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

Most kids grow up visiting the dentist every six months, but suddenly you’re getting braces and you have to see an orthodontist instead – so what’s that about? Well, while both a dentist and orthodontist care for your teeth, they essentially do different things. Let’s take a look. 

What does a dentist do? 

A dentist is trained to look after teeth, from diagnosing gum disease and repairing fractured teeth to filling cavities, extracting teeth and taking X-rays. The most common role is a general dental practitioner, providing care either with the NHS or privately. Most people will visit their dentist every six months for a regular check-up, which involves the dentist checking each tooth for cavities, as well as gums and your overall mouth health. They may give you advice on teeth cleaning and how to keep your mouth and gums healthy, too. Some dentists clean and polish the teeth as part of your appointment. 

What qualifications to they need? 

Training to become a dentist is no mean feat! Students have to undergo at least five years of training at university and gain a Bachelor of Dental Surgery degree, followed by one or two years’ supervised practice. They study human anatomy and oral diseases, as well as undertake plenty of practical training in dentistry settings. Once qualified, a dentist must register with the General Dental Council before being allowed to practise in the UK.

What does an orthodontist do? 

An orthodontist is a dental specialist who has undertaken further training after qualifying as a dentist. They can work in private practices, as a specialist in the community or in a hospital as an orthodontic consultant. They specialise in the movement of the teeth and improving the harmony of your mouth and jaws. Benefits of treatment include correction of dental crowding, straightening of teeth, correction of your bite and improving your appearance. Most treatment will involve the use of braces or retainers.

What qualifications do they need? An orthodontist will have had to complete the same training as for a dentist, and work as a dentist for some time to gain experience in all fields of dentistry. After this, a dentist must undergo three further years of training on an orthodontic training scheme, and take a Membership in Orthodontics exam (MOrth) to become a specialist orthodontist. Many also complete a higher degree such as a Master of Science (MSc), Master of Clinical Dentistry in Orthodontics (MClinDent) or Doctorate of Dental Surgery (DDS).

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