What is the difference between an orthodontist and a dentist? You know there’s a difference, but you’re unsure what it is. And what the heck is an endodontist? All of these doctors have one thing in common: teeth. They’re all passionate about helping you have a beautiful, healthy smile.

Dentists specialize in oral healthcare and attended four years of dental school. General dentists are trained to treat and diagnose conditions of your mouth, gums, teeth, and tongue.

Orthodontists went to the same four years of dental school but also received additional education to specialize in the misalignment of teeth and jaws. They don’t deal with preventative care such as routine teeth cleanings and cavities.

While general dentists can do a wide variety of treatment care, orthodontists specialize in alignment. Let’s explore some more differences, so you know if you should visit an orthodontist or a dentist.

Should You see a General Dentist, an Orthodontist or Another Specialist



Dentists either have a DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or a DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine). The two degrees are interchangeable and result from the same education. The degree type you get depends on the university you went to, but the two have the same curriculum and requirements.

Around 80% of dentists decide to practice general dentistry. A general dentist diagnoses and treats oral conditions of the mouth, tongue, gums, and teeth. They also clean teeth; however, that’s usually one of their dental hygienist’s main jobs.

Dentists can do straightforward cases of braces and aligners if they wish to. Dentists also:

  • Perform and analyze X-rays of the mouth
  • Do cavity fills
  • Extract teeth
  • Repair teeth
  • Perform oral surgery
  • Educate on oral hygiene
  • Bond teeth
  • Treat oral diseases
  • Prescribe treatment
  • Perform teeth whitening
  • Install veneers and crowns
  • Track the development of pediatric teeth


Orthodontists went to four years of dental school and received either a DDS or DMD. After that, they went to an additional 2-3 years of schooling in an orthodontic grad program to become an orthodontist specializing in tooth and jaw alignment.

Orthodontics is a specialty. It involves diagnosing and treating oral health conditions of the mouth, gums, and teeth. An orthodontist’s primary focus is ensuring jaws are aligned correctly.


  • Oversee facial growth in pediatrics (jawline and bite)
  • Identify, diagnose, and treat misaligned jaws and teeth
  • Create treatments plans for braces, clear aligners, and retainers
  • Apply dental appliances such as braces, expanders, or headgear
  • Perform surgery for teeth straightening

Which One Should you see?

Your dentist will be your general practitioner, and your orthodontist will be a specialist. Your dentist can take care of your routine teeth cleanings and most dental issues, such as tooth pain, decay, tooth repair, gum disease treatment, oral infection care, and extractions.

Your dentist may refer you to an orthodontist for a severe case involving jaw malocclusion, palate expansion, or tooth crowding.

We recommend that your children see an orthodontist before their seventh birthday for a jaw and braces assessment. It’s important to catch any major alignment issues early so your orthodontist can create a treatment plan. Adults who have a misaligned jawline should also see an orthodontist.

Since an orthodontist is a specialist, you may need a referral from your dental insurance to cover the visit, so keep that in mind before scheduling.

What do Other Specialists Do?

  • Endodontist: Diagnoses, treats, and prevents infections or injuries in the tooth pulp or nerve. A standard procedure that an endodontist would perform is a root canal.
  • Periodontist: Prevents, diagnoses, and treats soft tissue (gum) diseases of the teeth and the bones of the teeth. They also treat periodontal diseases such as gingivitis.
  • Prosthodontist: Diagnoses and treats oral function associated with bad or missing teeth and oral maxillofacial tissues using biocompatible substitutes. A prosthodontist repairs natural teeth and replaces missing teeth for more complex cases than a general dentist. Treatment often includes crowns or dentures.
  • Pediatric Dentist: Provides primary and preventative oral care for infants and children through adolescence.
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon: Treats diseases, injuries, and defects in functional and aesthetic areas of the hard and soft tissues of the mouth, jaw, face, and neck. This includes wisdom teeth extraction, surgery to correct injuries from facial trauma, cancer treatment (for oral, head, and neck cancer), cleft lip and palate surgery, jaw alignment surgery, etc.
  • Oral and maxillofacial Radiologist: Interprets dental images to diagnose and manage diseases and conditions in the mouth, jaw, face, and neck.
  • Dentist Anesthesiologist: Manages patient health, such as pain and anxiety during oral surgery.

Did you know there were so many specialties within dentistry? Your Utah family dentist has you covered most of the time, but if there’s ever a case where an orthodontist or other specialist is needed, you can get a referral. Call us today if you need tooth fillings in West Haven, cosmetic dentistry in Layton, or have any other dental needs.