Before you can become an orthodontist you will first need to complete your education to become a dentist. The reason is that an orthodontist is a medical professional that specializes in dealing with patients who have teeth that are out-of-sync or crooked with the help of dental prosthetics like braces. When choosing orthodontics to specialize in you will primarily dealing with the aesthetic part of dentistry.
If you want to become a dentist specializing in orthodontics you should make sure that you are taking as many science and math classes while you are in high school to give you a head start on college and earning your bachelor’s degree. One important thing to note is that when you decide that you want to become an orthodontist it is a specialty that will require extensive training. The reason is that this specialty deals with improving the facial appearance of your patients.
The first step after graduating from high school is to have at least 2 years of an undergraduate education in science or have your Bachelor’s Degree in Science (BSc). Either of these is needed before you can even enroll in dental school. You must also pass the Dental Admission Test (DAT), which is a hard test to pass so you must study hard in order to pass, before enrolling in dental school. Most students will take this exam during their junior year of college.
There are 56 dental schools that have been accredited by the American Dental Association. Some states have only one or two dental schools, some have several dental schools, and some states have no dental schools. There is a lot of tough competition to get into any of these dental schools. To be able to get into a dental school you will have to go through personal interviews along with being judged on your DAT scores.
Some of dental schools are:
- University of Alabama School of Dentistry Birmingham, Alabama
- University of California, Los Angeles School of Dentistry Los Angles, California
- Western University of Health Sciences College of Dental Medicine Pomona, California
- University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine Farmington, Connecticut
- University of Florida College of Dentistry Gainesville, Florida
- Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine Alton, Illinois
- Indiana University School of Dentistry Indianapolis, Indiana
- University of Michigan School of Dentistry Ann Arbor, Michigan
- University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- University of Puerto Rico School of Dentistry San Juan, Puerto Rico
It will take 4 years to complete dental school and during these 4 years you will have not only classroom training but laboratory training. This training will cover different aspects of medicine and will cover everything from anatomy to pharmacology. Usually it is required to take classes in biology, physics, biochemistry, and chemistry are usually required. During the last 2 years you will be working in clinical settings under the supervision of licensed dentists in order to help you hone your skills. When you graduate from dental school you will have either a Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.). Most dental school programs will require you to have a background check in order to determine if you will be eligible for licensure. By the time you reach this point you will have already had 4 years of dental schooling and 2 years to get your bachelor’s degree if going full time. The Doctor of Dental Medicine and Doctor of Dental Science are both 4 year programs and are equivalent with very few differences between them.
Orthodontist residency program
After you have become a licensed dentist since you are continuing your education to become an orthodontist you may decide to be certified by the American Board of Orthodontics to help you demonstrate your expertise in orthodontics to peers and patients. In order to become certified you will have to pass both clinical and written exams. In order to keep your certification current a certified orthodontist will have to be re-certified every 10 years.
Once you have your degree you will have to have a Master of Science in Orthodontics if you want to specialize in orthodontics and become an orthodontist. These residency programs are referred to as a post-doctoral orthodontics program and will lead you to the Master’s degree you need. Most of the orthodontist programs are designed to be a 2 year program. Before you choose your orthodontist program make sure that you check out the following 3 things:
- Curriculum—most of the programs will offer similar curriculum that combines practical experience and research instructive education. In order for the student to demonstrate the knowledge that they have gained some programs will require the students to teach both graduate-level and undergraduate-level classes. When checking out the program’s curriculum you will see if this is a requirement of the program.
- Faculty—before seeking admission into a program you should investigate how many faculty members are full time and part time. There are many of the programs that have part time faculty who are practicing orthodontists. Based on them already having practice in the field they can offer the students some real-world instruction.
- Practice options—some schools will offer formal practice and because orthodontia is a practice field you will be expected to complete an interactive experience. During this interactive experience they will give clinical treatment to patients. Many of the programs will work in conjunction with clinics and private practices of orthodontists to offer the students on-site internship opportunities. There may be a few schools that will offer orthodontic services at on-campus facilities. If this is the case students may be charged a usage fee that will be more than $10,000 per year so this is a very important check point that you should look for before selecting a program.
This program will combine labs, clinical experience, and classroom work. In every state you will have to have both a dental license along with a license to practice orthodontics. In addition most orthodontist will seek board certification also. Getting your Master’s degree will require another 2-3 years of schooling. To get into a Master’s degree program most admission officers will take into consideration their GPA (grade point average) in all of the schooling you have completed, your high school GPA, a recommendation from the dental school you attended ending with a personal interview.
Some of the classes you will take to become an orthodontist can include:
- Principles of orthodontics
- Management of craniofacial anomalies
- Materials science
- Research methods
- Orthodontic techniques
- Oral histology and pathology
Most postgraduate orthodontic programs will also offer the student training in the business aspects of establishing and running their own private practice so check the program to see if these classes are part of the curriculum. While studying to be an orthodontist you will typically take clinical rotations and classroom courses simultaneously.
Some of the best orthodontist schools include:
- University of Tennessee
- University of California San Francisco
- University of Maryland
- Virginia Commonwealth University
- University of Texas
- University of California Los Angeles
- Harvard University
As you can see there are some orthodontist residency programs either in the same university as the dental schools or close by so you will not have to go out of state to get into an orthodontist residency program
Licenses and certification
Once you have graduated you will have to be licensed by the state in which you are setting up or joining a practice in order to become a practicing orthodontist. In order to get that license you must have successfully completed the written National Board Dental Examination, pass state clinical tests, and graduated from an accredited dental school. There may also be additional orthodontics licensure that is required by your state so make sure to check and see if these are needed in order to get your license to practice.
You can also pursue optional certification through The American Board of Orthodontics or the National Board of Orthodontics. In order to get either of these certifications you will have to have experience as a practicing orthodontist and have graduated from a certified dental program. You will also have to pass a series of additional case studies and written exams. Certification is optional and approximately only 20% are certified. If you do become certified you will have the title of a Diplomat of the American Board of Orthodontics, which is the highest achievement you can have in the dental profession. Although it is optional to become Board Certified it will help you to have more prestige and an increase in salary.
If you are seeking certification through the National Board of Orthodontics in order to renew it you will have to meet certain continuing education requirement. If you are seeking certification through The American Board of Orthodontics, which is recognized by the American Dental Association, you will have to periodically take recertification exams.
You can find continuing education courses that meet the criteria to renew your certification through the National Board of Orthodontics through dental health organization and local colleges. Some of the continuing education courses include addressing technological advances that have been made in the field of dentistry and orthodontics like new tools or techniques that are available to orthodontists, or diagnostic equipment and nutrition.
Yes, it does take many years of school both classroom and clinical in order to receive your license to become an orthodontist but according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the growth in the orthodontist field is expected to increase by 21% during 2010-2020. This shows that there will always be a need for orthodontists, making it a great professional dental field to pursue.