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

Both dentists and orthodontists are specialized doctors who work to improve the oral health of their patients, though they achieve these results through different methods. While dentistry is a broad medical term dealing with the teeth, gums, nerves, and jaw, and can include treatment of tooth decay as well as tooth extraction, orthodontics is a specialty area of dentistry that focuses specifically on the treatment of irregularities of the teeth, such as correcting bites, occlusion, and alignment of the teeth and jaws.

Girl smiling


How Does a Dentist and an Orthodontist Differ?

Orthodontics includes the use of braces, which are used to ensure proper alignment of adult teeth. One impactful difference to note is that while all orthodontists like Dr. Childers of Childers Orthodontics are dentists, not all dentists are licensed in orthodontics. Therefore, not all dentists can perform the same services as an orthodontist.


How Are They Alike?

The largest and most important similarity shared between dentists and orthodontists is that they are both doctors who specialize in oral care. Both types of doctors work in a dental office, and orthodontists can perform all of the same professional services as a dentist. Both work with the teeth and gums. In these ways, orthodontists and dentists are quite similar.


How Are They Different?

There are far more differences than similarities between the two types of doctors. The differences begin during career training. Both dentists and orthodontists must complete med school, but upon graduation, dentists move on to an accredited school of dentistry where they will complete post-graduate classes. Orthodontists must graduate both med school and post-graduate training, and then complete a two-year (minimum) residency program in which advanced orthodontic studies are the focus.

There are major and minor differences in the type of services these doctors provide, as well. It’s true that they both focus on oral care and the encouragement of proper hygiene, but orthodontists are specialized in helping patients with the correction of cosmetic dental and facial imperfections, such as correcting the alignment of the teeth or jaws, improving patients’ bites, and fitting patients for braces and other corrective equipment. Orthodontics includes not only diagnosis and prevention of oral conditions, but also the treatment of these abnormalities, whereas a dentist usually must refer patients to an orthodontist in order to have these issues addressed and corrected.

One other major difference between the two types of doctors and perhaps the most important is that while all orthodontics are dentists, not all dentists are licensed orthodontists. In fact, only about 10 percent of all dentists are also licensed in orthodontics. As a result, most dentists must refer their patients to an orthodontist any time a cosmetic issue arises, such as an underbite or overbite, tooth misalignment, or in instances where braces are needed.

Generally speaking, a dentist’s role is to encourage their patients to adopt proper oral hygiene habits. Patients as young as one year are encouraged to begin seeing a dentist regularly (once every 3-6 months), though many people do not bring their children in until around two years, once baby teeth have had time to erupt through the gums.


Dentists provide services associated with:

  • Gum disease

  • Root canal

  • Tooth decay

  • Crowns & bridges

  • Veneers

  • Teeth whitening

Dentists can do more than just provide information on oral care, however. They are also trained to perform tooth extractions, treat TMJ, and to put in fillings.

Orthodontists are specialized dentists whose work focuses on the proper alignment of the teeth and jaws. Their services include:

  • Misaligned or crooked teeth

  • Crowded teeth

  • Overbite

  • Underbite


In addition to correcting crooked teeth, orthodontists are able to assist their patients with many other problems, as well. These problems could include tooth and jaw alignment issues, crossbites, and closing gaps and spaces between teeth. Orthodontists also treat jaw issues, such as temporomandibular disorders (TMD).

Orthodontists typically begin seeing patients around the age of seven, though orthodontics is not limited to strictly children. It’s important for children to see an orthodontist, however, for the sake of their future oral health. Upon examination and after x-rays have been taken of a patient’s teeth, an orthodontist is able to see more clearly any impending problems, such as tooth misalignment and other issues that could cause ongoing problems in the future. These problems can often be addressed before they intensify, saving money, time, and possible discomfort for the patient. Children who are seen by an orthodontist beginning at an early age also typically have less dental problems later in life.

The Bottom Line

Dentists and orthodontists share some similarities, but there are major differences in the services they provide and the methods by which they perform these services. While a dentist is fully capable of providing patients with thorough cleanings and basic oral care information, an orthodontist can assist patients with a wide array of issues all from the same office, thus creating a pleasant and easy dental experience.

Call Us Today

At Childers Orthodontics, our patients receive the care they deserve in a fun, professional, and friendly atmosphere. Learn about our many treatment options and services available by visiting our Treatments page.

If you or a loved one are in need of orthodontic care, please don’t hesitate to call us at Childers Orthodontics. We have been serving the community of Southern Illinois with excellent service and unbeatable orthodontic care since 1990. We would love to assist you with all of your dental and orthodontic needs.

Call any of our 3 convenient locations today to set up an appointment time!

Benton, IL: TEL (618) 438-2815

Harrisburg, IL: TEL (618) 252-0770

Herrin, IL: TEL (618) 997-1800

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

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