Patients often question the difference between a dentist and an orthodontist. In fact, some people mistakenly assume the two are interchangeable. While there are many similarities, there are also significant differences. If you are considering braces, you may be wondering if this is something your dentist can do, or if you will need an orthodontist. It is important to understand what orthodontists like Dr. Kottemann have to offer that general dentists do not. Here at Kottemann Orthodontics we have put together this fact sheet, so you can make an informed decision about who the right caregiver should be for you. Keep reading!

Similarities and Differences

Orthodontists and dentists may deal with many of the same dental issues, but their method of care varies greatly from one another. Dentists address general dental problems like tooth decay and gum disease, so it could be said that they specialize in issues with the teeth and gums. Dentists perform regular cleanings every six months and focus on maintaining their patients’ good oral hygiene. There are dentists who specialize in a particular type of oral care. One example would be that of a periodontist, who is a specialist that treats the gums and the bones beneath the teeth. Orthodontists are dentists who have decided to expand their education by specializing in the alignment of teeth. They spend a lot time studying the jaw and how teeth move and address dental issues with tooth and jaw alignment. They deal most often with malocclusions— issues regarding bite. Some of the most common problems orthodontists treat are:

  • Crowded teeth
  • Crossbite
  • Improperly spaced teeth
  • Overbite
  • Underbite

Education and Training

Orthodontists and dentists both begin their careers by graduating from dental school. But because of its extremely competitive nature, only those students in the top of their dental class will be accepted into an orthodontics residency program. Students undergo an additional two to three years of full-time training concentrating on orthodontia once they are accepted into a program. This includes a focus on braces, bite problems, and straightening teeth. Orthodontists are— simply put— dentists who have specialized, additional training in orthodontics. Most general dentists will not have had this kind of rigorous supplementary training. Only after a dentist has successfully completed this residency program may they refer to themselves as an orthodontist.

Stack of books

Can a General Dentist Straighten Teeth?

Hypothetically— yes, they can. But should they? That is another question altogether.  The dentist providing orthodontic care must be committed to taking continuing education seminars and acquiring experience in the subject. The worrisome part of this is that most of these workshops and seminars lack the kind of rigorous examinations and testing that would truly gauge if the material was mastered.

Dentist vs Orthodontist

It is worth remembering when choosing a treatment provider— which is always the choice of the patient— that an orthodontist will be focused solely on orthodontic issues. Some general dentists may have a fair amount of orthodontic experience but they also focus on many other dental issues. So while they could in fact be a jack of all trades, they may indeed be a master of none. The best way to ensure that you are getting the optimal care you deserve is by receiving treatment from someone who specializes in what you need— an orthodontist. It carries the least risk, and you are assured that your orthodontist is well versed in all the new treatments, as well as the older ones that might be a good fit for you. Orthodontists have the experience and training to deal with whatever issues might arise, and focus on long-term care plans that are individualized for each patient’s unique needs. These plans ensure you finish the process with the healthiest smile possible. With the training to notice the small things a dentist might overlook, orthodontists are able to recommend plans that can save you time and money, as well as reduce the chances of any complications developing.

To sum it all up, here is a Cliff’s Notes version of what we just learned:

  • Dentists will refer their patients to an orthodontist if there are alignment problems or a bite abnormality.
  • Orthodontists focus exclusively on orthodontic care and treatment. As this is their only specialty, they spend a lot of time perfecting it! They perform teeth straightening procedures daily and stay up-to-date on all the best practices and technology, invest in the newest equipment, and are frequent participants and leaders in orthodontic classes, seminars, and workshops.
  • All orthodontists are dentists; however, only about 10% of dentists are orthodontists.
  • Orthodontists complete an additional two or three years of training in a competitive orthodontics residency program.

Kottemann Staff

Because we specialize in one thing here at Kottemann Orthodontics, we can offer the very best customized treatment to each and every patient. General dentists are more inclined to use a one-size-fits-all approach since they deal with many different types of issues. After an initial evaluation, one of our orthodontists will be able to determine if orthodontics will benefit you, and then outline a personalized treatment plan just for you. Even if you decide the time is not right for braces, or just want a second opinion, we are happy to answer any questions or address any concerns you might have in order to make an informed decision.

Kottemann Orthodontics employs a staff of experienced professionals who are specially trained to provide outstanding orthodontic service to our patients, and are committed to excellent service. We offer not only great orthodontic treatment, but also a warm, friendly office atmosphere. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your treatment, please do not hesitate to ask one of our knowledgeable team members. We want you to experience the absolute best in orthodontic care.

It is our privilege to be a part of your journey on the way to a life-changing, beautiful smile.  If you are in the Minneapolis area, stop by one of our five convenient offices, or call us today because there has never been a better time to start on the road to a healthier mouth and straighter smile!