Many people hear “orthodontic” and immediately think about braces or retainers. While those tools are a part of orthodontic care, orthodontic services also include any work that focuses on how your teeth meet each other and how they function. Essentially, it’s anything that has to do with your bite!

Depending on the severity of your needs, orthodontic work can range from wearing an Invisalign to needing major jaw repair surgery.

If you have a general dentist that you’re already comfortable with, who you go to twice a year for your preventative appointments, it’s wise to ask: Can that same dentist provide the orthodontic work you may need? It tends to be a little easier to take on a significant orthodontic procedure if you’re in an environment you’re already familiar with. However, the answer to this question isn’t 100% straightforward. Let’s dive into the details.


What is a general dentist?

A general dentist serves as the front line for all oral healthcare. Consistent preventative care helps to ensure good oral health, while also catching any minor concerns before they develop into dental emergencies. This type of general care includes a regular schedule of x-rays, cleanings, exams, and conversations about improving your at-home oral care routine.

Rest assured that general dentists have completed dental school and earned either a DDS or DMD degree. This extensive training prepares them to serve as primary dental care providers who help you stay on top of your tooth and gum health, sealants, cavity removals, dental crowns, and root canals, among other potential problems. All general dentists focus on identifying concerns, providing care that prevents ongoing diseases, and teaching patients how to maintain their oral health in between their twice-yearly appointments.

What does an orthodontist do?

An orthodontist’s education starts out the same as a general dentist: by earning a DDS or DMD degree. However, after that, an aspiring orthodontist will study their specialty area full-time for at least two years before they’re able to claim this specialized title. At this point, an orthodontist will likely only see patients who are needing specific orthodontic work done, and leave all of the general work to – you guessed it – a general dentist.

This extra training is what sets an orthodontist apart from a general dentist because it prepares them to treat you, no matter how severe your underbite is or how overcrowded your teeth are. An orthodontist specializes in the alignment of your teeth, the positioning of your jaw, and how both of these impact your mouth’s functionality. As a result, they are able to provide you with more minor corrective procedures, like retainers or braces, as well as more significant surgeries or long-term care plans.

Which type of dental care do I need?

No matter your dental concerns, it’s important to maintain appointments with a general dentist twice a year. You’ll leave these visits with professionally cleaned teeth, and your dentist will also end up with critical information about any underlying concerns like gum disease, or even evidence of teeth grinding or a bad bite.

By maintaining a consistent check-up schedule, your general dentist will be able to keep track of any potential concerns, and be equipped to alert you if an issue requires the attention of a specialist – like an orthodontist. Some dental offices have general dentists and orthodontists on staff, while others will know of a nearby orthodontist you can contact.

As long as your general dentist has continued to complete necessary training on orthodontic tools like braces or Invisalign Clear Aligners, they are also equipped to provide you with these very common types of care! Still, when it comes to a malformation that requires corrective jaw surgery, or a bad bite that’s causing painful chewing, your general dentist will most likely encourage you to see an orthodontist.

Figuring out your next steps

We encourage you to consider general dentists and orthodontists (along with other dental specialists!) as two parts of your wider oral health care team. Whether you’re needing a short-term orthodontic solution or a more aggressive, longer-term approach, your general dentist is equipped to help figure out what you should do next.