The medical and dental field has evolved at such a pace, and to such an extent that broad disciplines have divided and subdivided into specialties and sub-specialties. For many people who just don’t have the time or knowledge to know who does what in the medical field, being a little more informed can go a long way towards getting the right care that you need. This is equally true in the field of dentistry, with various types of specialists in the field of oral health with distinctive roles as they operate in the small space of mouth and jaw.
Oral health is a very serious issue. The mouth is the gateway to your overall health. It provides life-giving nutrition into the body, and can also harbor plenty of bacteria. Healthy teeth and gums are critical to maintaining this process.
Dentistry is a broad medical field that covers teeth, gum, nerves, and jaws. Orthodontists and dentists both specialize in oral health in different ways. Orthodontics is a dental specialty that concentrates on correcting over and under bites, malocclusion, and the alignment of teeth and jaws.
Hence all orthodontists are dentists, but not all dentists are orthodontists.
Similarities Between Dentists and Orthodontists
- Both undergo 4 years of undergraduate and 4 years of medical school, making both medical doctors.
- Dentistry degrees are tagged DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery), or DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine). Both are identical qualifications.
- They both focus on oral hygiene, care and treatment.
- Orthodontists can work in a dental office and provide the same care as a dentist.
Differences Between Dentists and Orthodontists
- Orthodontists require additional 2-3 years specialized schooling and training.
- They usually add the letters MS to their dental degree, for Master of Science.
- Less than 10% of dentists are orthodontists.
- They focus on the movement and alignment of teeth and jaws.
- They fit corrective devices.
Services Provided by Dentists
The primary care dental provider manages a patient’s overall oral health. He can perform routine periodical check-ups, cleaning, and X-rays. Dentists diagnose and treat any number of dental conditions. They remove or repair problem or damaged teeth, fill cavities and design dentures, among other things:
- Fighting tooth decay & tartar
- Root canals & Extractions
- Gum disease and care, including oral cancer screening
- Crowns, Bridges, and Veneers
- Teeth whitening treatment
- TMJ disorder
- Preventive education
Services Provided by Orthodontists
Orthodontia, is also known as orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics. A dentist refers patients to an orthodontist for treatments or procedures that are beyond their area of expertise. The specialty focuses on the diagnosis, prevention, and correction of malpositioned teeth and jaws.
Orthodontists help teeth and jaws work in unison to enable comfortable speech, biting, and chewing, often dealing with:
- Realignment and straightening of teeth and jaws.
- Malocclusions – cross, over and under bites.
- Spacing of gaps or overcrowded teeth.
- Fixing crooked smiles.
- Wires, braces, and retainers
- Other corrective appliances
- Cosmetic dental surgery
The easiest way to understand the difference is to equate dentists to internal medicine doctors who are your gatekeepers of dental health over a broad spectrum. They refer patients to specialists if needed.
Similarly, your dentist will look after your general oral hygiene and procedures, referring you to an orthodontist (or another dental specialist), if he deems it necessary.
The situation is similar to a doctor who obtains additional schooling to become a specialist.
One bad tooth, if ignored, can start an infection, loss of jawbone, affect mobility of other teeth, and cause a domino effect. The saying, “a stitch in time saves nine,” literally applies to dental health. Basically, meaning that if you don’t take care of one thing now, several problems may pop up down the road.
Healthy teeth improve looks and give a brighter smile. More importantly, natural teeth last longer by avoiding tooth decay, periodontal and other diseases. Oral health issues can lead to graver problems like obesity, malnutrition, and even heart disease.