It can be confusing trying to differentiate between all the different types of dentists, so today we’re breaking down exactly what an orthodontist does and how their specialty is different from the other doctors. Next time you need to see an expert, you’ll know exactly where to go!

Orthodontist vs Dentist

Orthodontists are dentists who specialize in realigning the teeth and jaws. To make it simple, just look at the anatomy of the word. “Ortho” means to straight or upright, “odont” means relating to the teeth, and “ist” means a follower of a practice. Therefore, orthodontist means someone who practices straightening teeth.

Although orthodontists are also educated in general dental care, they are trained in a specific subset of skills relating to aligning the teeth. Orthodontists in the US have to complete 4 years of undergraduate school, 4 years of dental school, and 2 years in a post doctoral program for orthodontics.  While they can clean your teeth, diagnose oral diseases, and treat general oral problems, that’s not what they’re trained to do.

If you need a dental cleaning, a general exam, or fillings for cavities, it’s recommended to make an appointment with a general dentist. They will have the equipment and experience necessary to treat your teeth because that is what they do on a daily basis. Orthodontists, on the other hand, may not have the tools or experience needed at the moment because they don’t practice general dentistry regularly.

Orthodontists normally deal with the process of aligning teeth. They can give x-rays to check the alignment of the jaw and teeth. Depending on the office, they are trained in administering different methods of straightening teeth, such as Invisalign, Damon braces, or traditional braces.

Orthodontist vs Pediatric Dentist

After four years of dental school, pediatric dentists participate in a two year program where they learn about dentistry for infants, children, and teens. Oral care for children differs from adults because it primarily deals with the intricacies of developing teeth and jaws. If you have a young one, it’s recommended to go to a pediatric dentist over a dentist because they have the communication skills and tools to work with little kids.

If you’re interested in an early orthodontic screening for your child, you can usually ask either an orthodontist or a pediatric dentist. They both have the x-ray equipment and background knowledge needed to determine whether your child will need two-phase treatment. We recommend seeing both, so you can get a second professional opinion and make your decision from there.

Orthodontist vs Oral Surgeon

An oral surgeon is quite similar to an orthodontist because they both study the use of anesthetics and jaw development. Unlike an orthodontist who works to align the mouth and jaw properly, an oral surgeon studies emergency medicine, plastic surgery, and the anatomy of the ears, nose, throat, muscles, and skin surrounding the mouth region.

If you’re wondering when to visit an oral surgeon, the answer is you might never have to. Oral surgeons can perform restorative surgery to facial trauma, neck problems, or jaw damage. They also have the capability to perform cosmetic surgery for aesthetic reasons. Patients with severely obstructive sleep apnea can also see an oral surgeon for help with the referral of their dentist.

In the event of an orthodontic emergency, patients should go to their orthodontist because the doctor already has an intimate knowledge of the patient’s orthodontic treatment and condition. However, there may be extreme cases where surgery is need to correct a problem, like a dislocated jaw or fractured bone. In that case, the patient will have to see an oral surgeon.  

Orthodontist vs Prosthodontist

Prosthodontists perform many cosmetic procedures, but they cannot realign teeth with braces like orthodontists can. They specialize in creating artificial replacements for the mouth. If you’re interested in getting dental bridges, caps, veneers, or implants, a prosthodontist can help you.

Many general dentists also study prosthodontics and provide the same services. If you’re interested in improving your smile without getting braces, ask your dentist if they also offer prosthodontic cosmetic options.

If you have an more severe teeth problems like hyperdontia (having too many teeth), underbites, crossbites, overbites, or gaps, you’ll want to make an appointment with your orthodontist.

Orthodontist vs Oral Pathologist

Pathology is the study of the cause and effect of diseases and an oral pathologist examines diseases relating to the mouth. If you have a suspicious growth or condition around your orofacial area, your orthodontist may refer you to an oral pathologist. There, the oral pathologist will attempt to diagnose whether you have an oral disease and what it is. This can be done by swabbing the mouth or taking a sample of tissue. Oral diseases include oral cancer, herpes, fungal infections, and more.

Should you notice something unusual growing around or in your mouth, ask your dentist about it before going to an oral pathologist. While your orthodontist may be able to guess what’s wrong with the affected area as they’re working on your braces, they might not be able to see or treat it, so schedule an appointment for your general dentist if you’re concerned. Your dentist can tell you need to be tested by an oral pathologist. Prevention is key to oral health and it’s better to be safe than sorry!

Orthodontist vs Endodontist

All dentists, regardless of what they specialize in, are trained to a certain degree about endodontics, which is the study of the inside of the tooth. Endodontists are dentists who work extensively to treat problems with the dental pulp, which is in the very center of the tooth. Your dentist may refer you to an endodontist if you need a complicated root canal surgery. Worry not, root canals may be scary, but endodontists are trained to make them as quick, painless, and successful as possible.

The dental pulp is made of soft tissue, performs sensory functions, produces dentin, and provides nutrients to the rest of the tooth. It is a central part of the tooth, so it’s important that it’s well maintained. Before an orthodontist can recommend a braces treatment to a patient, it’s vital that the patient has strong teeth and healthy dental pulp. A dental professional would never recommend moving teeth if the roots are infected or weak. Luckily, endodontists can treat these problems before you visit an orthodontist.

There you have it; these are the most popular types of dentists and when you should visit them. At Showtime Smiles, our orthodontist also practices pediatric dentistry, so you can save time by visiting one office for two services. Dr. Dan is an expert at diagnosing and treating children’s teeth, but he also has years of experience performing orthodontics. If your child needs another type of dental specialist, feel free to call our dental office in McKinney – we can give you more information and give you a list of other dental specialists.

If you are considering visiting an orthodontist or getting braces, feel free to contact us!

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