How Do I Become an Orthodontist Assistant?

Explore the career requirements for orthodontist assistants. Get the facts about education, salary, certification requirements and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Dental Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is An Orthodontist Assistant?

Orthodontist assistants work in dentist offices assisting orthodontists and performing other routine tasks. Employers will look for assistants who work well with others, are compassionate and friendly, and who also work well with their hands as you will be handling small tools and working in a patient's mouth. You will generally work in an office environment during the week though some offices may have alternate hours and be open on weekends as well. Most orthodontist assistants work full-time though some offices may offer part-time positions.

The following chart provides an overview about becoming an orthodontic assistant.

Degree Required Post-secondary certificate or associate's degree
Field of Study Dental assistant, orthodontic assistant
Certification Many states require dental assistants to be licensed or have professional certification; professional certification in orthodontic assisting may be required by employers
Key Responsibilities Sterilize instruments; prepare work area before use and clean after use; assist dentist during procedures; maintain patient records; process x-rays and lab tests
Job Growth (2014-2024) 18%* (dental assistants)
Median Salary (2015) $35,980* (dental assistants)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Education Do I Need?

The minimum level of education some employers may require from you is a high school diploma or GED, along with a training course or courses in orthodontic assisting. Such courses are available from private dental schools, state agencies and community colleges. In the latter instance they are offered as part of larger associate's degree programs in dental assisting. Most employers would prefer you to have a dental assisting or dental hygienist degree.

Dental assisting associate's degree programs train you to support the work of dentists in both a clerical capacity and as part of a dental team. Courses cover such topics as oral anatomy, radiology, dental materials and infection prevention and control. Polishing teeth, creating dental molds and building rubber dams are among the dental procedures you could learn. Many programs include internship opportunities to give you work experience in a dental office. You will also have to complete general education courses in composition, mathematics and the humanities. Associate's degrees are typically earned in two years.

Courses in orthodontic assisting address a more specialized set of topics. These include orthodontic appliances, appliance fitting and removal, wire selection and installation, cementation and orthodontic instruments. Courses may be completed in under a year.

Will I Need Certification?

The Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) offers certification for both dental assistants and orthodontist assistants (OA). You must pass two qualifying exams in orthodontic assisting and infection control to become a Certified Orthodontic Assistant. As of April 2011, DANB certification for OAs was recognized in 38 states and required in four - Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey and Oregon.

What Are My Job Prospects?

O*Net includes orthodontist assistants within the broader category of dental assistants. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dental assistants were expected to see an 18% employment growth rate for 2014-2024 ( Due to an increase in population and improved dental health, dental assistants were forecasted to be one of the occupations with the fastest employment growth during that period.

Dental assistants earned an average annual wage of $36,920, according to the BLS in May 2015. The middle 50% of dental assistants earned between $29,580 and $43,860 in 2015. Over 90% of dental assistants worked in private dental practices, although some were employed by state, local and federal agencies or doctors' offices.

What Will My Job Duties Be?

Most of your work will revolve around clinical practice and patient care, with a smaller set of duties associated with office management. Clinical practice and patient care duties include taking x-rays, sterilizing instruments, setting up trays for chairside procedures, explaining procedures to patients, cleaning teeth and following the directions of your employer during procedures. Office management duties will include maintaining patient records, ordering supplies, attending staff meetings and answering phones.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you decide that becoming an orthodontist assistant isn't for you, consider a career as a dental hygienist or a dental assistant. Dental hygienists and assistants will have similar job duties to orthodontist assistants except that their work will be more focused on cleaning teeth, helping dentists and performing office duties rather than working directly with orthodontists. Dental hygienists will work directly with patients cleaning teeth while dental assistants aid hygienists and dentists by handling tools, taking x-rays, keeping medical records and scheduling appointments. Dental assistants typically have the same education requirements as orthodontist assistants, while dental hygienists typically complete a 3-year associate degree program.

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