Who Should I See for Orthodontic Treatment…My Dentist or an Orthodontist?

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So, imagine this scenario…you are at the pediatrician’s office with your son for another ear infection and sore throat and the doctor mentions that he would benefit from having his tonsils and adenoids removed as well as tubes placed in his ears. You take this recommendation very seriously since your son has missed a lot of school days this year due to illness and you trust Dr. Jones. After all, he has been treating your children for over 10 years. He then mentions that recently, he has been taking courses in the surgical removal of tonsils and adenoids and is now offering that service in his office. You remember that your neighbor’s child had the same procedure performed by an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) doctor last summer and the procedure went very smoothly. Dr. Jones has always taken good care of your children and even came into the office on the weekend to see your daughter when she broke her wrist. But something doesn’t quite seem right about Dr. Jones performing this procedure on your son since Dr. Jones is not a specialist in this area. Should you ask Dr. Jones about a referral to a specialist or should you just allow him to perform this service? After all, you don’t want to offend Dr. Jones. If you are like most parents that want the very best care for their children, you would respectfully ask Dr. Jones’ office staff for a recommendation of an ENT specialist in your area to perform this surgical procedure while continuing to see Dr. Jones for the pediatric care of your children.

Similar situations arise every day in general dentist offices in Winchester, VA, and around the country when orthodontic treatment is recommended. The general dentist, who may have taken care of your family for many years, has suggested that you or your child would benefit from orthodontic treatment. She mentions her practice “does orthodontic treatment.” In fact, her father, also a general dentist in the practice, is the “orthodontist of the practice” since he has been “focusing on learning more about orthodontic treatment” as he nears retirement. Do you risk receiving less than ideal treatment by undergoing treatment by your general dentist who says they “do orthodontics” or do you seek treatment from a specialist (Orthodontist), whose practice is solely focused on addressing orthodontic problems? Maybe you think that orthodontic treatment, whether traditional fixed appliances or Invisalign®, would be significantly cheaper at a dentist’s office than at an Orthodontist’s office. The general dentist might have even mentioned he/she offers faster treatment that could be finished in six months or less. Wouldn’t this make the compromise worth the risk? Is the general dentist addressing the same problems that the Orthodontist would be and delivering a similar result?

Dr. DeArment, Dr. Lill and Dr. Larson from Shenandoah Valley Orthodontics have heard similar stories from patients and parents increasingly in the last 10 years. As busy-ness has generally decreased in many dental offices, general dentists often find themselves seeking to supplement their offerings with procedures formerly traditionally done by dental specialists, including orthodontic services. Typically, they receive online or classroom introductory courses to learn the basics of orthodontic treatment. Often these courses, which are taught by companies with a financial incentive, focus on fast tooth alignment to address the patient’s “social” concerns without emphasis on the underlying causes, occlusion (how the bite fits together) and patient growth, that are important factors to consider before a patient initiates any type of orthodontic treatment. Many unknowing patients also assume that treatment times would be shorter and less expensive with a general dentist since mainly cosmetic adjustments are typically addressed. Often, unfortunately, the treatment provided by many general dentists extends longer than was originally quoted and the cost is not significantly less than that delivered by an Orthodontist. We often find at Shenandoah Valley Orthodontics, that after patients become dissatisfied with their results and seek additional treatment from an Orthodontist, the overall patient’s out-of-pocket expense grows much higher than it would have been if they had just seen an Orthodontist initially.

When considering orthodontic treatment for yourself or your child, it is very important to consider the qualifications of the practitioner providing that care. How does the experience of an Orthodontist differ from a general dentist that “does orthodontics”?


  • Education*: College, Dental Degree from Dental School, 2-3 years of advanced academic and clinical training in orthodontics from an accredited orthodontic residency program.
  • Practice limited to diagnosis and treatment of orthodontic problems. They dedicate their professional lives to creating healthy, beautiful smiles in children, teens and adults.
  • Typical practice treats hundreds if not thousands of orthodontic cases each year.
  • Offer a variety of “appliances,” including fixed braces, clear aligners, orthopedic devices and retainers, to move teeth, jaws, modify growth and hold teeth in a stable position once moved. Because of orthodontists’ advanced education and clinical experience, they have the knowledge and skills necessary to recommend the best treatment and kind of appliance(s) to meet every individual patient’s treatment goals.

General Dentist that “does orthodontics”

  • Education*: College, Dental Degree from Dental School, online or classroom introductory orthodontics course(s).
  • Practice is not limited to any individual dental condition. Must be proficient in a variety of procedures including restorations, dental cleanings/hygiene, tooth extractions, root canals, tooth replacement (crowns, bridges, implants), etc.
  • Usually only treat a limited number of patients per year with the limited time constraints imposed by having to treat so many other conditions in their practices; many of the cases are focused on limited tooth movement only.
  • Typically offers only removable aligner treatment or fixed braces, depending on which the dentist has learned to use, regardless of the application.

*All Orthodontists are also dentists; but not all dentists are Orthodontists and cannot call themselves Orthodontists.

Please keep in mind that regular visits to your general dentist are very important for your oral health. General dentists are uniquely qualified to provide preventative, hygiene and restorative care. Dentists prevent and treat problems affecting the mouth and teeth, including dental and oral disease. They also treat injuries and replace missing teeth. While seeking treatment at the Orthodontist, it is imperative that patients continue to see their general dentist. While the doctors at Shenandoah Valley Orthodontics feel that orthodontic treatment is best performed by an Orthodontist, we also feel that problems affecting the health of the oral cavity are best handled by a general dentist. After all, just as your general dentist may not be most qualified to address your orthodontic needs, you also don’t want your Orthodontist doing your root canal, extractions or restorative treatment. 😊