how to become an orthodontist

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how to become an orthodontist

Every mouth and bite is unique, and getting a straight and healthy smile may require the expertise of an orthodontist, who helps individuals achieve properly aligned teeth and jaws. This specialist is a qualified dentist who has completed advanced training in corrective appliances (such as braces) and tooth and jaw alignment, states the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO). Here’s how to become an orthodontist, including what education and certifications are necessary, and what the role and salary entails.

Orthodontists Are Dentists, Too!

What’s the difference between an orthodontist and the general dentist you visit twice annually? While an orthodontist is trained in general dentistry, you wouldn’t seek out this specialist for a toothache. Your general dentist should be your first point of contact for oral health concerns such as tooth pain. A general dentist addresses possible tooth decay, treats teeth with crowns, veneers, bonding or extractions and watches for any conditions that affect your oral health, explains the AAO.

Orthodontists are trained in creating a healthy bite, developing proper alignment, understanding the size and position of your upper and lower jaws and identifying how your teeth are set within them. An orthodontist will also work with your general dentist to determine if your gums and teeth are healthy enough for orthodontic treatment.

A Day in the Life of an Orthodontist

You might think an orthodontist only treats children or teens by placing braces or other appliances. The truth is they treat patients of all ages by solving alignment or bite problems and preventing these problems from becoming worse down the line. Orthodontists treat the following common conditions, among others, according to the American Dental Association (ADA):

  • Crowded teeth
  • Teeth that meet improperly
  • Teeth that don’t meet at all
  • Teeth that have a gap between them
  • Protruding teeth

As specialists in jaw and tooth alignment, they create the best individualized plan for their patients and are experts in recommending the right type of appliances for each unique case.

Educational Requirements for Orthodontists

Do you enjoy working with your hands and solving problems? Are you known for being keenly detailed and having high stamina? These characteristics, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), bode well for a career in oral medicine. If you’re thinking about pursuing this profession, you’ll want to learn about the rigorous educational requirements.

An orthodontist completes an orthodontic residency after graduating dental school, explains the AAO. It typically takes a total of 10 to 11 years before they are certified and licensed to practice; that’s about four years at an accredited undergraduate school, four years at an accredited dental school and two to three years in an accredited orthodontics residency program. According to the BLS, orthodontists in training need to take the following steps before being able to practice:

  • Obtain an undergraduate degree
  • Pass the Dental Admission Test to be able to apply for dental school
  • Complete dental school and residency
  • Pass the National Board Dental Examination
  • Obtain a license to practice orthodontics as a specialty, which may require a special state exam

According to the American Dental Education Association, there’s no recommended undergraduate major for aspiring orthodontists. However, dental schools typically require prerequisite coursework in biology and chemistry. Students wondering how to become an orthodontist might join their undergraduate predental society or work or volunteer in a clinic or office.

Like medical school, dental school is highly demanding. Students split their time between coursework in anatomy, periodontics and radiology, as well as clinical practice, where they gain experience working with patients, according to the BLS.

Career Paths in Orthodontia and Beyond

The path to becoming an orthodontist is a competitive one. According to the AAO, there are more applicants for orthodontics residencies than there are available positions, with about 15 applicants for every residency opening. But once you do become an orthodontist, you’ll be paid well. The BLS reports that orthodontists earn $208,000 on average annually.

According to the ADA, there are other specialties to consider beyond orthodontia. Endodontists focus on the pulp of the tooth, whereas periodontists treat the gums and bone that support the teeth. If you like kids, consider pediatric dentistry, which focuses on oral care for children and adolescents. But if helping a patient achieve their dream smile sounds most appealing, a career in orthodontics could be in your future.

Learning how to become an orthodontist can lead to new career opportunities. Regardless of your background, knowing what steps you need to take on your way to becoming an orthodontist can improve your odds of success. Training for a career as an orthodontist is an important professional move, but it requires research and study. In this article, we discuss what an orthodontist is and show you how you can become one.

What is an orthodontist?

An orthodontist is a medical professional who specializes in preventing, diagnosing and treating various facial and dental irregularities. Their main role is straightening misaligned teeth, but they also work on fixing various other issues, such as misaligned bites, excess teeth and esthetic issues that involve the jaw, teeth and lips.

Some of the most widely used treatments by orthodontists are:

  • Dental braces: They slowly align the teeth into their proper position with the help of individual brackets for each tooth and an archwire that connects all of them. They are typically made of metal, ceramics or clear materials.
  • Retainers: They keep the realigned teeth in their new shape after using dental braces until the bone solidifies, making sure they don’t revert back to their original position.
  • Facemasks and headgear: They typically work in tandem with braces to correct developmental issues, such as overbites and underbites.

