What’s the difference between an orthodontist and a dentist?

Orthodontics is more than just a pretty smile, it’s a gateway into your overall health- and shouldn’t be taken lightly. One step to improving your oral health is learning the difference between a dentist and an orthodontic specialist in order to receive proper care for oral health concerns.

Although orthodontists and dentists are both healthcare professionals that help improve your oral health, their job descriptions are distinctly different. Here’s how you can differentiate the two:


Orthodontic specialists obtain additional schooling beyond dental school. Both dentists and orthodontists are required to have a bachelor’s degree and complete a four-year doctoral program. However, after graduation, a dentist may begin to practice their profession while orthodontists continue their education with a two or three-year residency specialty program. In total dentists complete 8 years of education while orthodontic specialists complete 10-11 years, or more, in order to be certified in the orthodontic specialty. So all orthodontists are dentists, but not all dentists are orthodontists. Make sure you are seeing a certified orthodontic specialist for any work pertaining to the alignment of your teeth and jaws.


Both orthodontic specialists and dentists work to improve your overall dental health, however, orthodontic specialists focus on the alignment of the teeth and jaws. Although tooth decay and other dental health issues are equally as important, an orthodontist’s goal is to correct the bite and improve functionality and appearance using braces, clear aligners, or other orthodontic appliances. In turn, a dentist specializes in preventing and treating oral diseases and performing procedures such as teeth cleaning and whitening, filling cavities, and root canals

When to see an orthodontist

You will visit your dentist for procedures like regular teeth cleanings, filling cavities, crowns, and general oral healthcare. If you suspect issues with the alignment of your teeth, you should see an orthodontist.

An orthodontist specializes in the alignment of teeth, specifically issues like crowded teeth, underbite, overbite, or other misalignments. Although some of these issues may seem merely cosmetic, many of them can hinder activities in your daily life. Correcting misaligned teeth will not only improve your appearance, but it’ll also make it easier to eat, speak, and smile. These misalignments can cause issues with biting, chewing and speaking, in addition to symptoms like mouth and jaw pain, headaches, snoring, and more. If you suffer from these issues, be sure to consult an orthodontic specialist. From there, your orthodontist will decide on a treatment plan to correct your teeth and positively affect the bones and muscles in your mouth.

One of the most common misconceptions is that you need a dentist’s referral to see an orthodontist, which is not the case. You can see an orthodontic specialist without a referral, and they may even provide a free initial consultation.

In reality, it takes both a dentist and an orthodontist to ensure superior oral health. By taking care of your teeth, you will not only look better, but you will also feel better!

If you’re ready to improve your orthodontic and overall oral health, visit a local Texas Association of Orthodontists member for an initial consultation.