What is an orthodontist assistant?
This is a medical professional that will be there to assist the orthodontist during procedures with whatever they need. Your position as an orthodontist assistant is the same as a regular dental assistant but you will have expanded duties. There are some states that recognize being an orthodontist assistant as a separate occupation while other states will group them with regular dental assistants.
What does an orthodontist assistant do?
An orthodontist assistant does not just help the orthodontist but also performs many other tasks during their working days. Some of the tasks that an orthodontist assistant may do can include:
- Greeting the patients as they walk into the practice
- If the office still uses the conventional charts instead of having electronic charts they would pull the charts from the filing room so the orthodontist can review the chart before seeing the patient.
- Making sure that the patient feels comfortable when they are in the exam room and answering any questions or concerns they might have.
- During the procedure the orthodontist assistant will hand the orthodontist the instruments that they need and provide necessary suction.
- Depending on the office they are working for they may administer certain forms of anesthetic and take x-rays
- Preparing the instruments that the orthodontist is going to use. To do this they will sterilize the instruments using an autoclave.
- They may also clean, organize, and sort the various instruments that the orthodontist uses.
- Taking inventory of the one-use only supplies like rubber bands for braces and latex gloves making sure that they always have a supply on hand. They may also order any necessary supplies.
- Making sure that environment is clean and sanitized, especially the exam rooms.
- Depending on the orthodontist office they may also have to make sure the charts are up-to-date and also do billing of patients and insurance companies.
- Keeping track of all the medicines that the orthodontist uses.
- Cleaning a patient’s teeth, taking impression of a patient’s mouth, or making minor adjustments to their dental gear.
- For new patients the orthodontist assistant will take their oral dental history, medical history, and why they are there to see the orthodontist
Although most all orthodontist assistants have undergone an orthodontist assistant training program and may even have an Associate of Applied Science in Dental Assisting or Orthodontics Assisting you will still need the training of how the orthodontist office works when you start to work for an orthodontist in private practice, partnership, or in a group practice because no office works in the same way. You will need to learn exactly what your duties are, where supplies are kept, do you have any office duties, etc.
Being an orthodontist assistant requires you to have precision skills that can take time to develop so some orthodontists will require you to have extensive on-the-job training before you can start to work with them one-on-one. There are some orthodontists who will first teach their new orthodontist assistants important people skills so they can help put the patients at ease while they are having their dental procedure done. You may also start out working as a regular dental assistant or working in the front office where you will check patients in, schedule their next appointment, keep the charts up-to-date, answering the phones, and many other clerical duties and slowly work your way into becoming an orthodontist assistant for which you are trained for.
Orthodontist assistant work schedule/environment
They mostly work in an orthodontist office but can work wherever the orthodontist does as they are an orthodontist’s “right hand.” An orthodontist assistant will normally work a 40 hour week during the day but if the orthodontist office offers late night or half day Saturday appointments they may be required to do so. If the office has two or more orthodontist assistants they may take turns working the half day on Saturday and whatever week nights the office is opened late.
Education needed to become an orthodontist assistant
The medical field for orthodontist assistants is growing rapidly so this is a great field of medicine to get into. Although there are programs that teach a person to become an orthodontist assistant there are some that do not have a degree but have gotten their training and skills on the job. To become an orthodontist assistant the requirements to do so vary from state to state. Although it is possible to get your skills and training working in an orthodontist office most employers prefer to hire an orthodontist assistant who can perform advanced tasks and have completed a formal orthodontist assistant program. It is also advisable if you know in high school that you are planning a career as an orthodontist assistant you should make sure that you are taking as many science classes as possible such as biology and health science.
You can get your formal education through dental assisting programs that will in the end give you a certificate, associate’s degree, or diploma. If you are interested in furthering your education you can take this program at a community or junior college, technical institutions, or trade school. Before committing yourself to a program make sure that it is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. You may also be required to be certified in CPR.
After completing your education you will see that most states require orthodontic assistants to obtain certification or a license. To get your license you have to also pass an exam in addition to graduating from a program. In most states you will have to take the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam. This exam is administered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). Once you have this license, have graduated from an accredited program or have 2-4 years of experience assisting the orthodontist, be CPR certified before you are given the opportunity to earn the Dental Assisting National Board’s Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA) certification. This exam has 2 parts which are orthodontic assisting and infection control. Having this certification could help to qualify the orthodontist assistant ability to handle the advanced clinical duties that are specific to the fields of orthodontics.
There are 4 different ways you can qualify to take the orthodontic assisting part of the exam to become a Certified Orthodontic Assistant which include:
- Working as an orthodontist assistant but you must have at least 3.500 hours of work experience. You can also have the credentials of a Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH), Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) or Registered Dental Assistant (RDA). You also need CPR certification.
- Have a high school diploma or GED along with at least 3.500 working hours as an orthodontist assistant and CPR certification.
- Complete an orthodontist assistant course that is part of a Dental Assistant program that is properly accredited.
- Being a Certified Orthodontic Assistant now or formerly or graduate from a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) program. You must also have CPR certification.
You can take the infection control part of the exam without any requirements.
Enrolling in orthodontist assistant programs and schools can take from 7 weeks to 12 months to finish. If you want after becoming an orthodontist assistant you can further your education by obtaining the Associate of Applied Science in Dental Assisting or Orthodontic Assisting. To be able to get either of these two certificates you will need to complete another 2 years of schooling. In this program you will have to complete either an externship or internship in a dental clinic. You will also have classes in dental materials used, oral anatomy, infection prevention, and radiology. During these 2 years you will also learn how to create dental impressions, rubber dam building, and polishing teeth.
Salary of an orthodontist assistant
As with any job the salary is usually based on where the office is located such as a large city or rural area, how much education and experience the orthodontist assistant has, the geographical location, and how many orthodontist assistants are working in the practice. Whether it is a private practice, partnership, or group practice may also factor in on how much their average annual salary they would receive.
There is also the benefit package that most employees receive when working for a company or office. Generally the benefit package will include paid vacation and sick days, paid holidays, life insurance, health insurance that may also cover the family, vision and dental insurance, 401K, profit sharing, pension, social security, long and short term disability, uniforms, etc. What the exact benefit package entails depends on the orthodontist office you are working for.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2012 an orthodontist assistant earned an average annual salary of $35,080 but has increased in the past 2 years. At this time the highest paying orthodontist assistant paying position was working with insurance companies. This place of employment was paid an average annual salary of $41,420. In metropolitan areas the highest salary area was in San Francisco, California at the average annual salary was $47,280. On average an orthodontist assistant can have an average annual salary of $23,924-$45,632.
If you are an orthodontist assistant with various specialties and certifications you can earn an average hourly wage of:
- $11.92-$21.42 with an x-ray license
- $11.80-$22.19 with CPR certification
- $12.11-$24.07 being a Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA)
- $11.49-$21.91 being a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA)
- $11.36-$23.44 being a Registered Dental Assistant (RDA)
- $11.96-$21.65 being a Radiation Health and Safety (RHS) Dental Assisting
- $14.67-$25.08 being a Expanded Function Orthodontic Assistant (EFODA)