The most important skills and qualities for orthodontists usually are:

  • The ability to work and communicate with children and teenagers, as they are the majority of orthodontics patients
  • The ability to explain complex concepts in popular terms
  • Compassion, patience and active listening skills
  • Communication and delegation skills when working with dental assistants
  • The ability and desire to always keep up to date with the latest industry developments and to apply them to patients

Related: How To Become an Orthodontist

How to become an orthodontist

Follow these steps to pursue a career as an orthodontist:

1. Graduate high school

If you are considering a career as an orthodontist while still being in high school, the most useful courses are likely to be biology, anatomy, physics, mathematics and both organic and inorganic chemistry.

2. Earn a bachelor’s degree

Earning a bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite for being admitted to a dental school. Although some schools accept students who only two years as an undergraduate, most of them only take applicants with a bachelor’s degree. Therefore, earning one is crucial for your odds of becoming an orthodontist.

Although there is no clear prerequisite regarding the right undergraduate program, most aspiring orthodontists choose subject majors that prepare them for the next steps, such as biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics. Two of the most popular degrees for orthodontists are Bachelor of Science degrees in either chemistry or biology.

Related: Orthodontist vs. Dentist: What are the Differences?

3. Take the Dental Admission Test

The Dental Admission Test, also called the Dental Aptitude Test and the Dental Acceptance test is given by the American Dental Association and is also a prerequisite for admission to an accredited dental school, with each school requiring a different test score for admission. The test has four sections:

  • Survey of the natural sciences: It includes 40 biology questions, 30 questions about general chemistry and 30 questions about organic chemistry.
  • Perceptual ability: It consists of six problem sets that aim to evaluate your ability to perceive three-dimensional areas and your general spatial reasoning.
  • Reading comprehension: After reading three academic essays on various scientific subjects, usually one or two pages long, the applicants need to answer 50 questions regarding the content of the essays, in order to prove their ability to understand basic scientific information.
  • Quantitative reasoning: It tests critical thinking and basic mathematics skills, such as trigonometry, algebra, roots and fractions.

4. Graduate from dental school

All orthodontists must first become dentists. Aside from your college GPA and your Dental Admission Test score, other elements taken into consideration by admissions boards are:

  • A personal statement from the applicant
  • Various letters of recommendation
  • Previous experience in working as an assistant in the dental field

Students spend the first two years of dental school learning about human anatomy and how dental work can affect different parts of the body. They spend the final two years learning and practicing various procedures, under the direct supervision of licensed teachers and dentists. At the end of the four years, they must prove that they are familiar with every procedure, both in theory and in practice. Dental school students graduate with a Doctor of Dental Surgery or a Doctor of Dental Medicine degree.

5. Earn your dental license

After graduating dental school, the next step is earning your dental license by passing the National Board Dental Examination, as well as a clinical exam administered by a testing agency within your geographical area.

The National Board Dental Examination is a two-part exam and is taken over three days. The first part consists of 400 multiple-choice questions from areas like:

  • Human anatomy, embryology and histology
  • Microbiology and pathology
  • Dental anatomy and occlusion
  • Biochemistry and psychology

The second part takes two days and focuses on topics specific to dental work, such as:

  • Operative dentistry
  • Oral and maxillofacial surgery and pain control
  • Endodontics
  • Periodontics
  • Prosthodontics
  • Patient management
  • Oral diagnosis
  • Pharmacology

Related: 12 Types of Dentists (With Salaries and Requirements)

6. Complete an orthodontics residency

Now that you are a licensed dentist, the next step on your way to becoming an orthodontist is completing an accredited orthodontics residency. It takes two or three years and it enhances a dentist’s knowledge by helping them acquire the skills needed to manage and resolve issues regarding facial misalignment and tooth movement. While a two-year program allows students to graduate faster, a three-year one helps them gain a deeper knowledge of complex orthodontic issues. Three-year programs are more likely to also offer master’s degrees in orthodontics.

7. Earn your orthodontist license

Having completed all the previous prerequisites, the final step toward becoming an orthodontist is earning your license. States usually have slightly different requirements, but the main ones are graduation from an accredited dental school, successful completion of the National Board Dental Examinations and passing state clinical tests. Most licensed orthodontists are also licensed to practice dentistry.

8. Get certified

If, after becoming an orthodontist, you wish to showcase your acquired expertise to patients and colleagues, you can get certified by the American Board of Orthodontics. Certification requires passing written and clinical exams and needs to be retaken every 10 years.

