What’s the difference between a dentist and an orthodontist?

November 19, 2016

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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There are many ways in which dentist can specialise, and one of the most popular is orthodontics. Orthodontists work specifically on developing the teeth (as well as the jaw and face) into a more pleasing or better functioning position. If you have ever had braces or a retainer, chances are you will have seen an orthodontist.

So what are the key differences between and orthodontist and a standard dentist?

Work carried out

While orthodontists’ main duties pertain to fixing problems like overbites, protruding teeth or slightly misaligned teeth using fixed or removable braces, a dentist’s role can vary wildly. Some dentists do perform the jobs of an orthodontist, but much of their other work will involve routine checkups, hygiene education, fillings and extractions, root canals and many other procedures. If you like to have a great deal of variety in your work then choosing to remain as a dentist may suit you best.

Time spent training

Orthodontists are specialised dentists and as a result have completed between 3 and 4 years of postgraduate training after fully qualifying as a dentist. This training includes working directly with patients as well as studying at PhD or Doctorate level. Once qualified, orthodontists are required to register with the General Dental Council.


The average salary for an Australian dentist is approximately AUS $75,000, about the same as the lowest paid orthodontists in the country. However, as an orthodontist works his or her way up the career ladder, their pay packet can increase considerably. The highest paid orthodontists in Australia can receive up to AUD $250,000! Having perfect teeth clearly comes at price!

Which should I become?

Specialising as an orthodontist takes an extra four years of hard work, so it’s important to be sure that you would enjoy the role! While the extra earnings are obviously a huge plus, orthodontists have a far more specialised role and therefore those who train should have a particular passion for working to develop a patient’s perfect smile. If you enjoy the variety of seeing everyone from those with milk teeth to those with dentures, a regular dentist’s role may be better suited to you.

Reassuringly, though, all dental professionals are required to qualify as a dentist before specialising. This means’ you don’t have to make a decision straight away, but work in your field for a while before deciding where your career should take you next.