Both dentists and orthodontists work on their patients’ teeth. Both have medical degrees. But there are some differences, and they stem from the fact that orthodontics is a specialty within dentistry. The American Dental Association recognizes nine specialties within the field of dentistry and “orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics” is one of them. In other words, all orthodontists are also dentists, but not all dentists are orthodontists.
What Do They Do?
A dentist is the primary care physician of a patient’s teeth, gums, and related structures. They perform routine work like check-ups, X-rays, and teeth cleaning. They will also fill cavities, extract teeth, and make models for dentures. Other services offered by a dentist can include the following:
- Root canals
- Teeth whitening
An orthodontist, by contrast, specializes in straightening teeth. They make sure that the patient’s jaws and teeth are properly aligned. They therefore prevent, diagnose, and treat malocclusions. The orthodontist is the specialist a patient will visit if they need corrective devices like braces, retainers, or palatal expanders.
What is Their Education Like?
As an orthodontist is a dental specialist, they will undergo a more extensive education than a dentist will. They will earn either a DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine) or a DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) after college. The curricula of the two degrees are identical; the difference lies in which school awarded the degree.
While the dentist may begin practicing, the orthodontist needs to serve a residency at an orthodontics program. The residency generally lasts two or three years. If the candidate finishes it successfully, they receive a Master of Science degree and can add an “MS” to their name. The orthodontist therefore needs to complete 2 to 3 more years of higher education than the dentist.
When Should People Have Their First Appointments?
As a dentist is the primary care physician of a patient’s teeth, a child should be taken for their first dental appointment about six months after their first tooth emerges. Taking good care of baby teeth is important, for they enable the child to chew and speak properly. In addition, dentists educate their patients about proper oral care, and the child should learn good habits as soon as possible. A baby’s parents will also need guidance in the proper care of their child’s teeth.
Children should have their first visit with an orthodontist by the time they are seven years old. At that age some of their adult teeth will have started growing in. The orthodontist can examine the child and spot problems like crowding or an unduly small palate. If the orthodontist corrects such problems as soon as they find them, they can prevent further issues with the child’s permanent teeth.
For more information, you can contact our office at Lach Orthodontic Specialists in one of our two locations in Oviedo and Orlando. Dr. Lach is the top 1% provider, and number one in Invisalign, so you know you are in the best care!