If you’re thinking about straightening your teeth or improving your bite, you’ll need assistance from an orthodontist. While you may be familiar with that title, you might not be aware of the credentials this type of dental professional possesses. Simply put, an orthodontist is a dentist who has undergone additional training to become an expert at aligning teeth and jaws.

In the medical field, all doctors undergo basic medical training, then choose a speciality and become experts in that field. Your primary care doctor is responsible for your overall wellness. You see them for routine checkups, and they’re the first stop if you feel or if an unanticipated problem arises. If that problem requires specific attention, they may refer you to a doctor who specializes in that field. Similarly, your general dentist is in charge of your basic oral health. You visit your dentist’s office for routine cleanings, X-rays, and checkups. If you have an achy tooth, you see them first. If you have dental problems that require further intervention, they will send you to the appropriate specialist. Your dentist is typically the one to refer you to an orthodontist if you, like many people, have abnormalities with your alignment or bite.

If your child has had a great experience with orthodontic care, they may wonder what it would take to become an orthodontist someday. Or, maybe you’ve always thought about starting a new career in dentistry. Only 6 percent of dentists successfully pursue this advanced specialty, which requires two- to three-years of training after dental school. If you are contemplating this path, be prepared for at least a decade of college and post-graduate schooling.

Dental School

Before you can begin study in the orthodontic specialty, you must complete dental school and become a fully-certified dentist. Dental school is four years of intense study beyond a bachelor’s degree. An undergraduate degree in a science field is not a requirement for admission to dental school. However, you typically need to complete prerequisite courses in biology, chemistry, and other sciences.

At least one year before seeking admission, dental school applicants must take the Dental Admissions Test (DAT). This exam measures comprehension of scientific principles and general academic and perceptual ability. Schools will take the results of this exam, your college GPA, letters of recommendation, and the intensity of your undergraduate program into consideration when making their admission decision. Most dental schools also require a personal interview as part of the admissions process. This allows the admissions committee an opportunity to evaluate your character and qualifications, and gives you the chance to ask questions about the school and its program.

The first two years of dental school are typically spent in the classroom. Students take courses in health sciences and learn about the body and the diseases that can affect it. Required courses typically include anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, and dental-oriented sciences including oral anatomy, pathology, and histology. The last two years focus on clinical study. This is when you’ll learn how to care for a diversity of patients with different needs. At many schools, students rotate through several hospitals, clinics, and health centers. This gives you an opportunity to practice dental medicine alongside other health professionals and health professions students.

After successfully completing dental school, students earn either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Medical Dentistry (DMD) degree. Although the titles sound different, the curriculum requirements for the degrees are the same. Each individual dental school decides which degree to offer. Earning either degree isn’t cheap. You can expect to pay anywhere from $150,000 to over $300,000 for dental school, depending on the name recognition of the program and whether it’s public or private school. However, there are plenty of merit- and need-based scholarships available that can help fund your education.

Orthodontic Residency

In the final year of dental school, you can choose to apply to a two- to three- year residency program if you wish to pursue an advanced dental field, such as prosthodontics, periodontics, endodontics, and, of course, orthodontics. Applicants can search for and apply to postdoctoral programs using the Postdoctoral Application Support Service (PASS) and the Postdoctoral Dental Matching Program (MATCH). These systems allow you to fill out one application for multiple programs. Most programs require that you have taken and passed the National Board Dental Examination (NBDE).

Acceptance into an orthodontic residency program is highly competitive. Many dental school graduates apply to this program several times and do not get accepted. According to the American Association of Orthodontics, each orthodontic residency program has approximately one spot per every 15 applicants. Your chances of breaking into the field increase if you graduate at the top of your dental school class. 

During the orthodontic residency program, along with continued coursework, dentists are closely supervised while treating orthodontic patients. This residency period requires long hours—typically an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. work day, followed by lab requirements and study time. Following residency, you must pass board examinations and become licensed in your state before you can practice. You can also choose to become certified by the American Board of Orthodontists. In order to gain certification, you must pass written and clinical exams. Recertification is required every ten years.

Other Skill Sets Needed

Most orthodontists are small-business entrepreneurs, setting up their own private practices. If you are a private practice owner, you’re responsible for the day-to-day management and upkeep of the office. This means there is more to the job than fixing teeth. To successfully run a private practice you must have strong business acumen and know basic business skills, including human resource and finance management. Usually, orthodontists hire a small staff to assist with these responsibilities so they can focus on patient care. Some orthodontists join together to create a private-practice group, which allows them to divide the responsibilities on the business side.

