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How to Become an Orthodontist | Health Worker Salary 2018

How to Become an Orthodontist



What is a Orthodontist? 

Orthodontists are specialized dentists who:

  • Offer preventative treatment for tooth and jaw development
  • Treat misaligned teeth and jaws without performing surgery
  • Correct over and under bites using orthodontics
  • Adjust spacing and positions of teeth for safe development
  • Improve the overall look and health of the mouth

While most associate orthodontists with braces and how much they hated them as a kid, orthodontists do more than put braces on teenagers. They perform a wide variety of procedures to help fix tooth and jaw alignments, positioning, and more. From plastic removable alignment guides to braces and rubber bands, they implement the best possible methods to help their patients achieve the look they want from their smile.

These specialists are experts when it comes to the mouth and jaw areas of their patients, having received special training focusing exclusively on the orofacial area. They can treat children and adults as well, which makes them a crucial part of developing a healthy and beautiful smile for the whole family.

Duties of Orthodontist

The specific duties that an orthodontist performs primarily depends on the age of their patients. They often treat children and adults alike, with children usually receiving preventative care that shapes the smile and jaw while each develops as they grow. With guidance and minor adjustments, the teeth and jaw can be poised to grow in straight and evenly, removing the need for corrective treatment later in life.

Adult mouths have often already full formed and developed, meaning they require more corrective procedures than preventative to fix their smiles. Therefore, orthodontists recommend receiving treatment as soon as possible before preventative care becomes corrective care. Some common duties of orthodontists are:

  • Examine the mouth and diagnose any imperfections or signs of damage
  • Take X-rays and molds of the mouth for diagnostic purposes
  • Develop a short- and long-term treatment plan to help the patient achieve their ideal look
  • Install braces, retainers, and headgear to correct alignment issues with teeth and the jaw
  • Remove and adjust orthodontics over time to ensure proper facial growth and tooth spacing
  • Recommend a periodontist or oral surgeon for advanced diseases or damage requiring implants or surgery

Bonuses and Benefits of Orthodontist

Unlike many medical professionals, orthodontists are not usually a part of a larger team. In some cases, they may work alongside other dentists and dental professionals, or they can also be sole proprietors of their own practice with assistants and other staff working for them. This is because orthodontists do not perform surgical procedures, which greatly reduces the staff requirements for their practice.

When they own their own firm, orthodontists will often pay for their own medical, dental, and vision coverage. They may even provide coverage and other benefits for their staff, although this varies depending on the employer. The same will apply for a group practice where all medical and dental professionals work together equally, likely with each being responsible for their own individual coverage or their part of a group plan.

When working under an organization that employs multiple doctors and dentists, standard medical, vision, and dental coverage can be offered as part of a benefit package. However, this often requires being salaried staff rather than an owner or co-owner of a private firm, which can lead to a lower income overall.

Orthodontists do not usually receive bonuses, however when employed they may receive raises depending on their experience and seniority within the company.

Work Environment of Orthodontist

The need for oral health services spans the entirety of the world, making the geographical opportunities for an orthodontist plentiful. They can open a practice in their city, work anywhere in their country with proper licensing, or travel to developing countries to train others and offer treatments to those who would otherwise not be able to afford treatment.

Private practices and offices are the most common places of practice for orthodontists. This is because orthodontists do not perform surgical procedures or regularly handle emergencies, which means that they do not usually work in hospitals as many medical professionals often do. They can also work in clinics or outpatient centers, but these roles are normally advisory and for orthodontists with specialty training.

General Environment


Orthodontists will work almost exclusively indoors in some form of an office. Regardless of whether they work for themselves or as part of a private practice, they are likely to have a small team working with them to treat patients in designated treatment rooms where orthodontics can be installed in private. As with many medical professions, orthodontists’ offices are professional environments with brightly lit facilities and a comfortable atmosphere to make patients feel at home.

The location of where an orthodontist practices is entirely up to them. The need for dental professionals is high globally, allowing for a wide range of employment options in urban, suburban, or rural communities around the world. The only limiting factor is licensing for their place of practice.

Office Environment


A dental or orthodontal office can often be in an office building surrounded by other medical professionals. In the office, there are likely to be secretaries who work to schedule patients and organize files to keep the dentists informed and working on patients. The office is likely to be kept comfortable and designed to be inviting to potentially apprehensive patients and children coming in.

Additionally, there are often dental assistants being employed who help the orthodontist perform more complex procedures safely and effectively thanks to the extra set of hands. They are also likely to collect information from the patients to be given to the orthodontist in order to diagnose the problem and decide on treatment more quickly, saving the orthodontist time.

Volunteer Work Environment


Developing countries often lack the skilled dental professionals to offer oral health services and orthodontics to their populations. This can lead to a variety of tooth and jaw deformities that require treatment to improve, and these treatments can greatly improve their quality of life.

When volunteering as a dental professional, the orthodontist would likely be traveling to other countries to teach the people there how to take care of their oral health. They could also instruct local dentists and orthodontists on how to perform treatments so that even when the orthodontist leaves, they are able to continue providing care. In many cases they may even be asked to diagnose and treat some oral health problems while there, working in a local facility or hospital.

Poor oral care is not isolated to just developing countries, however. They can also volunteer their time and services to underprivileged children and adults at community centers local to them in order to help improve their smiles, oral health, and confidence.

Social Environment


Regardless of whether they own their own practice or work in a group practice, orthodontists are likely to collaborate with other dental professionals, assistants, or other staff on a regular basis. They will also see a number of different patients regularly, including new patients and those coming back for checkups. Social interaction is a large part of being an orthodontist, so it is important that the staff is welcoming to all patients and helps make them comfortable.

