Dentist vs. Orthodontist for Braces

At Szymanowski Orthodontics, we get plenty of questions about the differences between a dentist and an orthodontist, especially when it comes to braces. A lot of parents think “Why can’t my regular dentist work on my child’s braces?” but they don’t understand how many advantages there are in visiting an orthodontist to get your child’s braces put on. What a lot of people may not know is that dentists and orthodontists don’t specialize in the same dental problems. There is a reason that orthodontists specialize in braces, and it’s very beneficial to know why! There are a few similarities between the two, but there are also a lot of differences, and Szymanowski Orthodontics wants to help you understand the differences between the two!


Similarities and Differences

Sure, you know they both deal with the mouth, but do you know the real differences between the two doctors? They deal with similar dental issues, but the difference is in the methods of care that they provide for patients.

Dentists specialize in more general health problems of the teeth and gums, such as tooth decay, gum disease, and general upkeep of teeth. They encourage good dental hygiene and recommend dental cleanings every six months.

Orthodontists, however, study bites and malocclusions, which are problems with bites, such as:

  • Overbites
  • Underbites
  • Crossbites
  • Crowded teeth
  • Improperly spaced teeth


There are also other dentists who specialize in other types of dental issues. For example, a periodontist is a kind of dentist that treats the bones below the gums and the teeth. So you can just think of an orthodontist as someone that specializes in the alignment of teeth!



stack of school textbooksIt’s no surprise that dentists and orthodontists both go to dental school, but what you may not know is that orthodontists have a more difficult path. Dentists that want to specialize in orthodontics have to go into a specialized training program for an extra two or three years following dental school. Once dentists have completed dental school, only the best of those students in the class can go on to this particular training for a specialty in orthodontics. Acceptance into orthodontic programs is very competitive! Once they get accepted, they have to go through two to three years of extra training in orthodontia, which includes braces, bites and bite problems, jaws, and straightening teeth. Some dentists decide to go through this rigorous training, but most do not. A dentist can refer to themselves as an orthodontist only after they have successfully finished this program. So essentially, all orthodontists are dentists, but not all dentists are orthodontists.


So can a general dentist straighten teeth?

In a short answer, yes, but it can come with possible limitations. A general dentist can perform orthodontic care, but only if they are continually attending seminars and acquiring experience on the subject. For example, a general dentist would have to attend specific seminars before being able to introduce a treatment like Invisalign to their practice. Although, these workshops don’t provide the in-depth examinations and testing that the orthodontist training program can provide, so learning how to perform orthodontic procedures is not as thorough of a process. Also, from an orthodontist’s standpoint, these seminars are also not enough as they teach a superficial understanding of methods, so they might not provide the absolute best care that they could for each patient on such little knowledge of the subject. For this reason, a lot of dentists will recommend an orthodontist for their patient for bite or jaw problems.


Can I still choose my dentist as my orthodontic care provider?

man with questions weighing riskIt’s not uncommon for people to go to go to their general dentist to receive orthodontic care if they offer it. But you might want to consider these questions before you decide to go right for it:


  • Are you confident that your dentist could provide the same level of care than a licensed orthodontist could?
  • Does your dentist have a similar level of experience that a licensed orthodontist might?
  • How many cases has your dentist treated in the past?
  • Has your dentist ever had to send a case like yours out to an orthodontist?


Unlike general dentists, orthodontists specialize in orthodontic care (that seems like a no-brainer!). Since this is our specialty, we devote a lot of time and care into it! At Szymanowski Orthodontics, we perform procedures on straightening teeth daily, and we are always up-to-date with the latest technology. We also have the latest equipment and regularly participate in orthodontic classes and workshops. Because we are orthodontists trained in special procedures for orthodontic treatment, we can provide the best care available for each patient, whereas a dentist might choose a one-size-fits-all approach.


So does it matter which one I choose?

The decision is really up to you as the patient, but think about it like this: wouldn’t you rather have a cardiologist perform surgery on your heart rather than a general surgeon? Obviously, the cardiologist would have had much more rigorous training in that field than a general surgeon, and the same thing applies to your teeth! You wouldn’t want someone to work on specific aspects of your teeth who doesn’t have specialized training in that particular field and procedure. Having a dentist work on your orthodontic procedures is like having heart surgery performed by a general physician. It can be done, but how much are you willing to risk?

At Szymanowski Orthodontics, we want to provide the absolute best care for each patient so that they can have long-term results that they’ll be thrilled with. We strive to give the best results with the latest equipment and knowledge. And don’t worry; orthodontic treatment goes hand in hand with regular dental hygiene, so you can still visit your regular dentist for your six-month cleanings while visiting an orthodontist for braces or other orthodontic care. If you’re looking for orthodontic care and would like to visit an orthodontist, come to Szymanowski Orthodontics and see what your options are. You can click here to schedule a consultation or call us at 916.993.4171. We hope to see you soon!