Orthodontists vs Dentists

If you’ve ever been on the hunt for someone new to take care of your teeth, you might have found yourself a little confused while searching the Internet. Dentist? Orthodontist? Could they be the same thing?

The answer is no! There are several key distinctions, and our team at Westfall Orthodontics can help you understand the difference between an orthodontist and a dentist!

The Basic Differences

Both dentists and orthodontists are experts in the dental field, but they play different roles. Here are their general descriptions before we move on to more specific qualities of their practice:

  • A dentist is a general dental practitioner. In medical terms, you can think of them as your primary care provider, as opposed to a specialist they refer you to for a specific issue (like an orthodontist). Their range of services is vast, serving to diagnose and treat various dental issues like tooth decay, gum disease, or oral infections. They will also perform procedures like cleanings, fillings, and extractions.
  • An orthodontist, like Dr. Westfall, specializes in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of dental and facial irregularities (i.e., crooked teeth). They are the people responsible for correcting and straightening smiles or restoring proper bite alignment.

Comparing & Contrasting 

With these broad definitions in mind, let’s look at a couple of topics and see how dentists and orthodontists compare in their practice and background!

  • Education and Training: 
  • Dentists: Dentists will complete a general dentistry program through a dental school to earn a DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine) or DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) degree. At that point, they can choose whether to pursue general dentistry or a narrow specialization in the field.
  • Orthodontists: These are dentists who have had additional training in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics. This generally consists of a further two to three years of education before they are called experts in the orthodontic field.
  • Scope of Practice: 
  • Dentists: Typically, a dentist is the first point of contact for a patient. Dentists still perform restorative and cosmetic services of their own but can make the call as to when it’s appropriate to issue a referral.
  • Orthodontists: Orthodontists use appliances like braces and clear aligners to correct issues of teeth and jaw alignment. These and other treatments can also be used for aesthetic purposes, depending on the patient.

What To Expect With Your Dentist

If you don’t have braces, you’ve likely never visited an orthodontist and are only familiar with the procedures of a dentist. You usually have periodic appointments that can address the following:

  • Dental Cleanings: Dentists and dental hygienists can perform professional cleanings to remove plaque and tartar build-up from your teeth, which can be beneficial even to those with excellent oral hygiene practices, but even more so to those who may struggle.
  • X-rays: You’ll get regularly updated x-rays taken based on your dental situation, which are key tools for a doctor to refer to. Not only will it reveal internal issues within your teeth, but it can also provide an additional view of your jawbone.
  • Oral Exams: Dentists will take a look at the state of your individual teeth, as well as your gums and oral tissues. This examination can detect early signs of issues like cavities or oral diseases. During this process, the x-ray can provide clarity towards any discomfort that may not have an outwardly visible cause.
  • Restorative Procedures: Fillings are one of the most common procedures performed by a general dentist, usually addressing cavities and decay. But they can also apply crowns, bridges, and even dental implants to repair badly damaged or missing teeth.
  • Oral Surgery: In more serious situations, dentists can perform procedures like root canals or extractions.

Orthodontists vs Dentists

When You’re Referred to an Orthodontist

If a dentist detects or suspects issues related to tooth alignment or bite problems, for example, it may be time for a specialist to step in! Here are some of the most common conditions that will constitute an orthodontic referral:

  • Malocclusion
  • Crowding
  • Spacing Issues
  • Crooked Teeth 
  • Impacted Teeth

Orthodontic treatment is often a collaborative one between the patient, dentist, and orthodontist to ensure comprehensive oral care.

What To Expect With Your Orthodontist

So, maybe this is the point when you find yourself meeting Dr. Westfall! Like your dentist, our team will conduct a thorough diagnosis using tools like x-rays to evaluate your issue first. Here’s some of what you can expect in an office like ours:

  • Braces and Orthodontic Appliances: By far the most common treatment for teeth straightening, orthodontists can employ traditional braces, clear aligners, headgear, palate expanders, or other options, depending on your situation. At Westfall Orthodontics, we offer metal braces, clear braces, and Invisalign to our patients across Virginia!
  • Custom Treatment Plans: After making a diagnosis, we create personalized treatment plans. These plans outline the specific orthodontic procedures needed to correct your alignment issues.
    • Patient Education: Orthodontists provide education to patients and their families about proper care for orthodontic appliances, oral hygiene, and dietary considerations during treatment. Regardless of your age, we can answer any questions you have to help improve the quality of your orthodontic health.
  • Orthodontic Surgery: Some orthodontists can collaborate with oral and maxillofacial surgeons to correct severe jaw or facial alignment issues.

Orthodontists vs Dentists

Your Health Is The Top Priority

For both general dentists and orthodontics offices like our own, patients are the most vital part of our practice! We all work tirelessly to ensure any issues you’re facing can be corrected professionally and properly. If you have any questions or would like to schedule a consultation with Dr. Westfall, you can reach us at one of our three VA locations: Abingdon, Richlands, or Bristol.