What's the difference between a dentist and an orthodontist?

An orthodontist is a dental specialist who has completed additional years of post-graduate training after dental school. They do their specialty only, where a general dentist does many dental procedures.

A general dentist may do orthodontics in their practice; however a complicated case would be referred to the orthodontist who has the training.
An orthodontist is a dentist who has received an additional 2-3 years of advanced specialty training and usually restricts his/her practice exclusively to providing orthodontic treatment (i.e., braces). Most general dentists have also received some orthodontic training while in dental school, and some have completed advanced courses in orthodontic treatment as well. 
Gregory J. Jorgensen, DMD
Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics
An orthodontist is a dentist who has two to three additional years of experience diagnosing and treatment planning bad bites, crooked smiles, and jaw problems. In dental school every dentist is required to take one orthodontic class and a lab where they learn to make basic orthodontic retainers. General dentists are usually required to treat only one case while in school, and that is usually a simple problem using a removable retainer. Orthontists have an additional 24 to 36 months of classes and patients care focusing only on patients with braces. They graduate having treated hundreds of problems, working hand in hand with professors who are themselves specialists. Although some general dentists my get some "weekend" courses and "on-the-job" experience, it seems unlikely that their level of understanding of orthodontics could come anywhere close to that of a university trained specialist.
Many orthodontists are general dentists first. Some dentists may work for many years solely as a dentist, and then will expand their practice to include orthodontics. Most orthodontists have two to three years of training beyond dentistry and usually see only patients who need orthodontics.
Generally, three or more years of undergraduate education plus four years of dental school is required to graduate and become a general dentist. Upon completion of their training, dentists must pass both a rigorous national written exam and a state or regional clinical licensing exam in order to practice. In order to keep their licenses, they must meet continuing education requirements for the remainder of their careers so that they may stay up to date on the latest scientific and clinical developments.

After graduating from dental school, orthodontists go on for another two or more years of education just in orthodontics at an accredited orthodontic residency program. Orthodontists help teeth and jaws work in union so that you can speak, bite and chew comfortably and effectively.

Continue Learning about Orthodontics

What are the benefits of braces?
Katherine T. Vo, DDSKatherine T. Vo, DDS
In addition to the obvious cosmetic improvement of your teeth and smile, straighter teeth are easier...
More Answers
Are orthodontists only needed for difficult cases?
Gregory J. Jorgensen, DMDGregory J. Jorgensen, DMD
This is a trick question because it may take an orthodontist to determine whether or not a case is d...
More Answers
What is malocclusion of the teeth?
Dan JenkinsDan Jenkins
Malocclusion, (literally, unhealthy-bite), can be caused by underdevelopment of the jaws that hold t...
More Answers
Why do some people have crooked teeth and misaligned bites?
American Dental AssociationAmerican Dental Association
Bad bite, or malocclusion, is when teeth that are crowded or crooked. In some cases your teeth may b...
More Answers

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.