Orthodontist vs Dentist: How They Are Different and Why It Matters


You undoubtedly already have a dentist.
But when it comes to considering an orthodontist, you’re probably wondering:Isn’t that going to cost us a lot just to get in and see them…and even more if my kids need braces?We’re a busy family. . How many  appointments will this be, on top of the trips to the dentist and family doctor? Do I really need to get orthodontic check-ups for my kids, or is this just another gimmick?

Don’t worry, these are all reasonable questions! It is true that, today, quite a few dentists dance over into the orthodontists’ territory, and although they’re not permitted to claim they’re the same as orthodontists, they’re able to do things like provide Invisalign and other braces.

This can be confusing, so keep reading for the facts.


How Is An Orthodontist Different From a Dentist?

All orthodontists are dentists and we all graduate from the same dental schools.

But that’s where education and training stops for dentists.

Orthodontists continue to go to school for an additional two to three years in order to become credentialed specialists at diagnosing and providing the best treatment for conditions like:

  • Difficulties chewing or biting
  • Constant biting into the cheek, gums, or roof of the mouth
  • Teeth that meet abnormally or don’t meet at all
  • Teeth grinding or clenching
  • Crowded, misplaced or blocked out teeth
  • Early or late loss of teeth
  • Teeth grown in badly
  • Teeth that protrude
  • Embarrassing personal appearance due to teeth
  • Facial imbalances
  • Teeth or jaw misalignment, TMJ
  • Chronic headaches and migraines
  • Poor sleep
  • Speech difficulties

These are not dental care issues. They are orthodontic issues.

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Why You Should Choose a Specialist When Getting Braces for Kids

For some things, a generalist or jack-of-all-trades will do the job.

But for more specific and complex things, common sense tells us to seek out the best specialist we can afford.

Take your taxes as a good example……

If all your income is in a single W-2 from one employer, getting your taxes prepared at the seasonal pop-up H&R Block is probably fine.

But if you have a W-2 to report and a 1099, and investment income from real estate and you own stocks and you raise iguanas as a money hobby…

…you’ll be looking for a good CPA without a second thought.

Why are we so quick to find a specialist for our finances, but less so to find the most qualified person for your oral care, or the oral care of a child?

Typically it’s misinformation, or not having enough information. Let’s clear that up right now with more key distinctions between a dentist and an orthodontist.

Orthodontist vs Dentist or Specialist vs Generalist

There are a few things to keep in mind when differentiating between an orthodontist vs a dentist.

First, generalists or jacks-of-all-trades tend to work with one-size-fits-all, off-the-rack, standardized solutions.

They may be limited to doing what the computer tells them. You’ll notice that the consultation feels scripted and that the advice doesn’t seem to come from their expertise or judgement.

Generalists also typically work with products from only one provider, without being able to select from a full range of options that would work best for you. Specialists, instead, tend to individually and carefully diagnose needs and provide personalized solutions.

Second, generalists, and their standardized solutions, tend to be cheaper than a specialist – but there’s a catch. By being the lowest bidder, they place economic pressure on themselves that could compromise the safety and accuracy of an operation.

In this case, it’s worth remembering that whatever type of treatment you choose for yourself or your child will have permanent and impactful consequences.

All of this means that, if  you can, you want to choose a specialist (orthodontist) rather than a generalist (dentist) when getting braces for kids.

Orthodontist vs Dentist vs Pediatric Dentist

Here are the expected roles from each of these three positions:

General Dentist. A general dentist gives routine checkups, preventative measures, cleans teeth, and fixes cavities. They may not start seeing children until they are seven to ten years old.
Pediatric Dentist. A pediatric dentist has two to three years of specialized education beyond dental school. They specialize in providing dental care to children and adolescents, offering checkups, preventative measures, cleanings, and cavities.
Orthodontist. An orthodontist has two to three years of specialized education beyond dental school and is an expert at straightening teeth and aligning the jaws. They assess patients and determine the best treatment route to straighten their teeth and align their jaws.

How Can I Tell If They’re an Orthodontist?

You may ask, how do I know my doctor is an orthodontist?