Being a successful orthodontist also requires good “people skills.” If you want a plentiful practice, you will need your patients to find you friendly, personable, empathetic, and trustworthy. Since many orthodontic patients are children and young adults, you must be able to work comfortably with patients of all ages. A willingness to work as part of a team and the ability to delegate tasks to staff members is also important.

Life As An Orthodontist 

Although the upfront costs can be incredibly daunting, after time, a career in orthodontics can really pay off.

In the field of orthodontics, employment is projected to grow much faster than most careers. There are ample job options throughout the country for orthodontists. Orthodontics also offers plenty of opportunities for growth. With so many technological advances in the field, there is always something new to learn. Through continuing education and special training, you can improve your skills and learn about the latest offerings in orthodontic care. The more up to date you are with the latest technologies and techniques, the more successful you’ll be in the job market.

Most orthodontists have reasonable work schedules, usually working 35–40 hours a week over four or five days. Occasionally, you might have to see patients beyond normal work hours for special appointments or emergency procedures.

Overall, being an orthodontist is about giving patients a healthy and beautiful smile. While the road to becoming an orthodontist can be intimidating and challenging, it can also be very rewarding. If you are passionate about teeth and are interested in helping people look and feel their best, a career in orthodontics may be a perfect fit.

As of Feb 10, 2022, the average monthly pay for an Orthodontist in the United States is $24,388 a month.

While ZipRecruiter is seeing monthly salaries as high as $33,167 and as low as $6,125, the majority of Orthodontist salaries currently range between $21,583 (25th percentile) to $31,000 (75th percentile) across the United States. The average pay range for an Orthodontist varies greatly (by as much as $9,417), which suggests there may be many opportunities for advancement and increased pay based on skill level, location and years of experience.

Based on recent job posting activity on ZipRecruiter, the Orthodontist job market in both Lagos, NG and throughout the entire state of is not very active as few companies are currently hiring. An Orthodontist in your area makes on average $24,388 per month, or the same as the national average monthly salary of $24,388. ranks number 1 out of 50 states nationwide for Orthodontist salaries.

To estimate the most accurate monthly salary range for Orthodontist jobs, ZipRecruiter continuously scans its database of millions of active jobs published locally throughout America.

Find your next high paying job as an Orthodontist on ZipRecruiter today.

What are Top 10 Highest Paying Cities for Orthodontist Jobs

We’ve identified 10 cities where the typical salary for an Orthodontist job is above the national average. Topping the list is Palo Alto, CA, with San Mateo, CA and Boston, MA close behind in the second and third positions. Boston, MA beats the national average by $52,441 (17.9%), and Palo Alto, CA furthers that trend with another $59,647 (20.4%) above the $292,662 average.

Importantly, Palo Alto, CA has a moderately active Orthodontist job market with only a few companies currently hiring for this type of role.

With these 10 cities having average salaries higher than the national average, the opportunities for economic advancement by changing locations as an Orthodontist appears to be exceedingly fruitful.

Finally, another factor to consider is the average salary for these top ten cities varies very little at 6% between Palo Alto, CA and Newark, NJ, reinforcing the limited potential for much wage advancement. The possibility of a lower cost of living may be the best factor to use when considering location and salary for an Orthodontist role.

CityAnnual SalaryMonthly PayWeekly PayHourly Wage
Palo Alto, CA$352,309$29,359$6,775$169.38
San Mateo, CA$350,652$29,221$6,743$168.58
Boston, MA$345,104$28,759$6,637$165.92
Santa Monica, CA$340,612$28,384$6,550$163.76
Renton, WA$339,504$28,292$6,529$163.22
Berkeley, CA$338,039$28,170$6,501$162.52
Daly City, CA$337,089$28,091$6,482$162.06
Lowell, MA$334,119$27,843$6,425$160.63
Richmond, CA$329,767$27,481$6,342$158.54
Newark, NJ$328,903$27,409$6,325$158.13

Analyzing similar jobs related to the Orthodontist job category, we found five that were relevant. However, none pay more than the $292,662 average for Orthodontist jobs. Nevertheless Dentist Orthodontist, Associate Orthodontist, or Part Time Orthodontist may still be interesting positions to explore.

Job TitleAnnual SalaryMonthly PayWeekly PayHourly Wage
Part Time Orthodontist$208,532$17,378$4,010$100.26
Associate Orthodontist$185,828$15,486$3,574$89.34
Dentist Orthodontist$182,251$15,188$3,505$87.62
Pediatric Orthodontist$160,534$13,378$3,087$77.18
Private Orthodontist$157,603$13,134$3,031$75.77

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