How to Become an Orthodontist

A close-up of an orthodontist working on a patient's dentures

You probably met an orthodontist when you were in your teens to get your teeth straightened. Who knew that years later this would possibly be your choice of career?

Well, if so, then consider yourself fortunate, because this is a wise career decision, whether you’re a student preparing to leave school or someone looking to change careers. Indeed, the competitive remuneration, a challenging industry and the opportunity to own your own orthodontics clinic are just some of the reasons why you should consider this career.

But let’s just say that you have to brace yourself when you embark upon a career path as an orthodontist. While you don’t need to fight tooth and nail to garner a job – that is how enormous the job market is – you do need to partake in extensive studies, internships and everything else that is typically involved in attaining leadership roles in the healthcare sector. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

Indeed, the dental health industry remains one of the most competitive and highly rewarding sectors of the economy. Ostensibly, every position presents its own set of unique possibilities, whether it is frontline care as a dental hygienist or specialised care as a periodontist.

Do you want to know more about the role of an orthodontist? Read on.

1. Research the Position

Let’s be honest: do you consistently see your friends and peers struggling because they decided to follow their dreams and try to find success in their dream job? You have likely come across many people who graduated with a useless degree in archaeology or fine arts and have yet to locate an employment opportunity.

Simply put: you don’t want to risk this happening to you, so you’re seeking out a more practical career.

And you happen to pick the path of an orthodontist. Good choice! But what does it involve?

Job Description

As an orthodontist, it is your primary responsibility to assess, diagnose and treat dental malocclusions and oral cavity issues. In other words, this is fancy talk for preventing or correcting mispositioned teeth and jaws. You will then be tasked to design tools to realign teeth and jaws to create a normal functioning mouth and improve the patient’s smile.

Want to know more? Here are several tasks you will complete every workday:

  • study client-related material, such as patient records, dental histories, X-rays and photos of clients’ teeth
  • analyse patient data to find out their needs and treatment objectives
  • develop treatment plans to correct malpositions and to enhance their smile
  • adjust dental tools to ensure a proper fit and normal functioning
  • communicate medical information to patients or family members
  • instruct patient needs to technical assistants and train medical providers to perform routine procedures
  • collaborate with clients’ healthcare providers to coordinate treatment
  • use dental tools and appliances
  • produce tooth mouldings
  • check on the progress of patients in person, by phone or through online communication.

Essential Skills and Qualities

Typically, orthodontists are self-employed, so they will own their own businesses and run their own offices. This also means they need a strong acumen pertaining to human resource management, accounting, taxation, billing and financial management. You will also need sales skills.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the professional skills and qualities you’ll need as an orthodontist.

  • Attention to detail. Since you’re dealing with the health of patients, it is essential that you pay close attention to the minute details and the smallest things.
  • Analytical thinking skills. You must develop a treatment plan that can alleviate whatever troubles your clients. If your patient is going through something you haven’t seen before, it is critical to tap into your analytical abilities and solve the problem at hand.
  • Communication skills. Written and verbal communication is paramount because you need to convey to the patient what the issue is, how you will treat it and the other wheres, whens and whys.
  • Teamwork skills. You are not a one-man band as an orthodontist; you need to work with administrators, receptionists, assistants and other technical members of your team.
  • Vision. Your eyes are imperative to succeeding in dentistry; anything short of 20/20 can impact your patients since your vision will detect any problems in their dental health.
  • Hand-to-eye coordination. You will be working with various technologies that help you correctly assess, diagnose and treat patients, which is why hand-eye coordination is crucial.
  • Time management skills. There will be days when you have back-to-back patients, and there are days when you might be meeting with three patients at the same time (in different rooms, of course). You need to know how to manage your time to ensure you are not disorganised and that your patients’ needs are met.

Working Hours and Conditions

One of the benefits of being an orthodontist, especially when you have your own practice, is that you maintain flexibility. Orthodontists clock an average of 35 to 40 hours per week, but they can adjust their schedules based on the needs of their patients, which might consist of having evening appointments and treating patients on weekends.

Depending on how many patients you see in a day, working conditions might not be as stressful as if you had a general dental clinic that will mostly perform checkups, clean teeth and complete other non-invasive dental procedures.

Salary Prospects

In the US, an orthodontist’s salary is about $229,380. In the UK, the average salary is roughly £81,000.

But there is a salary range that will vary on region, experience, services, certification, clientele and education. The low end is $100,000 (£75,500) and the high end is $168,000 (£126,800).

This may not include additional compensation for serving on boards or doing extra work in hospitals.

2. Get the Qualifications

Like every other technical profession, becoming an orthodontist begins by earning a college degree in a few years of school. Your pre-dentistry education should have expertise in chemistry, biochemistry, biomedical engineering and physiology.

Once you receive your expertise in these areas, you will need to spend an additional four years in dental school; the first year will be going over these same science disciplines, and the remaining three years will concentrate on:

  • dental anatomy
  • oral biology
  • dental lab
  • fundamentals of dentistry
  • clinical experiences.

When you graduate, you are required to enrol in an orthodontic residency programme, which will home in on clinical orthodontics, craniofacial pain, head and neck anatomy, biostatistical methods and psychosocial issues.

Your final step is becoming a board-certified orthodontist. This is no walk in the park; it is an exhaustive process to receive certification by the American Board of Orthodontics or the British Orthodontic Society. This stage will include finishing clinical exams, completing peer review and attending an orthodontic school.

Typically, certification needs to be renewed every 10 years.

3. Land Your First Job

If you have an idea that you will immediately open your orthodontics practice when you graduate, then you better not get your hopes up right away. Instead, after certification and residency, it would be prudent to either intern at an office or gain employment with an orthodontist – working closely with this professional can generate endless opportunities.

Moreover, like any other position, you will still need to establish an error-free CV. This should highlight your qualifications, experience, education, skills and anything else that is relevant to the position you’re interested in. Then there are the other career steps you need to consider, like job interviews and applications.

4. Develop Your Career

An orthodontist in a small town or a dental professional in a big city – both scenarios provide a wealth of opportunities, professionally and monetarily. If you’re someone who fights tooth and nail for your career, then you can become a distinguished and well-known orthodontist who does the following:

  • speak at industry conferences
  • organise non-profit groups to help low-income families
  • participate in research projects
  • teach students once a week at globally-recognised universities or colleges
  • compose books, articles and other literature found in medical journals.

Are you interested in this happening? You can make this a reality by routinely enhancing your skills, updating your certification and learning about new tools to better assist your patients.

Dentistry remains one of the best industries to find employment in, from dental hygiene to dental assisting to specialised care. While some dental jobs do not require intensive time in school, the job of an orthodontist mandates a hefty investment in resources, time, energy and money – it isn’t cheap going to dentistry school. But it is an investment that will pay dividends in the future, one that will comprise of entrepreneurship, competitive remuneration, schedule flexibility and career advancement. What else could you ask for in a job?

We only have one thing left to say to you: let the floss be with you!

Are you currently working your way to becoming an orthodontist? Perhaps you’ve already completed the journey and would like to share your advice with aspiring professionals? Join the conversation down below and let us know.