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What is the difference between a dentist and an orthodontist? Does it matter whom you see?

Dentists and orthodontists both help patients with their oral health and both graduate from dental school, so it can be easy to confuse the two. Your dentist may even offer some orthodontic services, so what gives?

Here is what you need to know.


Dentists are general practitioners, who are qualified to care for your general oral health. They clean teeth, fix cavities, prevent gum disease, and perform oral cancer screenings. Dentists have eight years of higher education and pass written and clinical exams to become licensed.

Orthodontists, on the other hand, are specialists. They also attend dental school, meaning all orthodontists are dentists, but most dentists are not orthodontists. That’s because orthodontic education includes a two- to three-year residency and a special license. Orthodontists are then able to help you improve your bite.

“Orthodontists are specialists who focus on the bite — how teeth meet and function, how they are aligned, how they are set in the jaws, and the positioning and sizes of the upper and lower jaws,” according to the American Association of Orthodontists.

Why orthodontic care matters

Not only can a misaligned bite affect eating and speaking, teeth that are not straight can create other problems.

“Leaving misaligned teeth untreated may lead to other dental problems such as tooth decay, gum disease, abnormal wearing of tooth enamel and difficulty chewing,” according to the AAO.

Fortunately, there are many affordable options for straightening teeth, including traditional braces and clear aligners, like the popular Invisalign.

“Invisalign treatment is the most advanced clear aligner system in the world, backed by more than two decades of innovation,” according to “Unlike braces, Invisalign clear aligners are removable and virtually invisible. There are no wires and brackets, so you don’t need to change the way you brush and floss. And, you can continue to eat all your favorite foods.”

These options are important, not only for improving the look of your smile but for correcting any major issues. For example, misaligned teeth can be a symptom of a misaligned jaw, which can cause temporomandibular joint dysfunction pain, better known as TMJ, as well as problems chewing or speaking, sleep apnea, and increased risk for other dental issues, according to the AAO.

Correcting a misaligned jaw may involve a combination of braces, headgear, jaw expanders, or surgery, or an advanced Invisalign provider can often treat it all with clear aligners along with attachments – small, clear ‘dots’ placed on the teeth which help the aligners move teeth more precisely.

Where to get treatment

While dental care is essential for overall health, it is important to see a specialist for issues beyond cavities and gum disease. Even if a dentist offers orthodontic services, an orthodontist has more training and experience with teeth and jaw alignment.

For example, orthodontists spend several years learning about the effects and treatments for misaligned jaws so, when it comes to TMJ, they better understand the causes and treatment options.

Trinity Orthodontics uses advanced treatment plans and custom orthodontic care to provide you with a straight, beautiful smile quickly and efficiently. Whether your misaligned teeth are causing TMJ or you want to be able to smile with confidence, the knowledgeable and experienced team can help.

For more information about orthodontic care or to request an initial consultation, contact our team today.