What’s the difference between an orthodontist and an endodontist?
Checking in with your family dentist is a good first step to maintaining good oral health. If you’re having dental concerns, they can assess your problem and refer you to the right specialist. But it’s helpful to know who does what. Keep reading to find out what the difference is between these two dental specialists.
What are the different kinds of dental specialists?
Just as doctors can specialize in different parts of your body, dentists can specialize in different parts of your mouth. Dental specialists are dentists, but they have a few more years of training beyond dental school for their focus area.
- If you had braces as a kid, you might remember the person who straightened your teeth with metal wires and rubber bands. That person was your orthodontist. They work to make your teeth line up properly.
But orthodontia isn’t all cosmetic. Properly aligned teeth make it easier to eat and speak. And braces aren’t just for kids. As you might have discovered once you started being on virtual calls all day, braces are most certainly an adult thing too. They can fix longstanding problems or help move your teeth back in place. Your teeth can shift as you age.
- These specialists focus on the soft tissue inside the tooth. They can diagnose and treat tooth pain and diseases. “Endodontists are specialists in saving teeth,” says Alan S. Law, D.D.S., 2021-22 president of the American Association of Endodontists.
Their goal is to prevent the need to pull infected teeth. You’ll likely see an endodontist if you ever need a root canal. That’s when your dentist cleans out the canal inside a damaged tooth’s root to save the tooth from removal. But if you experience any tooth pain that your dentist can’t diagnose, you might be referred to an endodontist.
Looking for a dental plan to help pay for adult braces or major dental work? Call a licensed insurance agent at (800) 827-9990 to find the plan that’s right for your unique needs, or browse your options online.
When to see an orthodontist
Often, the first place to go for dental concerns is your dentist. They can refer you to the right specialist if needed. Typically, you can also make an appointment directly with either an endodontist or orthodontist, but it’s a good idea to consult your dentist first.
Your dentist will be able to refer you to an orthodontist, but they won’t be able to treat the irregularities in your mouth by putting on things like braces if you’re interested. That’s something only an orthodontist can do.
Like your dentist, orthodontists may do an exam inside your mouth and take photos or dental X-rays, which can help show them what they need to do to fix how your teeth or jaw is aligned. They may even take molds of your teeth to figure out what to do next.
Some common ways orthodontists can fix teeth and jaw alignment include:
- Ceramic braces (they match the color of your teeth)
- Invisalign and other clear aligners (they are transparent and removable)
- Lingual braces (they go behind your teeth)
- Metal braces
- Self-ligating braces (they come in metal and ceramic and have clips that hold the wires in place on your teeth)
Need a supplemental dental plan that includes orthodontia? Compare plans online, or call a licensed insurance agent at (800) 827-9990 to find out your options.
When to see an endodontist
While an orthodontist can do only certain things for you, your dentist may be able to do some specialized treatments that an endodontist can handle. For example, you don’t have to see an endodontist to get a root canal; most dentists can perform them too. You might actually prefer having your root canal done at your family dentist’s office instead of at a new one. But there’s always the opportunity to go to an endodontist if your dentist doesn’t do them in their office.
“Most endodontists have performed tens of thousands of root canal treatments,” says Dr. Law. “They are very experienced.” If your dentist tells you that you need a root canal, Dr. Law recommends asking if you need to see an endodontist. If the answer is yes, they’ll help find you one that can give you the best treatment.
Other reasons you might need to see an endodontist include:
- An injury to a tooth
- A cracked tooth
- Sensitivity on your teeth to hot or cold
- Swelling around the teeth, gums or your face
- Tooth pain
Talk to your dentist if you experience any of these symptoms. If necessary, they can refer you to an endodontist.
Are orthodontists and endodontists covered by your insurance?
Most dental work, including that done by specialists like orthodontists and endodontists, isn’t covered by medical insurance. You’ll need a separate dental plan to cover services such as root canals, fillings, and crowns. You can buy dental plans by calling a licensed insurance agent at (800) 827-9990. (Health insurance plans you get through the federal marketplace do have to offer pediatric dental care if you have a child under the age of 19.)
Under your dental plan, dental care falls into 1 of 3 categories:
- Preventive services, which include your twice-yearly dental exams, X-rays and cleanings
- Basic services, including fillings and removing problematic teeth
- Major services, which are procedures such as root canals and crowns
Specialists most likely will perform major services. They’re usually covered by coinsurance. That means you’ll pay a percentage of a cost for receiving dental services. Keep in mind that some dental plans have a waiting period before they’ll cover major services.
Dental plans will also have a deductible. That’s the amount you’ll pay out of pocket before your insurance pays the rest. And many plans have maximums on what they will pay each year. You’ll want to look over all the details of your plan before enrolling.
If you know that you or your child will need braces, look for a plan that covers orthodontia. This isn’t always covered by dental plans.
Some dental work may be covered by your health plan if it’s considered medically necessary. This could include procedures such as removal of wisdom teeth, braces, or treatment of infections in your mouth. Talk to your dentist to see if a dental procedure is covered by your health plan.