How to Become an

Orthodontist

The complete career guide to be an Orthodontist: salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $221,390
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • 18.3%
    Job Growth Rate
  • Growing Demand
    Job Outlook
  • Growing Industry
    Career Attribute

Orthodontists are dentists that specialize in straightening teeth through the installation and maintenance of braces, retainers, and other adjustment equipment. They measure patients’ mouths and teeth for hardware, install braces, teach patients how to care for braces, and tighten braces regularly.


What is an Orthodontist?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in orthodontist roles:

  • Evaluate new patients to recommend a treatment plan
  • Measure patient mouths and teeth to create or order braces, retainers, or mouth guards
  • Install braces and wires, and teach patients how to care for equipment
  • Follow up with patients frequently to monitor progress, tighten braces, and make adjustments
  • Manage office staff, including receptionists, technicians, and assistants

A Day in the Life of an Orthodontist

Orthodontists are dentists that specialize in straightening teeth. While the majority of the patients an orthodontist sees are pre-teens or teenagers, orthodontists may work with patients of all age groups—even adults sometimes get braces if they weren’t able to get their teeth straightened as children. Patients usually come to orthodontists through referrals from a general dentist. When new patients arrive, orthodontists evaluate the position of teeth to recommend a plan of action for treatment.

If patients need to be fitted for braces, retainers, mouth guards, or night guards, the orthodontist measures the patient’s mouth and teeth. This allows the orthodontist to order appropriately sized hardware from a dental laboratory. Once the equipment arrives from the laboratory, the orthodontist works to install the equipment in the patient’s mouth. This may include adhering braces to a patient’s teeth, installing wires, or simply ensuring that retainers, mouth guards, and night guards fit correctly.

While a patient is being treated by an orthodontist, he/she visits the orthodontist frequently for evaluations and adjustments. Over the course of wearing braces, the orthodontist works to tighten braces to straighten teeth little by little without causing the patient too much pain. Once teeth are straight, the orthodontist removes the braces and polishes the patient’s teeth. He/she may also recommend continued treatment, such as wearing a retainer or mouth guard after braces are removed.

Typical Work Schedule

Orthodontists usually follow the regular 40-50 hours working schedule whether in a private practice office, medical center or other care centers. Others will work on evenings and weekends to suit more the schedules of the patients. Accordingly, you should be flexible regarding the working schedule and set the best time that suits most of your patients. You may have to work for extended hours if you have a large network of clients or if you need to compensate for your partner in the clinic.

Projected Job Growth

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are currently around 10,600 orthodontists working in the country. The demand for this job is expected to increase by 2% from 2019 to 2029 which is less than the average for all other occupations. Recently, there has been more awareness for good oral hygiene as recent research shows its link to overall health. As the older populations age with more of them keeping their teeth unlike previous generations, more problems will arise that requires complicated dental services. Such problems include increased risk of oral cancer which requires advanced dental skills for reconstruction and other interventions. This increased demand however will also be matched with strong competition for the available opportunities as the number of graduates in this field increase. This competition is expected to be stronger in places where sufficient number of orthodontists already exist.

Typical Employers

Orthodontists can work in medical care centers, hospitals as well as other physicians’ offices. However, many prefer to work privately whether individually or with a partner, establishing their own offices where they can continue their practices with more flexibility. You can also work for the government who employ them to provide dental services to the public or to monitor the services provided in a certain area or district. Working in the academic field can also be a choice for some graduates to develop new techniques, tools or materials to be used in this field.


How To Become an Orthodontist

The starting point for becoming an orthodontist is earning a bachelor’s degree. The type of bachelor’s degree pursued is flexible, though most individuals have more success getting admitted into dental school if their bachelor’s degree program requires them to take several science courses. After earning a bachelor’s degree and taking the required dental school graduate program standardized test, students can apply to schools that offer professional dentistry graduate programs.

Aspiring orthodontists must then complete a professional dentistry program to become general dentists. There are three common degrees awarded to dentists: Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS), Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM), or Doctor of Medical Dentistry (DMD). After completing the graduate dentistry program, students are required to pass written and practical exams administered by the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (JCNDE) to become licensed to work as general dentists.

While graduation from dentistry school allows you to find work as a general dentist, additional education is required to specialize in orthodontics. After graduating from dental school, you’ll need to enroll in an orthodontics residency. These residency programs last two or more years and require both coursework and practical training that’s specific to the field of orthodontics. After completing an orthodontics residency, you may also need to take additional exams to become licensed to work as an orthodontist in your state of practice.


Orthodontist Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

Low Range

$137,150

Average

$221,390

High Range

---

National Hourly Wage

Low Range

$66/hr

Average

$106/hr

High Range

---

How do Orthodontist salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, Orthodontist's can make an average annual salary of $221,390, or $106 per hour. On the lower end, they can make $137,150 or $66 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #5 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Average Salary Nationally


Highest Education Among Orthodontists

  • 95.5%   Doctorate
  • 2.1%   Masters
  • 1.7%   Bachelors
  • 0.3%   Associates
  • 0%   College
  • 0.3%   High School
  • 0.2%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs

8,200

2024 Est. Jobs

9,700

Job Growth Rate

18.3%

Est. New Jobs

1,500

How does Orthodontist job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of 1,500 jobs for a total of 9,700 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a 18.3% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Above Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #69 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Avg. Growth Nationally


What Companies Employ The Most Orthodontists

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
Offices of dentists 5,900 1,100 1%
Self-employed workers 1,900 300 0%
Offices of physicians 100 --- ---

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