Cosmetic dentistry is the type of dental care you need when you wish to improve the way your smile looks. Orthodontics, on the other hand, is a specialized type of dental care focused on improving the position of teeth and the jaw to overcome an improper bite.

While the two types of dental care share some of the same qualities and methods, the defining difference is the objective behind the treatment – is it for aesthetic or health purposes? Of course, patients can desire both, further blurring the boundaries between cosmetic dentistry and orthodontics.


Cosmetic Dentistry

Cosmetic dentistry focuses on improving the way your teeth look. According to a survey from the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), improving appearance was a deciding factor in 86% of patients. Often, to accomplish this, dental professionals need to provide services such as dental implants or veneers. You should seek out a cosmetic dentist if you are hoping to whiten your smile and improve your overall dental aesthetics.

A cosmetic dentist is a professional that has a general dentistry license. All cosmetic dentists have the training to provide general dentistry but some combine the two or concentrate purely on cosmetic procedures. Cosmetic dentistry typically requires artistic talent on top of general dentistry skills, which is something we stress in our cosmetic services at Bunker Hill Dentistry. While there are some areas of advanced training in cosmetic dentistry, you don’t have to hold a license in this specific area to provide these services.


Goal of Cosmetic Dentistry

The goal of cosmetic dentistry is to improve the way your smile looks. Typically, good looking teeth and good oral health go hand in hand. That’s why many cosmetic dentists will use some of the more advanced procedures for improving oral health in order to achieve a bright white smile or perfectly aligned teeth.

Dental veneers to correct spacing issue

Application of dental veneers to correct spacing issues.


Example Cosmetic Dentistry Procedures

Cosmetic dentistry includes treatments such as:

  • Dental implants, which can replace missing or lost teeth with a prosthetic version to create a natural smile.
  • Teeth whitening through one or more methods is a common service available.
  • Inlays and onlays, which improve the look of the teeth as well as provide structural restoration.
  • Dental veneers are a more advanced treatment that some cosmetic dentists offer.
  • Dental bonding is another way to improve the smile by using a resin-like material to improve the coloring of the tooth as well as the shape. According to the latest trends, bonding is the most popular cosmetic procedure performed by dentists in the US. 


It’s important to note that not all cosmetic dentists will offer all of these services. On the other hand, some will offer more advanced solutions such as the latest in implants and veneers and high-tech methods for whitening and brightening teeth.



Orthodontics is the area of dentistry that offers more invasive, comprehensive treatments to handle more difficult alignment problems. These professionals aim to align the upper and lower jaw in a favorable manner to encourage speaking, chewing, and overall aesthetics.

All orthodontists hold a general dentistry license. What makes them different is that they have additional training and certification in more advanced areas of oral health and improvement. 


Goal of Orthodontics

The ultimate goal of orthodontics is to ensure your teeth are aligned properly. While that seems like a simple statement, the process of straightening and aligning teeth is more complex and requires more advanced treatment options. They will focus on dental health as a first priority, but they can also improve alignment to encourage aesthetics, too.

In orthodontics, the goal is to treat a variety of conditions, including overbites and underbites. They can also help treat crossbites, open bites, and misplaced midline, where the front teeth do not match up to the center of the lower front teeth properly. There’s also the need to correct spacing and limit or fix crowding of the teeth.

Patient with clear braces

Patient with clear braces.


Example Orthodontics Treatments

There is a lot of overlap with the care orthodontics provides compared to both cosmetic and general dentistry. However, there are some procedures that are often completed by these specialized providers. They include:

