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Orthodontist: Job Duties, Employment Outlook and Educational Requirements

Research what it takes to become an orthodontist. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you.

What Is an Orthodontist?

As an orthodontist, you could use braces and retainers to prevent future dental problems for patients, straighten their teeth and correct bite issues. Orthodontists also make models and measurements for braces and appliances, as well as provide repairs and routine maintenance of the appliances. These professionals are responsible for educating their patients on the proper use of the appliances and how to care for their teeth while braces are in place. The following chart gives you an overview about a career as an orthodontist.

Degree Required Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD)
Training Required 1- to 2-year orthodontic residency
Key Skills Dexterity; attention to detail; good communication skills; organizational skills
Licensure and/or Certification All states require dentists to be licensed; board certification in orthodontics is required
Job Growth (2018-2029) 7%*
Average Salary (2018) $225,760*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Job Duties of an Orthodontist?

You could examine patients, develop treatment plans and prepare patients for orthodontic services. You could also work with orthodontic technicians and instruct them about what procedures patients need to undergo. Because of the nature of orthodontics, you could see your patients on a monthly basis and treat their orthodontic issues until their treatments are complete.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most dentists are private practitioners who own their own businesses, so you could also be responsible for managerial tasks such as paying employees, ordering supplies and keeping your office stocked with orthodontic tools (www.bls.gov). You could also work in hospitals or general physician offices.

What is My Employment Outlook?

In 2018, BLS reported that orthodontists made up the largest group of dental specialists in the United States. There were approximately 5,500 orthodontists in the U.S. in 2018, and the number of positions was expected to increase by 7% between 2018-2028, which is faster than average. Additionally, the BLS reported that orthodontists earned an average salary of $225,760 as of 2018.

What Education Do I Need?

You can start by earning a bachelor's degree, which could be in any field, although coursework in your chosen degree program should include in-depth study of the basic and biological sciences. After you graduate, you'll need to take the Dental Admission Test (DAT) to be admitted into dentistry school. Dentistry program generally include two years of classroom work and two years of residential practice, which is the period of time when you'll work on actual patients. General dentistry programs are typically four years in length and lead to a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree.

Another route is to enroll in a seven year bachelor's to doctoral program. This option allows you to enter into a dentistry program after high school, doing away with the need to attend a separate dentistry school. After you earn your DMD, you can enroll in a post-graduate training program in orthodontics, which often leads to an a master's degree in orthodontics, oral science or oral biology, an orthodontics certificate or a Ph.D. During your clinical training, you'll work on real patients, assessing the severity of facial anomalies, diagnosing dental problems and treating patients with a variety of orthodontic procedures.

How Do I Get Licensed and Certified?

Regardless of the educational program you complete, you'll need to pass the National Board Dental Examinations, a written and clinical examination administered by the Joint Commission on Dental Examinations. Once you pass the exam, you can get licensed through your State Board of Dentistry. State requirements for dentists may vary, so you'll need to check with your state board for specific requirements. You may need to take additional exams or complete more training. You can obtain your dentistry license after you complete your DMD and before you enter post-graduate training.

Next, you'll need to get certified by the American Board of Orthodontics, which is the oldest specialty board of dentistry in the U.S. The Initial Certification Examination consists of both written and clinical examinations. Once you pass the examinations, you'll earn the Board Certified Orthodontist designation.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are several alternative careers for someone with career aspirations in the medical field. The following related careers also require a doctoral or professional degree. Chiropractors are doctors who work with the neuromusculoskeletal system and help reduce neck or back pain through spinal adjustments. Podiatrists are doctors who treat conditions of the feet, ankles and lower legs. They are qualified to perform surgery in these areas. Optometrists are doctors who manage eye health and any conditions or disease of the eye and visual systems.