Orthodontist vs. Dentist – What’s the Difference?

Dr. Hawley at the Office

A dentist and an orthodontist are both dedicated to helping patients achieve healthy, bright smiles. Sometimes, people wonder why they still need to see their dentist during orthodontic treatment or why their dentist can’t give them braces. The reason is because there is a difference between an orthodontist and dentist, mainly when it comes to their focus and training. A dentist is a generalist and an orthodontist, like Papillion orthodontist Dr. Nathan Hawley, is a specialist. Think of it like how you see your general practitioner for your physicals or problems like a cold but if you have an issue with say your shoulder, your general practitioner refers you to a specialist. The same holds true in the world of dentistry. Here’s what you need to know about an orthodontist vs. dentist.

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

Like we said, a dentist is a generalist and dentistry is a broad medical specialty dedicated to the health of the teeth, gums, jaw and related nerves. Your dentist is very similar to your family doctor except, instead of the body, they deal with your mouth. Most dentists offer a range of preventative services like dental exams, cleanings, oral cancer screenings and, for kids, sealants and fluoride treatments. They also perform restorative and cosmetic procedures, such as fillings, gum disease treatment, crowns, bridges, veneers and teeth whitening. They’re the point person for your oral health and they can give you referrals when you need to see a specialist like a prosthodontist, endodontist or, you guessed it, orthodontist.

So, what is an orthodontist? An orthodontist is a doctor who specializes in preventing, diagnosing and treating dental and facial irregularities, such as issues with the size, positioning or spacing of the teeth and jaw. They’re the doctor you see for a “bad” bite or, in technical terms, malocclusion. Since orthodontists are specialists, they only focus on orthodontics and nothing else at their practice. They are experts in safely and effectively moving teeth, aligning the jaws and guiding jaw, dental and facial development (dentofacial orthopedics) with appliances, such as braces or Invisalign.

What are the Training Requirements for an Orthodontist vs. Dentist?

In addition to their areas of focus, the real difference between an orthodontist and dentist comes down to their training. All orthodontists are dentists but not all dentists are orthodontists. That is because orthodontics is a specialty within the broader field of dentistry and requires additional training in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics through a residency program. Here’s how it breaks down:

Dentist Schooling:

  • High School
  • A Bachelor’s Degree from a College or University
  • A Doctorate in Dental Surgery or a Doctorate in Dental Medicine from an Accredited Dental School

Orthodontist Schooling:

  • High School
  • A Bachelor’s Degree from a College or University
  • A Doctorate in Dental Medicine or a Doctorate in Dental Surgery from an Accredited Dental School
  • Two to Three Years of Specialty Training in an Orthodontic Residency Program

How long does it take to become an orthodontist? As you can see, after high school, an orthodontist is in school for another 10 to 11 years! Before he began practicing as a Papillion orthodontist, Dr. Hawley received his bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University in Utah. He then headed to Las Vegas to attend dental school at the University of Nevada. He wrapped up his training at the University of Kentucky where he got his master’s degree in dentistry, did a fellowship in craniofacial biology and completed a residency in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics. Phew! That was a lot of schooling to become an orthodontist but it gave him the expertise to design stunning smiles.

When Should You See an Orthodontist?

The American Association of Orthodontists recommends kids see an orthodontist for an evaluation at the age of seven. You don’t need a referral to come to Hawley Orthodontics. You can simply book a free consultation for your child and we’ll evaluate their teeth and jaw to make sure their development and growth is on track. Most of the time, they’ll begin an observational period where we just keep any eye on them until the time is right to begin treatment. Occasionally, if red flags are spotted, we can intercept the problem and use appliances to guide the development of a child’s teeth or jaws to make treatment easier and more effective down the road.

Keep in mind that orthodontists treat patients of all ages, so if you or your child didn’t have an evaluation at age seven, it’s never too late to have a consultation. Straightening the teeth can improve your oral health and ward off decay and gum disease by making them easier to clean, align your bite to alleviate jaw pain and headaches, as well as make speaking and chewing easier. It can also prevent issues like trauma to protruding teeth or uneven wear of the teeth. In addition to the important health benefits of orthodontic treatment, you’ll get a huge boost in confidence from loving your smile! If you or your child is unhappy with the appearance of their teeth or jaw or the upper and lower teeth don’t come together properly, schedule a visit with an orthodontist.

While some general dentists do offer Invisalign, it’s always best to see a specialist to straighten your teeth. An orthodontist has the necessary training and experience to safely achieve outstanding results that last a lifetime. Treatment can create permanent changes in your smile and facial structure, so it’s a good idea to be evaluated by a certified specialist in orthodontics. Dr. Hawley relies on his schooling and experience to accurately diagnose patients and determine the underlying cause of their malocclusion. This lets him develop a customized treatment plan that will bring about the best possible outcome.

If you’d like to learn more about how an orthodontist can help you get your dream smile or you’re interested in Papillion Invisalign or braces treatment, book a free consultation at Hawley Orthodontics today!

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