Start by looking for proper certification. Only orthodontists can belong to the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO). You can go to the AAO website by clicking here, and select the option “Choose an Orthodontist” to find a specialist near you.

orthodontist vs dentist

Alternatively, you can ask your doctor if he or she has completed a two- to three-year residency in orthodontics and check with your state dental board to follow up on his reply.

Dentists and orthodontists will be registered by their specific title in most state dental boards.

Do your homework; be a “dental detective” on the hunt for the correct credentials. Look for the words “specialist in orthodontics” on their website.

In urban and suburban areas, it will take minimal effort to find a specialist. In more remote, rural locations, your search might take you to another city or town. The travel will be worth it.

Don’t be afraid to ask your dentist if an orthodontist travels to your town every month to see patients. There’s a chance an orthodontist from a larger city comes to your town and works out of another dental office once or twice per month.

Looking around can save valuable driving time and money.

Important Note : there is no disrespect between orthodontists and dentists. As a matter of fact, many orthodontic patients are referred by their dentists.

Just as the family doctor refers his patients with possible or significant heart disease issues to a cardiologist, and if need be, the cardiologist refers to a surgeon, most dentists refer patients with orthodontic needs to orthodontists.

Orthodontists are required to take two to three extra years of university education beyond dental school and additional continuing clinical education every year. They must also invest in state-of-the-art technology for their offices (not found in dental offices)—all for a good reason.

Even though we orthodontists have the education and training to perform general dentist procedures, we don’t. We specialize.

Now that you know how to compare an orthodontist vs dentist like an expert, let’s talk about how to pick the best orthodontist when getting braces for kids.

Schedule a Free Orthodontic Consultation For Your Child
You can schedule a 100% free consultation for you or your child with Premier Orthodontics to find out if and when your child needs braces.

At your initial exam and consultation you’ll discover:

  • Does my child need braces?
  • What costs should I expect?
  • How long will the treatment take?

Click Here to Schedule Your Free Consultation With Our Online Scheduling Tool


"I just started taking my 5yo here and he needed a lot of work. The staff here has done an awesome job of making him comfortable during some tough procedures. After 3 pretty intense visits, he still walks right in with a smile."

Curt S.

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"Dr. Coles is a fantastic orthodontist who cares about his patient well-being. It’s a great feeling to look forward to every appointment. I have complete confidence in Dr. Coles and his staff and have recommended him to my friends. My mom recommended orthodontist, Dr. Coles to me and it was the best decision of my life. I am highly satisfied with my care and treatment!"

Ruben F.

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"I can’t say enough good things about premier orthodontics. The staff and orthodontists are amazing. They explain step by step procedures and I completely trust them. I can’t Thank them enough for what they’ve done for me!"

Annette P.

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"Dr. Coles and his staff are caring and professional! I would definitely recommend this office for any orthodontic needs. My son, daughter, and myself are former and current patients. State-of-the-art office with wi-fi, water and cookies in the lobby. It’s a pleasure coming here!"

Dana P.

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"From the consultation until the completion of my daughter’s treatment, everyone at Premier was awesome to deal with. They even squeezed us in when we showed up on the wrong week for our appointment. There was literally no issues during the entire process. They communicated everything clearly and we’re always very professional, supportive, and flexible. I can’t recommend them enough, they are the best!"

Kevin M.

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*The reviews listed are from actual patients of Premier Orthodontics. Individual results may vary. Reviews are not claimed to represent results for everyone.

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Chandler / Gilbert, AZ Orthodontists For Braces
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Arizona (AZ) Orthodontists, Dr. Dustin Coles, Dr. Tyler Coles, Dr. Daniel Coles, Dr. Hemali Kothari, and Dr. Prashansa Sharma-Makwana of Premier Orthodontics offer the most advanced braces for children, teens and adults, including metal braces, clear ceramic braces, damon braces, Invisalign and orthodontic treatment. With 7 convenient orthodontic offices located in Chandler AZ, Maricopa AZ, Casa Grande AZ, and Phoenix AZ, there is sure to be an office convenient to you. Call us today for a free consultation for braces at any of our seven conveniently located orthodontic offices in Arizona!

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