While dentists and orthodontists both work to improve the oral health of their patients – some dentists and orthodontists may even work together in specific clinics – there are some key differences between the two.

With this in mind, it is unlikely that your dentist and your orthodontist will be the same person. The treatment pathway for dentistry is usually that you will go to your dentist for a general checkup and to undergo procedures such as having fillings or teeth removed, and perhaps even to undergo some cosmetic dentistry procedures such as cleaning and capping, while you will go to an orthodontist if you require specialist treatment.

Orthodontists will provide a range of additional cosmetic dentistry procedures, usually linked to straightening teeth and bite patterns. If you need braces, for example, then you will usually be referred by your general dentist to an orthodontist, but may return to your regular dentist for checkups and adjustments to the braces.

What’s the Difference?

The easiest way to differentiate is to say that a dentist looks more generally at your oral health while an orthodontist is a specialist in a specific area, such as in teeth straightening as in the example above.

In terms of how dentists become orthodontists, all orthodontists will be qualified dentists and will have worked in a dental clinic for at least two years prior to undertaking the additional qualifications to become an orthodontist. Orthodontists therefore have a dentistry degree as well as an orthodontics degree.

Orthodontists will also typically work with different types of technology that aim to provide better treatment solutions. As a result, if you go to see an orthodontist you could find yourself undergoing a 3D scan of your jaw or being offered some new and innovative treatments, depending on what you’re looking to have done.

Do I Need a Dentist or an Orthodontist?

If you are in need of dental treatment you may be able to save time by ensuring you go and see the best person to diagnose and treat your specific problem. If you are registered with a dentist and attend regular dental check-ups, your dentist will refer you to an orthodontist as and when they identify any problems that require specialist attention.

If you don’t have a regular dentist but are seeking treatment, the table below will help you understand who you should go and see.

Do I Need to See a Dentist or an Orthodontist?

Make an appointment to see a dentist if….

Make an appointment to see an orthodontist if….

You haven’t had a regular dental checkup in the last 12 months

Your regular dentist has identified potential oral health problems that require orthodontic treatment and you have not yet been referred, or you have agreed with your dentist to find an orthodontist yourself

You are experiencing any pain in your teeth or gums

You have misaligned teeth

You are suffering with tooth decay

You have crowded teeth

You are suffering with root canals

You have an underbite or an overbite

You have bad breath, have tried over the counter solutions, and think you may have a gum disease


You are looking into cosmetic dentistry options such as crowns, bridges, veneers, or tooth whitening (You may also choose to enquire with a cosmetic dentist for these treatments. Although a cosmetic dentist may not offer general checkups, they will still be fully qualified dentists)


Finding a Dentist or an Orthodontist

If you don’t have a regular dentist, or your dentist has told you to find an orthodontist to treat a specific problem, use MacList to help you find a dental clinic close by. All clinics and dentists listed on MacList also allow you to cover the cost of your treatment with a MacCredit payment plan.

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