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Orthodontics vs. Dentistry

orthodontics vs dentistry

Did you know that you may need to see more than one type of dental professional for your oral health? Most people are familiar with general dentists and regularly visit them twice a year for dental check ups and teeth cleanings. However, not as many people realize that they may need to do more in order to preserve their oral health. 


In addition to keeping your teeth clean to decrease the risk of gum disease and tooth decay, it is also important to ensure your teeth and bite and properly aligned and functioning well. While a dentist may be able to tell you if one of these things is out of alignment, they are not the best dental professionals to correct the problem. 

braces before and after tooth model

This is where orthodontists come in. Orthodontists are dental specialists that focus exclusively on correcting problems with crooked teeth and bite alignment. They do so by providing a variety of orthodontic treatments designed to encourage gradual tooth movement in order to place the teeth in a more appropriate position. They can also utilize orthodontic appliances to decrease or eliminate occlusal problems such as underbite, overbite, open bite, or cross bite. 

At this point, you may be wondering why you should see two different dental professionals to maintain or improve your smile. In order to understand the importance of having an orthodontist and a general dentist, let’s look at some key differences between the two: 



Different Focus

Your general dentist is entirely committed to preserving or restoring your oral health. The majority of general dental services are preventative, meaning that most of the time your dentist will be actively working to prevent gum disease or tooth decay by performing regular dental exams and professional teeth cleanings. If a dental issue is detected, your general dentist also has a variety of restorative treatments available to restore your oral health. 


While orthodontists are also concerned with your oral health, they are more concerned with the alignment of your teeth, as well as where your teeth are moving towards. As a general rule, orthodontists are more concerned with aligning your teeth than they are tooth decay. Just as your dentist will remove plaque to prevent gum disease and tooth decay, your orthodontist will properly align your teeth to improve their look and function. 



Number of visits

braces exam

The number of visits are quite different when comparing a general dentist to an orthodontist. The American Dental Association recommends visiting your local dental office at least once every six months for a dental exam and cleaning. On the other hand, however, orthodontists demand more of your attention. This is because orthodontic treatment relies on progressive movement. In most cases, orthodontic treatment with braces requires visits every 4-8 weeks, while clear aligner treatment usually requires visits every 10-12 weeks. Overall, you can expect to see your orthodontist more frequently than your dentist. 



Types of tools


While there is definitely some overlap in the types of tools dentists and orthodontists use, there are a few tools that are unique to the trade. For example, the majority of dental tools used by a general dentist are those designed to remove plaque and tartar, as well as those made for certain restorative treatments. Orthodontic tools, on the other hand, are used primarily in coordination with an orthodontic appliance. In fact, an orthodontic appliance is also considered to be a tool that your orthodontist uses.


As you can see, orthodontists and dentists are not the same by any means. Although they are both dental professionals, they provide their patients will different services, have different appointment frequencies, and use different tools to get their perspective jobs done. For these reasons, it is important to have both a dentist and orthodontist to ensure your smile is in its best shape.


Dr. Massih  attended UCLA, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in psychobiology.  She then went on to earn her DDS degree at UCLA’s School of Dentistry, where she was awarded the Dean’s Scholarship, and was in the top 10% of her class. She has received her certificate in Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics at the University of Pittsburgh and is a member of the American Association of Orthodontists, Pacific Coast Society of Orthodontists, & American Dental Association. 

Dr. Karmen Massih Inspired by orthodontics at the age of 10, Dr. Karmen Massih earned her Doctor of Dental Medicine at UCLA's School of Dentistry. After earning her certificates in orthodontics at the University of Pittsburgh, she returned to her hometown of Glendale, CA, to begin Massih Orthodontics, a practice dedicated to transforming smiles for people of all ages.