Knowing whether to make an appointment with an orthodontist vs a dentist might be difficult when you have concerns about your oral health. While they’re both dental professionals, dentists and orthodontists have different roles and expertise. Knowing the difference between the two can help you understand when to see each professional. 

Keep reading to learn about the roles dentists and orthodontists play in the world of dental hygiene. 

The role of a dentist vs. an orthodontist

Dentists and orthodontists focus on oral health, but their roles differ. Dentists are general oral health care providers who focus on preventing, diagnosing and treating dental diseases and conditions. 

Orthodontists, however, focus on the alignment, positioning and movement of the teeth and jaw. You can think of orthodontists as dentists with additional training. 

When to see your orthodontist

An orthodontist can identify problems of misalignment early on and develop a treatment plan. You should consider going to an orthodontist for dental issues, including:

  • Spacing
  • Crowding
  • Overbite
  • Underbite
  • Overjet

What treatments can orthodontists perform?

Orthodontists offer a range of treatments that aim to align the teeth or address issues related to jaw position and discomfort. These treatments include:

  • Metal braces
  • Ceramic braces
  • Invisible aligners
  • Retainers
  • Palatal expanders
  • Jaw surgery
  • Palate expansion

Orthodontists can also treat problems related to speech, breathing and sleeping disorders by correcting issues associated with the positioning of the teeth and jaws.

When shouldn’t you see an orthodontist?

You may want to instantly turn to an orthodontist to correct your crooked teeth, but addressing underlying dental issues is vital. 

If you have cavities, gum disease or other dental problems, seeking treatment from an orthodontist may only exacerbate these issues. In fact, straightening teeth without first addressing underlying dental issues can lead to further complications, like tooth decay or gum inflammation. 

It’s always best to consult your dentist first and create a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses all dental concerns before seeking orthodontic treatment.

When to see your dentist

Generally, you should see your dentist every six months for a check-up. This routine visit allows the dentist to assess your oral health and detect any potential issues early on. 

You should also see your dentist when you experience tooth pain, sensitivity, bleeding gums, or a chipped or broken tooth. If you’re due for a dental cleaning or regular check-up or concerned about your oral health, your dentist is the person to see.

What treatments can dentists perform?

  • Fillings
  • Crowns
  • Bridges
  • Dentures
  • Root canals
  • Teeth whitening
  • Veneers
  • Dental bonding
  • Bone grafting

Dentists can also provide preventive care like fluoride treatments, sealants and oral cancer screenings. 

Dentist or orthodontist?

Knowing when to see a dentist versus an orthodontist can help you take better care of your oral health. If you’re experiencing tooth pain, sensitivity, bleeding gums, or are due for a dental cleaning—your dentist is the person to see. For issues related to alignment or movement of teeth and jaws, consider making an appointment with an orthodontist. An orthodontist can also help you understand how much aligners cost.

Ultimately, taking care of your oral health means knowing when to seek the care of each provider and staying on top of routine check-ups and preventative maintenance.