Difference Between Orthodontist & Cosmetic Dentist

Orthodontists and cosmetic dentists are both dental specialists who have completed postgraduate training to work in their fields. This article explores how their work differs, how much they earn and how they prepare for their careers.

Comparing Orthodontists to Cosmetic Dentists

Orthodontists and cosmetic dentists may both be involved in treating patients whose teeth need to be moved but their objectives are different. While altering a patient's appearance may be a benefit of the work that orthodontists do, they are concerned with moving a patient's teeth to improve the patient's ability to use their teeth effectively. Cosmetic dentists focus exclusively on procedures that are used to make a patient look better.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Outlook (2016-2026)*
Orthodontists Doctoral degree; residency $208,000 17%
Cosmetic Dentists Doctoral degree; postgraduate training $173,000 (dentists, all other specialists) 12% (dentists, all other specialists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Orthodontists vs. Cosmetic Dentists

Orthodontists and general dentists both see patients and evaluate their condition. They will review medical files and talk to patients to determine their specific needs. Orthodontists have braces and other types of dental appliances constructed so that they can be inserted into the patient's mouth. Cosmetic dentists perform a wide range of procedures that include tasks such as fixing broken teeth to inserting dental implants. Orthodontists may see patients a number of times to adjust braces or modify appliances as needed.


Orthodontists treat patients whose teeth are crooked. They may also treat patients who have issues with their jaw. Once they have earned their doctoral degree they must spend several years in a residency program so that they can qualify to specialize in this field. They benefit from paying attention to details so that they can effectively determine the best treatment strategy to move their patient's teeth or jaw. They may work in dental offices, dental clinics or doctors' offices.

Job responsibilities of an orthodontist include:

  • Ordering medical tests such as X-rays
  • Having models of a patient's teeth made
  • Assessing data about the patient's condition
  • Applying braces or other appliances to the patient's teeth
  • Explaining to patients how to care for appliances

Cosmetic Dentists

Cosmetic dentists are required to complete additional postgraduate training after they earn a doctoral degree in dental surgery or dental medicine. This additional training prepares them to perform a number of procedures that are used in cosmetic dentistry. The patients they see wish to change how they look and cosmetic dentists should be compassionate and sensitive because their patients may be insecure because of their appearance. Dexterity is important because these professionals may need to perform very precise incisions and treatments in a small area inside a patient's mouth.

Job responsibilities of a cosmetic dentist include:

  • Evaluating patients
  • Reviewing the patient's dental history
  • Preparing a treatment plan
  • Repairing damaged teeth
  • Adhering porcelain to teeth

Related Careers

Individuals considering a career as an orthodontist or a cosmetic dentist may be interested in other dental specialties as well. The links provided here connect to information about prosthodontists and periodontists.

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