthodontist vs. Dentist: What Are the Differences?

Posted by Southeast Family Dental Jul 30,2022

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There are around 10,000 orthodontists practicing in the United States as well as 200,000 dentists. This may seem confusing to some people who have been led to believe that dentists and orthodontists largely do the same job!

The truth is that orthodontists and dentists, even though they both work with teeth, are very different.

If you’ve been wondering whether you need an orthodontist vs. dentist and what exactly each one does, read on to find out the differences.

What Is a Dentist?

Most of us are familiar with the dentist. They’re professionals of oral health and their job is to make sure we’re taking care of our teeth and help us achieve that goal.

They deal with a broad range of oral health topics, from teeth cleaning to gum health. They can also help with some cosmetic procedures, and some dentists don’t work as general dentists but have specialties. For example, they might specialize in pediatric care.

While dental hygienists are usually the ones who take care of routine cleanings, a dentist is there to oversee this for patients and to fix anything that’s gone wrong. They fill cavities, do root canals, and may deal with extractions too.

There’s a very broad range of things a dentist can help with, and patients are usually recommended to see one every six months so that they can deliver care before anything goes too wrong with the teeth.

What Is an Orthodontist?

Orthodontists are, in a way, dental specialists. For the most part, their job is to deal with alignments issues in the teeth and jaw.

Most people will first see an orthodontist when they’re a young child to make sure their mouth is developing in a way that will leave them with straight teeth and a good bite as an adult. Often at this age, the orthodontist will decide that braces are the best course of action to keep the mouth aligned.

That doesn’t mean they only deal with dental procedures in children that involve alignment. Many adults will see an orthodontist, and it usually requires a referral from a dentist.

If you’d like straighter teeth or a better alignment, you can ask your dentist about this and hopefully get a referral. If your alignment is off in a way that’s very obvious or could cause health issues, your dentist will likely give you this referral on their own.

Orthodontist vs. Dentist: Cost

Choosing a dentist and orthodontist, for many people, depends on the cost and whether they’re in-network with the patient’s insurance company. Dental insurance is relatively picky about who you visit, and the costs can get very high!

Often, insurance becomes a lot trickier when you visit an orthodontist. They’re technically a specialist, so insurance might not cover all of the cost and depending on the procedure, they may not cover any at all — even if you have specific dental insurance.

This is because some orthodontist treatments aren’t medically necessary.

Some insurance will pay for orthodontist costs but require a referral from a dentist to ensure the trip was necessary.

If you’ve decided you need to see an orthodontist, make sure you cover what’s needed with your insurance or that you can afford to pay out of pocket for the services.

Orthodontist vs. Dentist: Qualifications

The processes to become a dentist and an orthodontist are largely similar. Both have to pursue an undergraduate degree before entering dentistry school and take the National Dentistry Exam at the end.

The national average score is 87%, showing that most people who get to this stage do pretty well.

Those who want to become an orthodontist must go on to do a residency for two to three years, so becoming an orthodontist definitely takes more time. They also must pass additional tests at the end of this, so a lot more studying is required to become an orthodontist! 

Oddly enough though, orthodontists often make less money than dentists after doing this at an average of $145,000 per year in the United States. 

Which Should I See?

Surprisingly, despite the training that orthodontists undergo, some states permit dentists to carry out the same procedures. If you have a dentist you trust and need braces or other alignment help, they may be able to do this for you and that’s wonderful if you have a good relationship with your dentist.

If you’re in a state that doesn’t allow this or are looking for the best expertise, it’s a good idea to ask for an orthodontist referral. Your dentist may be the best at regular dental procedures but orthodontists have undergone additional training and spend their whole day specifically focusing on this one issue.

That means they’re generally the best at it!

However, if it’s not alignment issues you’re worried about, then don’t concern yourself with the thought of an orthodontist. They do one thing and one thing only and for everything else, it’s your dentist you want — or a different specialist they may refer you to.

Dentists and Orthodontists Are Both Valuable!

Remember, when it comes to whether you want an orthodontist vs. dentist, they’re both very valuable. An orthodontist has a lot of expertise in one particular area you may need help with, and your dentist can provide lifelong help with oral health and anything that may go wrong in your mouth.

Listen to your dentist’s advice about what you need and see an orthodontist if necessary.

If you’re looking for a great dentist in Indianapolis, contact us today, and let’s see how we can help!

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