  • Braces: With the goal of aligning teeth, orthodontics is focused on using the most advanced technology to adjust the positioning of the teeth, including metal and invisible braces.
  • Fixed Appliances: In some situations, a fixed appliance, which can be used to prevent thumb sucking or reducing tongue thrusting, is an applicable solution.
  • Space Maintainers: These are designed to hold a space open properly when a tooth is lost. It is typically used when a baby tooth falls out early.
  • Aligners: A removable alignment tool, called aligners, is an excellent choice for adults that need braces. Latest varieties focus on aligning teeth without the use of metal braces, which makes it more aesthetically pleasing for many adults. Invisalign is a popular aligner due to its near invisibility.
  • Jaw Repositioning Appliances: For those who need to train their jaw to close properly, often to treat or prevent TMJ, jaw repositioning appliances work well.
  • Palatal Expander – This is a treatment option used to encourage the widening of the upper jaw’s arch. It works by fitting snuggly over the roof of the mouth.
  • Removable Retainers: Removable retainers are a type of device to hold teeth to their new straight positions, typically following the use of braces, and prevent a relapse.
  • Headgear: Some people need more advanced care, and headgear may be able to provide it. This type of device can help to slow the growth of the upper jaw while pulling the front teeth back.


These providers specialize in the function of the teeth and jaw with the goal of ensuring proper alignment, jawbone health, and tissue health. You may find that these services also improve overall oral hygiene and improve smiles along the way.


Overlap Between Cosmetic Dentistry & Orthodontics

There is some overlap between the various services available through cosmetic dentistry and orthodontics. It’s quite common for patients to reap benefits in aesthetic improvements when they seek out orthodontic care – after all, healthy teeth are going to look great, too. 

Consider braces. The goal of braces, which most orthodontists offer, is to align the teeth properly. This helps with chewing, talking, and overall jaw health. Misaligned teeth are also more likely to lead to complications such as TMJ. Straightening out crooked teeth has other benefits, too. For example, it is much harder to properly brush your teeth if they are not easy to access. Straighter teeth are easier to keep looking clean and bright. They also reflect better in the light – crooked teeth, turned away from the light, often look darker in comparison. In some cases, effective orthodontic work eliminates a patient’s desire for cosmetic work. 

However, braces can also be considered an area of cosmetic dentistry. If misalignment is noticeable but not affecting oral health, braces for this purpose would fall under the cosmetic realm.


Different Mindsets

If the mindset of the patient is a key differentiator between cosmetic dentistry and orthodontics, an overlooked subdivision is the varying mindset of the dentist. A patient requiring orthodontic work is a different proposition to a patient electing to undergo a cosmetic procedure.

In orthodontics, the professional must address the health needs of the patient as a priority, but also address the overall aesthetics, too. For example, they may have jaw pain or may have trouble with the alignment of their teeth so much so that chewing is problematic. 

This patient’s mindset is very different from the patient who comes in to seek care for gaps in their teeth or overlapping of teeth that makes them feel self-conscious. 

Some patients need more reassuring that their misaligned teeth can be fixed to reduce their appearance concerns. Many patients seeking help for the way their teeth look are self-conscious and struggling to gain the confidence to smile. On the other hand, a patient that needs help with dental health problems may be more afraid of what’s happening and what can be done to fix it.

Although each patient is unique, there are underlying and distinct behavioral patterns that cosmetic dentists and orthodontists need to adapt to.


Combining Cosmetic Dentistry & Orthodontics

Not only is there considerable overlap between orthodontics and cosmetic dentistry, on occasion combining them delivers the best results. Orthodontics can often provide a solid foundation to any cosmetic work by leaving a healthy structure in place. Jumping straight into cosmetic work can mean a lot of trimming and shaving of teeth and loss of tooth structure.

For example, a patient with crowded teeth could turn to veneers to make them appear straighter. But with the underlying issue not addressed, veneers on misaligned teeth are likely to break with the bite still off. A better solution would be to first undergo orthodontic treatment to correct alignment and then apply veneers to perfect the smile. Proceeding in this order would result in fewer veneers being needed and those veneers would have a longer shelf life.

This would be a case of orthodontics helping out a cosmetic procedure.

Now consider the opposite, cosmetic dentistry lending a hand to orthodontics. 

A patient may have both misaligned and small teeth, with the latter being masked to a degree by the misalignment. Orthodontic treatment would straighten the teeth but expose the gaps further between the small teeth. Suddenly, an orthodontic issue has transformed into a cosmetic one. The teeth are straight but they are naturally too small for the mouth. A patient in this scenario would likely opt for veneers to close the now exposed gaps.

In some instances, patients seeking cosmetic work can attain their best look with the help of orthodontics, just as those requiring orthodontic work may benefit from cosmetic procedures.