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How to Become an Orthodontist Assistant in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for orthodontist assistants. Get the facts about education, job duties, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you.

What Does An Orthodontist Assistant Do?

As an orthodontist assistant, you will support an orthodontist by preparing tools, talking to patients and generally providing assistance to the orthodontist. Assistants often meet with the patients first. They may perform cleaning duties and check-in with patients to see if they are experiencing any problems. They also work closely with the orthodontist while they performing procedures and make sure they have all the necessary tools. The following chart gives you an overview about becoming an orthodontist assistant.

Degree Required Post-secondary certificate or diploma program
Education Field of Study Dental assistant
Key Responsibilities Prepare and sterilize instruments; assist orthodontist during procedures; maintain patient records; make patient appointments
Licensure and/or Certification Some states require dental assistants to be certified
Job Growth (2018-2028) 11% growth (for all dental assistants)*
Median Salary (2019) $34,093 (for all orthodontic assistants)**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

What Is an Orthodontist Assistant?

An orthodontist assistant is a type of dental assistant who provides support services to orthodontists. In such a position, patient care and chairside assistance are your major responsibilities. These duties include cleaning and sterilizing instruments; setting up instruments, appliances and other supplies on trays; explaining orthodontic procedures to patients; making tooth impressions for casts; and helping the orthodontics attach brackets, bands and wires. You also have some general office duties, which include maintaining patient records, ordering supplies, answering phones and scheduling appointments.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

You will need a high school diploma or G.E.D. to enter an orthodontist assistant training program. According to O*Net Online, about 9% of assistants have no more than a high school diploma (www.onetonline.org). Chemistry, biology and office skills courses establish a base of knowledge that can prepare you to carry out an orthodontist assistant's duties.

Step 2: Complete a Training Program

Apart from private, for-profit training academies, dedicated training programs for orthodontist assistants are relatively rare. You're more likely to find orthodontics courses within a dental assisting certificate or associate's degree program. At both program levels you can expect to learn oral anatomy, infection control, dental materials and radiology. In lab courses you learn how to make dental molds and polish teeth. Content specific to orthodontics focuses on bonding agents, different varieties of tooth appliances and the manipulation of arch wires.

Step 3: Obtain a Job

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 6,500 orthodontists were practicing in 2018 (www.bls.gov). Although the BLS doesn't offer specific data for orthodontist assistants, you can gain an approximation for employment demand by studying the employment figures for orthodontists. From 2018-2028 the number was projected to rise 7% to around 7,000. Payscale.com reports that as of 2019 you could potentially earn a salary in the middle range of roughly $25,000-$47,000 while working as an orthodontist assistant.

Step 4: Consider Certification

Although certification isn't required in most states, it demonstrates your competence and can potentially lead to a higher salary. You can obtain the Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA) designation from the Dental Assisting National Board (www.danb.org). The COA exam has two components, the Orthodontic Assisting (OA) exam and the Infection Control (ICE) exam. They consist of 210 multiple-choice questions and 100 multiple-choice questions respectively. As of December 2019, COA certification is recognized in 38 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Veterans Affairs - as a qualification for performing expanded functions as an orthodontist assistant.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

Unless you've already earned an associate's degree, most of your advancement options require additional education. If the practice you work for is large enough you could become its office manager. You could also move into sales and become a rep for dental and orthodontic supply companies. If you like orthodontia you could become an orthodontist by completing several more years of schooling. You typically need to earn a bachelor's degree as well as a doctorate in dentistry before you can enter an orthodontics program.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

For individuals interested in orthodontic assisting, they may want to also to consider jobs as general dental assistants, which would require many of the same skills. Individuals could also complete more schooling and choose to pursue a career in dentistry or orthodontics. They could also complete degrees to become various other types of assistants, like medical or nursing assistants.