Orthodontist vs. Dentist for Braces

Here at Dudley Smiles, we get plenty of questions about the differences between orthodontists and dentists. Many people assume that the two terms define the same profession, and while there are many similarities between the two, there are also many significant differences between the two.

If you’re looking to get treatment with braces or Invisalign, it’s important to know what orthodontists can offer that general dentists don’t. At Dudley Smiles, we want to offer the best care to our patients, and we think an orthodontist can provide all of the necessary treatment with a lot more know-how than a dentist would be able to provide.


Similarities and differences

You probably know that both dentists and orthodontists deal with dental issues, but do you know the real differences between the two? While they both take care of similar dental issues, the difference is in the method of care that they provide for their patients.

Dentists specialize in dental cleanings and general health problems of the teeth and gums, such as tooth decay, gum disease, and general upkeep of the teeth. They typically encourage good dental hygiene and take care of dental cleanings for patients every 6 months.

Orthodontists deal with jaws, types of bites, and malocclusions, which are problems with bites. These types of bites include:


  • Overbites – the upper front teeth stick out further or reaches too far down over the bottom front teeth
  • Underbites – the lower front teeth stick out further than the upper front teeth
  • Crossbites – the upper and lower teeth are not aligned; the upper teeth fall inside the bottom teeth on one side of the mouth and on the outside of the bottom teeth on the other side
  • Open bites – when the patient bites down, their molars fit together, but the upper and lower teeth do not overlap. This creates an opening between the upper and lower front teeth.
  • Crowding – too little room for teeth to grow in properly
  • Improperly spaced teeth – too much room for the teeth to grow in properly

Schooling and training

Books and graduation capAll dentists and orthodontists attend and graduate from dental school, but from there they take different paths. Orthodontists choose to take an extra 2-3 years of specialized schooling to learn how to straighten teeth. Basically, orthodontists are dentists that have had additional, specialized training.

Once they’ve finished dental school, only the top students in the class will be allowed to continue their education towards a specialty in orthodontics. Acceptance into an orthodontic school can be extremely competitive! The training that they go through in their extra few years of school include braces, bite problems, jaw problems, and straightening teeth. Although some do, most dentists do not undergo this type of demanding supplementary training.

A dentist may only call themselves an orthodontist when they’ve successfully finished this residency program.

Are general dentists able to straighten teeth?

In short, yes, they can. There are some general dentists who choose provide orthodontic care to patients. This is only allowed, though, if these dentists are committed to continuously going to education seminars and acquiring experience in the subject.

For example, dentists are required to attend certain, specific workshops in order to be able to offer a treatment like Invisalign in their practice. Even though this is allowed, this is not a perfect system. These workshops do not provide the kind of rigorous training needed to learn such extensive material in depth.

Where orthodontics are concerned, these types of seminars provide only a surface-level understanding is not enough to properly provide the best kind of treatment possible for patients.


What if I want to stick with my dentist to straighten teeth?

Smiling young woman receiving dental checkupIt’s not uncommon for people to want to consider their primary care dentist over an orthodontist for orthodontic care if it’s offered. Before you choose your dentist over an orthodontist, though, be sure and ask yourself questions like these:

  • Are you sure that your dentist will be able to provide the same level of care that a licensed orthodontist would?
  • How much orthodontic training does your dentist have in comparison to an orthodontist?
  • How many cases like yours has your dentist treated over the course of his career?
  • Has your dentist ever had to refer a case like yours to an orthodontist?

While general dentists only focus on overall oral health, orthodontists specialize in orthodontic care and treatment. Since this is our specialty, it’s no secret that we devote a lot of time and attention into perfecting it! We perform procedures to straighten teeth daily, make an effort to keep up with the latest industry practices and technology, and continuously attend workshops and seminars.


So should I choose a dentist or orthodontist for braces?

Let’s look at it from a different perspective: if you were in need of heart surgery, would you rather have a primary care physician perform it or a heart surgeon? Obviously, a cardiologist would have more experience than a physician, so you would trust them more to get the job done right. The same concept is applied to teeth. Having a dentist perform orthodontic procedures is like a physician performing heart surgery: it can be done, but how willing are you to risk it?

The choice of care provided is solely up to you as the patient, and we are certainly aware that some dentists have a decent amount of orthodontic experience and expertise. However, it’s important to remember that orthodontists keep their focus solely on orthodontics, and we are much more likely to have experience in specific dental issues. Dentists often develop a short-term solution and treatment, but orthodontists like Dr. Dudley will give you a long-term solution and result!

Here at Dudley Smiles, we want to educate all our patients on the importance of their orthodontic needs and orthodontics in general. Orthodontics is our specialty, and that gives us the experience and quality necessary to provide our patients with the best quality, cost, and care. If you are in the Kent or Issaquah area and are in need of an orthodontic evaluation from a licensed orthodontist, get in touch with us for a complimentary consultation. We have a fantastic team full of friendly faces and we’d love to fix you up with a plan that is efficient and affordable. We hope to see you soon!