Working Hours and Schedules of Orthodontist

In the medical and dental industries, the hours and work schedules often depend on the likelihood of emergencies happening and how time-intensive procedures performed are. When a doctor or dentist needs to come into the office for an emergency or stay late performing surgery or other long procedures, it can affect the hours they work exceptionally.

In the case of an orthodontist, emergencies are much less likely than other professions, which does not often lead to the orthodontist being on call. This makes their schedules relatively stable in comparison to others in the industry like oral surgeons who regularly experience emergencies at hospitals. They also perform less time-intensive procedures, with the initial banding of braces being a longer procedure and taking around 2 hours as compared to some surgeries that can take upwards of 4 or more in other professions.

This allows orthodontists the opportunity to have regularly scheduled work weeks, a luxury in the medical and dental industry.

Important Qualities of Orthodontist

Aside from the educational requirements, the important qualities for an orthodontist vary from those of surgeons and other high-intensity medical and dental professions. Orthodontists focus more on helping people look better and feel better about themselves rather than saving them or treating serious diseases, making their requirements more human than technical.

In addition to the skills and education required to be an orthodontist, they also need to be a specific type of person to be successful. They should:



Have great people skills

Dentistry is a largely social field, where orthodontists and patients interact closely during the diagnosis and treatment phases of the visits. It takes a certain level of trust to allow someone else to use their hands and tools in their mouth, making it important that the patient is comfortable with their orthodontist. They also have to trust that the treatment plan that the orthodontist comes up with will work for them and solve their problems.

A good orthodontist will work to ensure that their patient feels heard and like their concerns are met. They will also work to alleviate any worries or anxieties the patient may have about the procedure by answering questions or keeping them informed about the procedure as it happens.

Be artistic and detail-oriented

Much of what an orthodontist does is about achieving the perfect smile for their patient. Every smile is different, and everyone has different goals for their smile, and it is up to the orthodontist to make the transformation happen for their patients.


The orthodontist needs to have a vision for what the patient’s mouth can look like and be able to create the treatment plan to make it happen. This not only includes any current problems, but also includes styling the smile once alignment and spacing issues are fixed. A small oversight can lead to a new abnormality or further damage, making attention to detail equally as important.


Orthodontics require time to work because they progressively make changes to the alignment and spacing of the teeth and jaw rather than instant changes patients would get from surgery.


An orthodontist needs to be patient with the progress of the treatment plan and make adjustments when needed for the most accurate and beneficial outcome.


They should also be patient with their patients, understanding that many people worry about dentist visits and their smiles which can lead to a bombardment of questions and delays during procedures.

Be passionate about helping

While orthodontists can work on patients for the sake of their oral health, much of the job is also about helping fix their patient’s insecurities about their smiles. The patients come to have their teeth straightened, their over or under bite adjusted, and overall to have their teeth and smile be something that they are proud of.


An orthodontist should be compassionate and be motivated to help their patients gain confidence in their smile. They should listen to and carefully address any concerns, explain what the patient should expect in terms of a timeframe and results, and be proud that the work they are doing will likely change someone’s life.

Similar Occupations

While orthodontists are specifically involved in non-surgical procedures and isolated to the mouth, they can also expand outwards to other dental professions that span further, or they can utilize their people skills to work with children and general dentistry.

If they want to move to more of a surgical approach to dentistry, they can become oral surgeons and operate on patients or become a periodontist in addition to an orthodontist, allowing them to include implants as part of their treatments.

Projected Future of a Orthodontist

Career Prospects

Medical and dental professionals are always going to be needed. As the population rises, there are more mouths that will require dental work, and more children who need braces.

The personal skills of an orthodontist allow them to work on children and adults alike, leading to a large pool of potential clients. They are also able to work anywhere in the world, making the potential for a career in any geographic location incredibly feasible.

Job Outlook

In terms of the future outlook for orthodontists, the potential is great. The hiring rates of orthodontists are expected to rise 21 percent from 2010-2020 (schools.com), leading to a deficit in the number of qualified professionals for the jobs available.

Particularly in metropolitan areas, the amount of cosmetic dentistry and orthodontic need is rising as more people want to improve their looks. This makes becoming an orthodontist an incredibly viable and lucrative profession, with the chance for even greater growth in the coming years.

Career Options

Orthodontists are isolated to non-surgical treatment of the mouth and jaw areas, leaving them with a narrow scope of work. However, if they would like to branch out there are multiple career paths that an orthodontist could expand to increase their skills.

An oral surgeon is a dental specialization that performs surgery on the oral and maxillofacial area of the face, including the face, cheeks, jaw, and more. Like orthodontists, they diagnose oral diseases and perform cosmetic procedures on their patients. However, they are able to perform surgery and administer anesthesia, which an orthodontist cannot. This would allow the orthodontist to expand their ability to improve their patient’s looks, past just their smile.

A periodontist is another dental specialization that primarily diagnoses and treats diseases and problems related to the gums. This includes minor surgical procedures with lasers or hand tools as well as installing implants to complete a smile. Branching out to periodontal dentistry would allow an orthodontist to offer an even more robust approach to making the perfect smile for their patients.

How to Become a Orthodontist

1. A bachelor’s degree in medicine

  • Take advanced science and math classes in high school, including biology and chemistry to prepare for college
  • Find dental schools that interest you and take note of their requirements for admission
  • Enroll in a major like biology or chemistry that will allow you to fulfill the requirements for your dental school choices and complete a bachelor’s degree

2. Medical school

  • Complete the Dental Admission Test and get accepted into a dental school
  • Complete 4 years of dental school with exceptional grades and experience (if possible) in order to be accepted into an orthodontics program

3. A three-year residency

  • Finish 2-3 years of specialty orthodontist training, including residency and academic work

4. State-licensing exam

  • Become licensed in your state of practice by completing an examination demonstrating your knowledge and skills

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