An orthodontist is a type of dental professional that specializes in the alignment of the jaw and teeth. The most important aspect of this job is to realign a person’s teeth for cosmetic reasons, such as a better smile, or to improve a patient’s quality of life. In most instances, a dentist refers a patient to an orthodontist to address bite discomfort or problems with how the teeth grow.
Basic orthodontics involves fixing teeth with apparatuses such as headgear, braces, wires, brackets, elastics, retainers, and more. Most of the patients that go to orthodontists are juveniles, although the world of adult orthodontics is expanding rapidly. In addition, orthodontists can treat patients with other conditions such as jaw pain, difficulty chewing, gum disease, sleep apnea, and speech impediments.
Education and Experience Needed
Candidates interested in becoming orthodontists must first earn a bachelor’s degree in a science-related field such as zoology, chemistry, microbiology, biology, or pre-dental. However, pre-dental programs aren’t as easy to find, and in many cases, any of these degrees will suffice.
After completing a bachelor’s of science, the next step for an aspiring orthodontist is to gain acceptance into an accredited dental school, as certified by the American Dental Association and the Commission on Dental Accreditation. These dental schools look at grade point averages, as well as the score on the applicant’s Dental Admission Test, or DAT.
Once accepted, candidates will take four years to complete the coursework and hands-on training to earn either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD). Upon graduation, people interested in the field of orthodontics must serve a two-year or three-year residency at another ADA-approved, university-affiliated program, until they’re fully specialized, recognized, and certified by the American Board of Orthodontics, which includes passing a written examination.
After 10 to 11 years of higher learning, a candidate finally becomes an orthodontist and can show that distinction by adding MS (Master’s of Science) to the end of their DMD or DDS. Like dentists, all orthodontists must obtain a license to practice in their state by passing Part I and Part II of the National Board Dental Examinations.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are only 5,200 licensed and practicing orthodontists in the country, making it one of the smallest workforces. However, because of the specialization and education involved, orthodontists earn a mean annual wage of $228,870, or a mean hourly wage of about $110 per hour.
The highest-paying regions in the country are in Hartford, Connecticut; Long Island, New York; and Chicago, Illinois. About 92 percent of orthodontists work in their own private practice, while the remainder work in either a co-worker’s office or a specialized hospital.
Average Duties and Tasks
One of the most attractive features of becoming an orthodontist is that most only work between 30 and 40 hours a week, with some, only working four days a week. In addition, orthodontists don’t typically work on weekends and are almost never on call.
A typical day in the office requires the orthodontist to arrive about 30 minutes early to prep the office and the staff for the day. Orthodontists usually see one to two patients at a time depending on the size of the office. The orthodontist greets the patients when they arrive to help them relax and to build a rapport. Once the patient sits in the examination chair, the orthodontist or the assistant chats and takes X-rays or mouth molds as needed.
After analyzing the X-rays, the orthodontist then formulates a plan for how to change the alignment of the patient’s teeth. This might include braces, a retainer, an appliance, or other necessary means.
Orthodontists that run their own businesses have additional duties that come with being business owners. They must manage hygienists, orthodontic techs, and a receptionist, while also setting prices, managing finances, and checking the books.
Advancement opportunities for orthodontists aren’t always easy to come by, but they’re possible depending on the chosen path. If choosing to work for an orthodontics company, orthodontists can gain money incrementally with experience. If they have an entrepreneurial spirit, they can choose to branch out into their own business and keep a larger piece of the income, while others might be able to find employment abroad or in high-demand geographic locations throughout the United States.
Some orthodontists can also choose to pursue a career, years down the road in education or research at an accredited university.