Orthodontist Salary and Career Guide

Some general dentists may typically provide orthodontic services for their clients, however, most will refer their dental patients to a specialist – the orthodontist. Orthodontists work with identifying dental abnormalities, realigning teeth and improving or restoring proper jaw function for their patients. They also work with their patients to create a more desirable appearance and increase a patient’s self confidence, typically by straightening crooked or misplaced teeth through the use of applied orthodontics – retainers, braces or other dental appliances.

Salary Range for an Orthodontist

Anyone who’s had to pay for braces knows that orthodontists make a lot of money. An orthodontist salary is among the highest of any profession, in the range of $80,00 to $250,000. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the average annual salary for an orthodontist to be about $193,000 although that can be higher or lower depending upon several other factors like location, education and years of experience. In regions where the cost of living is higher, orthodontists will typically make even more. Those in private practice will likely earn even higher salaries. Orthodontists in the top 10% of their profession earn around $300,000 a year.

Required Skills

To be an orthodontist requires an exceptional degree of manual dexterity and strong diagnostic abilities. Orthodontists typically have an excellent sense of judgment in regards to spaces, shape and color. All of these skills and abilities will help the orthodontist to accomplish tasks like creating or fitting complex dental appliances in a patient’s mouth and changing the position of teeth or jaws in order to realign them.

Orthodontists also need to have exceptional communication skills. They must be able to clearly instruct dental assistants and dental technicians in everyday complex tasks, procedures and other techniques. Collaboration with other orthodontists and professionals like restorative dentists, Endodontists, surgeons, etc. is also essential. Occasionally they may need to communicate and coordinate services with other professionals in the medical field.

Diagnostic ability is also necessary in order to study or create dental records, x-rays, plaster models of teeth and envelop patient treatment plans. Orthodontists must also identify, diagnose and treat teeth, jaw or dental-facial type abnormalities. Designing and fabricating dental appliances to assist in realigning teeth, realigning jaws, restoring normal function or improving a person’s overall appearance are all vital tasks performed by an orthodontist.


Training to be an orthodontist can be a challenge. After earning a 4-year bachelors degree, the next step is 4 additional years of dental school to earn a Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) degree or Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.) degree from an accredited dental school. From there, it’s two or three more years in a post-doctoral residency program and more specialized orthodontic training which typically earns an M.S. Degree.

Practical experience in applied orthodontics is earned during the degree program through completion of supervised clinical rotations. During these rotations, orthodontists learn valuable skills in patient care as well as hands-on practice on model teeth and actual patients. Orthodontic students demonstrate proficiency thorough the experiences of common orthodontic procedures. An orthodontist right out of residency may have as $100,000 to $400,000 in student loans which need to be repaid.

Licensing and Certification

All orthodontists, like dentists, must pass the National Board Dental Examinations administered by the American Dental Association in order to be be licensed to practice in each state. Optional certification may also be sought through the National Board of Orthodontics or the American Board of Orthodontics. Recertification exams are required periodically through the ADA’s American Board of Orthodontics. Renewal of certification through the National Board of Orthodontics is granted by completion of certain continuing education requirements.

Licensing requirements for orthodontists vary from state to state, however, most states typically require an orthodontist to complete dental school and pass dental board examinations and state licensing exams. If an orthodontist wants to specialize in a particular field, completion of additional examinations is typically required.

Possible Career Paths

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities for orthodontists are projected to increase by about 20% through 2020. Some attribute this need for more orthodontists as a good number of baby boom generation orthodontists are finally retiring in the next few years.

Private Practice

Orthodontists who work by themselves or with other professionals in private practice typically make more money than those who opt for employment with a larger firm, clinic, dental practice or other health care facility. There are advantages and disadvantages to the private practice business model. The biggest advantage is financial reward. Private practice means working only when necessary. The biggest disadvantage to private practice is taking out a huge loan to cover the cost of all the necessary equipment, employees and all the other things necessary to run a private practice.

Those considering private practice should be certain to hire trusted financial professionals to assist in daily business operations. Hire an accountant to keep an eye on the books, a qualified assistant to help out and a competent office manager to handle clients, billing, financial arrangements, scheduling and other office duties. It also helps to have a good head for business.

Continuing Education

Opportunities for advancement and professional development are available to orthodontists through professional associations like the College of Diplomates of the American Board of Orthodontics or the American Association of Orthodontists. These organizations provide workshops, seminars and online resources for continuing education and practice management. Other educational opportunities and libraries containing orthodontist journal articles are also available. Another option for orthodontists is enroll in a Ph.D. program which is necessary to pursue a career in research or teaching.

Manufacturers or dental health organizations may also provide opportunities to learn about the latest technological advances in the field of orthodontics. Other groups may offer courses on nutrition, proper uses of diagnostic equipment, newly developed techniques or new tools developed specifically for orthodontists.

Training to be an orthodontist can seem a bit daunting, however, the financial and personal rewards can be quite significant. Not only do orthodontists make a great deal of money, they also help people look and feel better about themselves – and that is a good thing.

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