What’s the Difference Between a Dentist and an Orthodontist? 3 Ways to Tell.

Typically when people consider braces they have a lot of questions. Questions such as, “how is an orthodontist different from a dentist?” “Do I have to go to an orthodontist vs. a dentist to get braces?”

Getting braces is a big step towards getting the smile you’ve always wanted but it’s wise to do your homework before you make that first appointment. Let’s answer some of the most common questions and clear up misconceptions that patients have.

1. What is an orthodontist?

To put it simply, orthodontists are dentists, but dentists are not orthodontists. Dentists and orthodontists are similar in that they are doctors who address oral health. Both have completed undergraduate studies at a four-year college followed by a four-year doctoral program at a dental school. However, orthodontists spend an additional 2-3 years in an orthodontic residency program focusing specifically on tooth movement and jaw/facial development. Because of this additional training, an orthodontist is a specialist who is equipped to diagnose and treat misalignment of the teeth and jaw.

Would you rather entrust your teeth and jawline to someone 2-3 years of advanced training or see a generalist?

2. Orthodontists are specialists in craniofacial development.

Craniofacial development is the scientific term for how our faces grow over time. A careful consideration of a child’s physiological development must underpin every orthodontic solution. The science of orthodontics guides jaw and tooth position. Doctors most often get a better result when orthodontic therapy is used in a growing patient because we can use their growth to help align their jaws and teeth in the desired positions.

3. Orthodontists are specialists in moving teeth and aligning jaws.

A dentist’s primary focus is tooth health, gum care, fillings, crowns, root canals, and other oral health concerns. Tooth movement and jaw or facial growth are not their primary focus. Shifting your teeth to align with your jaw is a medical procedure that should be left to someone with specialized training and experience.

This is why your family dentist shouldn’t and probably won’t handle your orthodontic care. Similar to other areas of medical expertise, you wouldn’t go to your general practitioner for sinus surgery. You would be referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist for that. It’s the same with dentists and orthodontists: your dentist should refer you to an orthodontist for braces.

Similarly, while you may see solutions advertised online that promise a quick fix for your misaligned teeth or bite, you should not purchase orthodontic appliances online. All orthodontic treatments, including the use of clear aligners, should be under the supervision of a trained specialist who can monitor your progress and address any concerns you have in-person.

What Are Orthodontic Services?

Now that you better understand the differences between a dentist and an orthodontist you still may be wondering which specific services you can see an orthodontist for.

Orthodontists typically offer the following:

  • Children’s braces
  • Adult braces
  • Treatment for TMJ/Disorders of the temporomandibular joint
  • Clear dental aligners
  • Retainers

When you decide to have braces, for example, you’re embarking on a relationship with an orthodontist and team of assistants who will walk with you from start to finish as we help you achieve your best smile. Braces involve regular appointments for adjustments as your treatment progresses and follow-up to retain your improved bite after your braces are removed.

An Experienced and Skilled Orthodontist Serving All of Memphis

The experienced team at Piper Orthodontics is led by Fred Piper, D.D.S., M.S., who has more than 35 years of experience in correcting issues of teeth and jaw alignment. His additional years of residency qualify him as a specialist in craniofacial growth and development. In fact, his thesis focused on early care and adolescent growth, which he has continued to emphasize in his practice since 1986.

If you or your child are considering braces, we always offer free initial consultations. We would love to meet with you, evaluate your bite, and discuss your goals for your smile. To schedule your evaluation, call our office at 901.756.4316.