Orthodontist Vs. Oral Surgeon

Orthodontists and oral surgeons both provide dental care to patients, but the work of an oral surgeon focuses on providing surgical services to patients with more serious dental issues. Both of these careers require the completion of a doctoral degree and becoming licensed in the state they work.

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Comparing Orthodontists to Oral Surgeons

Orthodontists and oral surgeons both assist patients with dental, gum, and jaw issues and can own their own practice or work as part of a team. Depending on the case of the patient, the scope of their duties differ, and they may collaborate together with patients. For example, if an orthodontist discovers the patient requires surgery on their jaw during an examination, the orthodontist may then refer the patient to an oral surgeon for corrective surgery. Further differences and details regarding these two professions are outlined below.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2017)* Job Growth (2014-2024)**
Orthodontist Post-Doctoral or professional degree $173,957 18%
Oral Surgeon Post-Doctoral or professional degree $214,328 18%

Source: *PayScale, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Orthodontists vs. Oral Surgeons

Both involve working directly with patients, but the role of an orthodontist is focused on providing patients with more routine health services such as straightening patients' teeth through the use of braces and overseeing maintenance on them. In contrast, an oral surgeon goes beyond routine health care services to focus on more complicated dental health issues such as surgically correcting a patient's cleft palate or lip.


An orthodontist may work in their own private office or serve as a partner in a larger practice. All orthodontists are actually certified as dentists, but have received two-three years of additional, specialized training beyond dental school. This additional training allows their primary focus to be on straightening patients' teeth and aligning their jaws to correct any issue, such as an overbite or underbite. Orthodontists must complete a doctoral degree and successfully pass a written exam for the American Board of Orthodontics.

Job responsibilities of an orthodontist include:

  • Utilize braces and other invisible alignment devices to correct crooked teeth
  • Diagnose x-ray results and create treatment plans
  • Provide patients with maintenance devices like retainers
  • Instruct patients on proper oral care

Oral Surgeon

An oral surgeon performs surgery on patients that may have a variety of dental and facial issues. In order to perform these services, oral surgeons are certified to administer general and local anesthesia, as well as various forms of sedation. Along with advanced knowledge in dentistry, these professionals often have extended knowledge in ear, nose, and throat surgery. Oral surgeons operate on patients with issues including cleft palates and those with jaw alignment issues. They also operate on patients with soft tissue issues and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain. Oral surgeons must complete a doctoral degree and are the only professionals in the dental field required to complete a residency program in a hospital.

Job responsibilities of an oral surgeon include:

  • Permanently affixing dental implants for patients
  • Position, repair, or remove teeth (including wisdom)
  • Assist patients who suffer from sleep apnea by performing surgery on their tongue or jaws
  • Perform surgery to remove decayed or infected teeth

Related Careers

If you would like to become an orthodontist, an optometrist job may also interest you, as both careers involve providing direct patient care. Those interested in a position as an oral surgeon may want to consider becoming a surgeon, as both jobs require performing operations to alleviate patients' health issues.

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