Patient Forms: Adult | Youth

Featured, Orthodontics

Q&A With a Gainesville VA Orthodontist: What’s The Difference Between a Dentist and Orthodontist?

If you’re looking for a professional for your dental needs but are feeling unsure whether to visit a dentist or orthodontist, we have put together this helpful guide to clear up any misconceptions and to share more information about these two seemingly similar but different professions!

If you’re looking for a professional for your dental needs but are feeling unsure whether to visit a dentist or orthodontist, we have put together this helpful guide to clear up any misconceptions and to share more information about these two seemingly similar but different professions! Read on to learn more about how our Gainesville, VA doctors can help you. 

Different Training

Both dentists and orthodontists begin their study of dental care together – spending up to 4 years of undergraduate school followed by four years of dental school. After graduation, they need to pass a final written and clinical exam to get a license to practice as licensed dentists.

That is where the similarities end. 

Orthodontics is a particular specialty that focuses on jaw alignment and movement of teeth. This requires further studies that go beyond general dentistry. Believe it or not, orthodontists undergo an additional 2 to 3 years of studies in the specialized orthodontic field compared to a peer in general dentistry.

An orthodontist can then go through a board-certification process. This is a voluntary credential that represents a distinct level of achievement and goes beyond state-required licensure. This includes additional education, ongoing assessment, and indicates that an orthodontic specialist is providing lifelong quality patient care. Only about 30% of orthodontists are board-certified.

The Role of a Dentist

Dentists are the professionals you go to for your regular 6 monthly oral health checkups, teeth cleaning, and polishing. 

Regular visits to your dentist can help them identify and treat most general oral health issues ranging from tooth decay, extractions, teeth whitening, gum disease, root canals, and more.

Should they come across more complex dental problems during your checkup, they will likely refer you to a specialist for further treatment.

The Role of an Orthodontist

In contrast, orthodontists are specialists who focus on the study of the alignment of jaws and teeth for a better bite and smile.

As a result, visits to an orthodontist would be most suitable if you are looking to resolve the following dental issues:

  • Correct your teeth alignment
  • Protruding teeth
  • Adjust the spaces between your teeth
  • Adjust an unnatural bite (over or underbite)
  • Jaw issues
  • Trauma or accidents that affect the tooth or jaw

Unlike general dentists, orthodontists have specialized corrective devices to help them with the above dental issues – ranging from braces, aligners, and more.

When to Visit a Dentist or Orthodontist?

Still uncertain about which you should be visiting? Here’s a simple breakdown of the situations when you should be visiting each professional:

Go see a dentist when:

  • You have a toothache 
  • You have wisdom tooth problems
  • You need to do a filling 
  • Looking for cosmetic veneers or bonding
  • Or you need your regular dental checkup

Go see an orthodontist when:

  • You want to correct your smile or jaw alignment
  • You had an accident that affected your teeth and jaw
  • You have an orthodontic device (e.g., braces or aligner) that needs to be adjusted or replaced

We’re Here To Help


Did you know that Dunegan & Cole Orthodontics was recently named the best orthodontist in Prince William? Dr. Dunegan and Dr. Cole are both board-certified orthodontists. You can rest assured that our team at Dunegan & Cole Orthodontics is here to help you find the right solution for your orthodontic needs!Drop us a call to learn more at 703.753.4996 or book free consultation online.

Find Your Smile

Ready to get started? Smile Consultations are Complimentary!

Book A Free Consult
Virtual Consult