Before discussing the education that is needed to become an orthodontist it is important to know what they are, what jobs they perform, where they will be working, and their schedule to make sure that this is a career you want to pursue.
What is an orthodontist?
In this medical profession it is a dentist that specialize in the field of orthodontics and major in the prevention and correction of irregularities in your teeth. This field use to be called orthodontia which is derived from two Greek word orthos and dontos which means straight teeth. When you become an orthodontist it means that your main job focus will be to provide your patients of all ages with a beautiful healthy smile.
Orthodontist job description
The basic job description of an orthodontist is for them to realign and strengthen the jaw and teeth with the application of orthodontic retainers and braces. An orthodontist will provide treatment to patients who have oral cavity anomalies and dental malocclusions. They may also be involved in a public health education program showing people how to take care of their teeth.
Some of the many job duties that an orthodontist may perform can include:
- Analyzing x-rays and dental photos of their patients and then developing the right treatment plan.
- Examining the dental and medical histories of their patients.
- Diagnosing any teeth and jaw abnormalities
- Fit and adjust as needed the dental devices that their patients are wearing
- Designing and constructing dental devices such as labial and lingual arch wires and retainers and space maintainers.
- Teaching their patients on the correct teeth-cleaning methods
- Promoting oral hygiene
- Helping to organize public health programs to help educate people on what not to eat and what to eat to help keep their teeth healthy
An orthodontist will also help a patient who has protruding teeth, shifting jaws, chewing problems, facial asymmetry, etc. They also work with other dental specialists like a dental surgeon to help devise an alternative way of treating their patients. Being an orthodontist you will need to be familiar with the different instruments that an orthodontist would use like drills, braces, mouth mirrors, and x-ray machines.
Work environment/schedule of an orthodontist
Being an orthodontist you may have your own practice or be part of a group practice. Some may work in outpatient clinics or for the government in the military. They may also have a teaching position. Because this profession falls under the dental category and not a medical category orthodontists will normally work a regular 40 hour week Monday thru Friday with an 8 hour day. An orthodontist may work one or two days in the evening to accommodate their patients that work during the day. There are some who may even offer emergency dental appointments.
How to become an orthodontist?
To become an orthodontist you will need to enroll in a program that is accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA). When you graduate you will have either a Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.) or a Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.). To get a doctorate you will need to complete 4 years of dental school training. This also includes seeing patients and having a hands-on experience under the supervision of an experience orthodontist. Before attending college you should make sure that you are taking all the science and math classes you can while in high school.
Before you get to this step in the process of being an orthodontist there are some prerequisites for dental school which include:
- Having at least 2 years of a baccalaureate education but most prefer to admit students to dental school how have a bachelor’s degree.
- Having studies at the undergraduate level in either a pre-dental program or a scientific or medical program that is similar like anatomy or biology.
- Take the required pre-dental courses that will generally include science courses like physics, chemistry, biology, and others.
- You will need to pass the Dental Admission Test (DAT) that is administered by the ADA which should be taken in your junior year of college.
Typically to become an orthodontist you will need to spend 2-4 years in an undergraduate program, 4 years in dental school, and finally 2-3 years in a postgraduate orthodontics program. This adds up to at least 8 years of school or as many as 11 years.
Getting into dental school is very competitive so it is important that you have a good score on the DAT test, have recommendation letters, and a good GPA score. You may also have to have an interview with the Dean of Admission at the dental school you want to attend. Because it is so competitive to get into dental school you should apply to more than one to help better your chances of getting into dental school.
Once you are accepted into dental school your first 2 years will be spent taking various basic science courses like anatomy, physiology, microbiology, and biochemistry. The last 2 years will be spent gaining clinical experience and be introduced to different dental specialties like periodontics, pediatric dentistry, orthodontics, maxillofacial surgery, and prosthodontics. Your orthodontic training will include lab and lecture courses, seminars, and clinical rotations.
Once you have completed your 4 years of dental school and gotten your D.D.S. or D.M.D. degree you will have to apply to an orthodontic specialty program. You can apply to these programs by using the Postdoctoral Application Support Service that is offered by the American Dental Education Association. This is a service that will allow you to use a standard format to fill out just one application that will let you apply to multiple orthodontic specialty programs. Most of these programs will take at least 3 years to complete. During these 3 years your will learn about Dentofacial orthopedics which is the guidance of facial development, surgical orthodontics, and orthodontics which is tooth movement, you may also complete a research project, prepare care reports, and attend conferences. When you complete this program you will be a qualified dental specialist in orthodontics.
Exams and certifications
Once all the training requirements are met you may consider becoming board certified as a way to demonstrate your skill and knowledge in orthodontics. If you pass a clinical and written exam you can be certified by the American Board of Orthodontics. After completing 18 months of your postgraduate orthodontics program you will be eligible to take the written part of the examination. You have to pass the written exam in order to take the clinical exam. To recertify your certification you will need to take additional exams periodically. In the United States there are only 20% of orthodontists that are Board Certified Orthodontists. Being board certified is the highest achievement you can earn in the dental field.
In order to practice as a dental specialist you must have a license. The requirements to get a license are regulated by the state. The requirements usually include graduating from an accredited dental school along with passing a practical and written examination. Because you are going to practice as an orthodontist, which is an orthodontics specialty, you will need to have completed a postgraduate education program. You may also have to take additional state exams. However, in most stated the license you have will let you to practice both general and specialty dentistry.
Top orthodontist schools
In the United States there are 56 dental schools that are accredited by the American Dental Association nationwide. The top 5 accredited dental schools include:
- Harvard University, School of Dental Medicine—this is the 10th most expensive dental school and has one of the highest number of graduates that enter a specialization program as a post-graduate. In the United States it is the first university-affiliated and university-based dental schools.
- University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry—it is one of the top rated clinical dental schools in North America with its pleasant family atmosphere you find on campus.
- University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore College of Dental Surgery—at this university you will find one of the most advanced facilities in dental education. Worldwide it is one of the 1st dental colleges to be built.
- The University of Texas, Health Science Center at San Antonio Dental School—the faculty at this university developed the first digital panoramic x-ray device in the United States.
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, School of Dentistry—this university is renowned for its high excellence in research, public service, and teaching activities. It is also North Carolina’s only dental school in the state.
Once you have completed all the years of school and have your degree you are ready to enter the working world as an orthodontist. What your salary will be depends on your geographical location, if you are going into private or group practice, and years of experience. The average starting salary for an orthodontist with no prior experience who has just graduated and gotten their license can have an annual salary that ranges from $55,000-$104,762. Yes, this does not sound like a lot considering the number of years you went to school and all the certifications and licenses you have to have but as you gain more experience and see more patients the salary will go up. An orthodontist who has 20 years of work experience can have an annual salary of $97,959-$225,263.
If you are going into private practice it will take time to build up the number of patients you see each day so you will have expenses such as employee salaries, rent, utilities, advertising, mal-practice insurance, etc. Going into a group practice after graduating is a better idea as you will be working with a group of experience dentists and they can help you build up your patients. Many times an orthodontist will work in a group practice that has general dentists and other specialty dentists so in this case you may be seeing patients of the general dentist who need specialized work done on their teeth and jaw.
Working in a group practice you may also have a benefit package that can include paid vacation and sick days, paid personal days, health and life insurance, profit sharing, 401k, social security, pension, long and short term disability, etc. In a private practice you will be the one who is offering these benefits along with having expenses to pay.