What’s the Difference Between a Dentist and an Orthodontist?

Dental care is like medical care in many ways, including the division of dentists into generalists and specialists. Every branch of dentistry begins with 4 years of dental school. After graduating dental school, dentists may decide to continue their education in a residency program. Examples of recognized residency programs include Orthodontics, Pediatric Dentistry, Oral Surgery, Periodontics, Endodontics, Prosthodontics, and Community Health. These residency programs have been developed to give the training needed to perform these specialties in dentistry because adequate time and patient experience is not available during the 4 years of dental school. As a resident, all patients treated are only within the desired specialty and upon graduation, a national and state board are taken before a specialist receives a state license. The State of Oklahoma requires all licensed specialists to pass a specialty exam and hold a specialty license, in addition to their general dentistry license. Only an Orthodontic Specialist may use the term “Orthodontist” to describe himself professionally, and limit their practice to Orthodontics exclusively!

Many dentists desire to focus their practice towards certain aspects of dentistry and they take continuing education courses to learn about specific dental procedures and newer technologies. Traditionally these courses focused on gaining more experience in dentistry such as root canals, extracting wisdom teeth, and gum surgeries. As the public’s desire for cosmetics has increased, the weekend courses have predominately turned to cosmetics including; cosmetic restorations (veneers), teeth whitening, injections and fillers, sleep apnea, and orthodontics.

An orthodontist’s job is to diagnose patient’s problems and offer the best treatment options, all while understanding and avoiding possible complications. It’s not just about the pretty straight teeth, but the overall health and stability, facial balance, and function. So, when it’s time for you to get braces for your children or yourself, think about the differences in the education and experience. It really speaks for itself.

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