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What's the Difference Between a Dentist and an Orthodontist?

by Dr. Amer Hussain, on Oct 15, 2019 3:30:00 PM

Dentists vs Orthodontists

When it comes to taking care of your teeth, is there really a big difference between dentists and orthodontists? Contrary to popular belief, there are some major differences between the two; although, they both began their journeys in similar places, their paths do divide and lead to two different destinations. 

Similarities between Dentists and Orthodontists:

Both dentists and orthodontists start in the same place: they start with a 4-year degree at their choice of  university and then go off to dental school either graduating with a Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.D.M) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S). 

The main focus of both professions is centred around oral health care. Everything that has to do with the health of your gums, teeth and mouth are what these professions focus on but with that being said this is where the differences come in.

Allow us to paint you a picture… 
Imagine, you are experiencing chest pain. So like every rational human you make an appointment to see your family doctor. After poking around, they tell you the symptoms you have, should be seen by a specialist. To be specific a cardiologist. Although your family doctor is a doctor, it’s easy to see why they would refer you to a cardiologist who has more training and specialization than they do. The same rules apply to dentists and orthodontists. 

Dentists focus more so on oral hygiene. They can provide a wide range of services from dental cleanings to repairing teeth.
Their services can include: 

  • Teeth whitening 
  • Root canals 
  • Crowns 
  • Bridges 
  • Veneers
  • Tooth Decay 

Are orthodontists really that “special”?
Yes, they really are. Orthodontics is a specialized branch of dentistry and requires additional schooling on top of everything else. They specialize in helping patients with the alignment of their teeth, improving their bite or fitting them with orthodontic devices like braces, invisalign and more. 

An orthodontist is an expert in diagnosing, preventing and treating dental and facial irregularities or “malocclusions” (a fancy term for bite issues). 

Some of the orthodontist’s advanced training includes a range of studies including genetics, human growth and development, oral biology and biomechanics. Following their graduation, orthodontists in Canada must pass a rigorous written and oral examination offered annually by the Royal College of Dentists of Canada in order to be properly registered as a Certified Orthodontist Specialist. 

Okay, that was a lot of information. Can you simplify it for me?

Of course we can, so basically… 

Dentists are good for:

  • Regular check ups and cleanings.
  • Teeth whitening
  • Other dental services such as root canals, crowns, bridges, veneers, and help with overall hygiene

Orthodontists are good for:

  • Aligning teeth (crooked or crowded teeth, malocclusions etc.)
  • Improving bite issue (Overbite, underbite, crossbite, open bite)
  • Fitting patients with orthodontic equipment (braces, invisalign, lingual braces etc.)
  • Facial, jaw and lip misalignments 

Choosing a dentist or an orthodontist:
Both dentists and orthodontists play an important role in keeping your teeth healthy and looking good. Nevertheless, it’s crucial for patients to be aware that a general dentist offering orthodontic treatment doesn’t have all the additional training, certifications and experience in orthodontics that a certified orthodontist does. 

The same way you’d expect your doctor to refer you to a specialist with additional training in a certain area, you should expect the same from your dentist. 


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