Certified Orthodontic Assistant: Salary, Career and Training Facts

A specialized type of dental assistant, certified orthodontic assistants use their clinical skills to help orthodontists treat patients. Review the educational requirements for becoming an orthodontic assistant and earning certification in the field. Find out more about what certified orthodontic assistants do and how much they typically earn. Schools offering Dental Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What You Need to Know

Orthodontic assistants work under the supervision of orthodontists to help correct tooth and jaw alignment, address cavity issues and treat other dental concerns. Since orthodontists represent the largest group of dental specialists, certified assistants may have many employment opportunities.

Career Outlook (2016-2026)* 19% (for all dental assistants)
Median Salary (2017)* $37,630 (for all dental assistants)
Certification Available through the Dental Assisting National Board

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are Some Duties and Expectations of the Career?

A certified orthodontic assistant's job is very interactive, and typically, much of the workday is spent with patients. Some examples of duties include:

  • Cleaning braces
  • Replacing hardware on braces
  • Assisting with dental molds
  • Prepping instruments and dental equipment
  • Examining teeth and dental work

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates a 19% increase in job growth for dental assistants between 2016 and 2026, which is much faster than the average for other occupations. Increased research and study on the importance of oral health, in addition to an aging baby boomer population, stand to keep the demand for dental services high, according to the BLS.

What Kind of Salary Can I Expect?

The BLS also states the median annual salary for dental assistants was $37,630 in May 2017. Data from the BLS also shows that the salary of the bottom 10% of dental assistants was $26,170, while the top 10% of dental assistants earned more than $53,130. Dental assistants employed in home health care services earned the highest salary, followed by those working in specialty hospitals and state government.

What Training Will I Need?

While there are few training programs that cater specifically to orthodontic assisting, many community and vocational schools offer programs in dental assisting. These programs vary in length, but most programs take about a year and result in a vocational certificate or diploma. You can then take an orthodontic assisting preparation course in your dental assisting program.

Additionally, distance learning programs in dental assisting are available. These programs may require current employment as a dental assistant and the completion of hygiene-related prerequisite courses. Access to the Internet is required for completion of this option.

Though you can begin working without any certification or formal training, many orthodontists prefer to hire someone that's certified. This shows patients and employers that you're knowledgeable in your field, participate in continuing education and are recognized as a competent member of the dental community.

How Do I Become Certified?

The Dental Assisting National Board, Inc. (www.danb.org) specifies that to become a COA, you must pass both the Orthodontic Assisting and Infectious Control exams. You then need to provide documentation of one of four eligibility pathways, such as completing 3,500 hours of work experience or graduating from an accredited dental assisting program.

To make the certification process easier, make sure you select a dental assisting program that's accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation of the American Dental Association. Be sure that your program offers a course in orthodontic assisting preparation as well.

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