What Exactly Do Orthodontists Do?

Nov 02, 2023
What Exactly Do Orthodontists Do?
Orthodontists are dentists, but not all dentists are orthodontists. While that may sound simple enough, the differences between the two professions are important when you have alignment or bite issues. Read on. 

One of the first steps in securing any type of medical service is understanding what type of professional performs the services you need. While on the surface this may seem like a no-brainer, it can get really confusing fast, especially when different states allow some professionals to perform specialty care and others don’t.

Case in point — dentists and orthodontists. You probably know that both oral professionals provide dental services and are focused on helping patients achieve oral health. Did you know that every orthodontist is a dentist, but not every dentist is an orthodontist? 

In this blog, Dr. Jean Seibold McGill at McGill Orthodontics in Easton and Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, explains what an orthodontist does and how it differs from general dentistry.

Orthodontics explained

Let’s start with a quick review of what orthodontics is in the first place. Orthodontics is all about proper teeth alignment and optimal bite. Specifically, orthodontics utilizes oral appliances like braces, clear aligners, and expanders with the express purpose of fixing a wide range of tooth alignment issues such as crowding, underbites, overbites, crossbites, and open bites.

During orthodontic treatment, your provider leverages braces or aligners to apply force or pressure to gently move your teeth to a new position, providing optimal alignment. Bone cells take over from there. 

Osteoclasts break down old bone from the old position, which in turn is reabsorbed into your bloodstream. Once your teeth are realigned in new positions, osteoblasts build new bone through a process called ossification. Osteoblasts continue to get stronger and reinforce your teeth in their new positions every time you bite or chew.

On the surface, it may seem an orthodontist is only concerned with fixing issues that will improve the appearance of your teeth. While straight, well-aligned teeth are definitely more aesthetically pleasing, the benefits go well beyond that. 

Proper jaw and teeth alignment not only make it possible to chew food properly and speak clearly, but also enhance your ability to keep your teeth and gums clean and healthy.

Dentists versus orthodontists

When comparing dentists and orthodontists the differences come down to education and scope of practice. Both dentists and orthodontists must complete an undergraduate degree program, pass the dental admissions test to apply to dental school, graduate from an accredited dental school, and pass the National Board Dental Examination which licenses them to practice in their chosen field.


A dentist is your go-to for general dentistry needs like twice-a-year checkups, monitoring factors that affect your oral health as well as performing fillings for cavities, and doing restorative treatments like crowns. Some dentists may also perform extractions and cosmetic dentistry services like bonding or veneers.


Orthodontists focus on bite and alignment issues. Since orthodontics is all about the movement of teeth, these specialists need a more intensive curriculum and training in a discipline known as dentofacial orthopedics, which is a deep dive into facial growth and development.

After graduating from dental school, orthodontists must complete a two or three-year orthodontic residency program, which typically includes classroom and clinical work. During the residency program, orthodontist residents learn more about clinical diagnosis, creating treatment plans, and dental laboratory procedures. 

Depending on the particular residency, an orthodontist may also do rotations in hospitals, clinics, and private practice or outpatient care settings.

Proficiency in providing personalized treatment plans

One of the things that sets orthodontists apart from other dental providers is their proficiency in developing highly personalized treatment plans. Dr. McGill and her team know that two patients may have issues like crowding or an overbite, but no two conditions manifest the same in every patient. 

That’s where that additional postgraduate orthodontics training really pays off. Orthodontists simply have a more robust knowledge base on facial growth and development which translates into the mechanics of how to move teeth and in turn, how to translate all that data into an effective treatment plan.

Dr. McGill and her team understand the importance and power of a healthy, beautiful smile. We take the time to get to know you and learn about your outcome goals in order to develop a personalized treatment plan to help move you closer to your best smile.

If you’re ready to take the next step to the smile you’ve always dreamed of, contact McGill Orthodontics to schedule a free orthodontic consultation. Call our office most convenient to you or request your appointment online today.