It’s time for you to get some dental work done. You know what you need, but you’re not sure who you need to see. You’re looking at all of the local dental professionals in your area, but with so much information, it’s confusing!

There are general dentists, cosmetic dentists, oral surgeons, orthodontists, and more. Who are you supposed to visit?

While your best bet is to set up consultations to determine your needs, it’s helpful to do your research ahead of time. We’re here to answer the question “what’s the difference between a dentist and an orthodontist?” 

Keep reading to learn all about these dental professionals and what they can do for you.

First: What Does a Dentist Do?

Dentists are the first line of defense when it comes to your oral health. They do restorative and preventative treatment to protect your teeth and gums. 

Most dentists are family dentists and general dentists. They offer a wide range of services (more on that later) and educate patients on oral hygiene. They often work alongside orthodontists and oral surgeons. They may make referrals to make sure that their patients get everything that they need.

Dentists focus on diagnosis, prevention, and treatment as it pertains to the oral cavity (or mouth). Dentists have doctoral degrees in dental medicine. They may specialize in one specific area of dentistry (such as pediatric dentistry) or continue their education later on so they can expand their services. 

Primary Services of Dentists

Speaking of dental services, what are the primary services that dentists offer? 

First and foremost, dentists focus on preventative care. 

Preventative care includes things like basic cleanings and check-ups. During twice-yearly checkups, the dentist will make sure that nothing is wrong with the patient’s mouth. If there’s something amiss, they’ll schedule a restorative appointment or direct the patient to another dental professional who can help. 

Restorative dentistry is just as important as preventative dentistry. While, in a perfect world, no one would ever need restorative care, it’s normal to have the occasional cavity. 

When you’re having a problem with your oral health, the dentist will diagnose the problem and take steps to fix it. 

What Does an Orthodontist Do? 

Orthodontists also offer helpful dental services, but they specialize in malformations of the teeth and jaws. 

Like dentists, orthodontists have doctorates, but they continue their education in a specialized orthodontic program. This allows them to understand how the teeth and jaws have to move for proper alignment, and how to make any necessary adjustments. 

Primary Services of Orthodontists

Orthodontists work to fix, primarily, bite issues and teeth misalignments. These can include overbites, underbites, crossbites, malocclusion of the teeth, gaps, and more.

They take x-rays of their patients to determine the best treatment options. Many orthodontists take referrals from dentists and work alongside those dentists to make sure that their patients maintain proper oral health throughout their treatment. 

Here are the most common treatments that orthodontists provide.


Traditional braces are by far the most popular type of treatment for a variety of orthodontic issues (especially for children). While these braces are often metal, modern orthodontists also offer “invisible” or ceramic braces for a more subtle appearance. 

Orthodontists also handle care before someone is ready for braces and after their braces journey is complete. This can include services such as bonding, creating retainers, spacers, and more. 


Invisalign is a newer option for orthodontic treatment. It’s popular among teens and young adults who feel self-conscious about their smiles. Invisalign is a series of clear aligners that slowly work to shift the patient’s teeth into the proper position.

As we mentioned before, some cosmetic dentists also offer Invisalign or other clear aligner systems. This doesn’t mean that those dentists have the proper qualifications to treat tooth and jaw misalignments. 

Should Children See Orthodontists? 

While children should have their first dental visit before the age of one, orthodontists are different. Many parents think that children shouldn’t visit orthodontists at all until they’re old enough for braces, but it’s actually helpful to bring your child to an orthodontist before they reach their double digits. 

Children are still growing, meaning it’s easier to fix problems with their teeth and jaws. Orthodontists can monitor your child’s growth and make recommendations that may save them the trouble of braces in the future.

For example, an orthodontist can increase the size of your child’s jaw so that their teeth are able to fit and grow in properly. 

Are Orthodontists Important for Oral Health?

Many people are under the impression that orthodontists are “extra,” and thus less important than general dentists. While general dentists do protect and improve their patients’ oral health, orthodontists also serve an important purpose. 

Straight teeth and jaw placement have just as much to do with health as they do aesthetics. Teeth that are too crowded are prone to cavities and damage. Jaw irregularities can lead to problems eating and even speaking. 

It’s best to have both a dentist and an orthodontist to care for your oral health. Straight teeth are beautiful, but they’re also healthier.

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

So who should you see? What’s the difference? 

When you’re trying to decide whether you need to see a dentist or an orthodontist, it helps to see your general dentist first. Most orthodontists want you to continue seeing your dentist throughout treatment. Talking to your dentist about what they think is best for you is helpful. 

If you’re seeking help for tooth and jaw misalignment, though, make sure that you see an orthodontist. While a cosmetic dentist may offer you their services, an orthodontist is going to make sure that you get proper treatment. 

Is It Time to Visit Your Local Orthodontist?

So what’s the difference between a dentist and an orthodontist? 

A dentist is there to help you maintain and repair your general oral health. They’ll keep your teeth healthy, shiny, and strong. An orthodontist will help you straighten your teeth and align your jaw for an aesthetically pleasing and healthy smile! 

If you’re ready to get straighter teeth, we want to talk to you! At Bozeman Smiles, we love seeing our patients’ smile transformations. Contact us to set up an appointment today.