Orthodontists vs. general dentists

Everyone wants straight teeth and these days patients have plenty of options in terms of how they go about creating a more beautiful smile. In addition to traditional braces, patients sometimes qualify to use Invisalign® as a straightening device. But if you’re considering getting your teeth straightened, you may be wondering whether you should go to an orthodontist or just have your regular dentist do the work. But most dentists aren’t qualified or knowledgeable about how to straighten teeth. By better understanding the differences between dentists and orthodontists, you can take the next step toward getting a straighter, healthier smile with confidence. We took some time at Cordoba Orthodontics to put together a guide to help you learn more about this.


Both orthodontists and dentists begin their careers by graduating from dental school. But only students who are at the top of their dental classes will be invited into an orthodontic residency program. Orthodontics is a competitive field and it represents a higher level of attainment in terms of education and experience.

Once a student is accepted into an orthodontics program, they must do an additional two to three years of training full-time with an emphasis on orthodontic work. What this means is that orthodontists have spent two to three years doing nothing but studying work that’s relevant to straightening the teeth. This includes working with traditional braces, straightening the teeth, and problems related to bite.

General dentists, on the other hand, do not have this level of training or expertise in regard to moving and straightening the teeth or adjusting the bite. Essentially, orthodontists are dentists who studied for an additional two to three years in order to develop very specific expertise regarding the movement and straightening of the teeth. As with medical doctors who can specialize in general medicine or go on to study specific body systems in depth in order to work as specialists in their field, dentists can also specialize in orthodontics.

What dentists do

Dentists work with issues like tooth decay or gum disease. They specialize in diseases and disorders related to the teeth and gums. Their work is focused primarily on helping patients achieve good oral hygiene both at home and through regular office visits and teeth cleanings twice every year. Some dentists may specialize in an area like periodontal care (pertaining to the gums and the bones beneath the teeth), but most dentists work very generally to keep the patient’s teeth and gums healthy. Patients get an appointment with the dentist to treat problems like gum disease or tooth decay, not to straighten their teeth. Below are common problems that general dentists are able to treat:

  • Cavities/tooth decay
  • Gum disease
  • Repairing diseased or broken teeth

What orthodontists do

Orthodontists have all of the knowledge and training of a general dentist, but they are also educated and trained in the science and art of straightening teeth. They’ve devoted years of study to topics like jaw alignment, the movement of the teeth, bite (malocclusions), and dental issues as they relate to the jaw, among other things. Common problems that orthodontists treat include the following:

  • Crowded teeth
  • Overbite
  • Underbite
  • Crossbite
  • Teeth that are improperly spaced

At Cordoba Orthodontics, we have all the knowledge and education of a dental clinic in addition to the knowledge and training required to function as an orthodontist. We specialize in moving the teeth and working with the patient’s bite to create the most aesthetically appealing end result possible.

Can dentists straighten teeth?

Dentists can straighten teeth. But dentists who did not complete an orthodontic residency, will not have the same level of skill as an orthodontist who spent years studying teeth straightening in-depth. General dentists can attend seminars to gain knowledge about how to straighten teeth, but often, because their knowledge and training regarding teeth straightening is limited, they often offer cookie-cutter solutions to patients and treat each patient as though their issues are exactly the same.

Learn more on our blog.