How to Become an Orthodontist

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Orthodontics is a very important part of dentistry that deals with the prevention and treatment of malocclusions, which are improper bites. Licensed trained specialty dentists are required to perform orthodontic procedures. This is the job of orthodontists.


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What does an orthodontist do?

Orthodontists are specialty dentists that prevent and treat health-related and cosmetic orthodontic issues including misaligned jaws, crooked teeth, facial abnormalities, overbites, cross bites, under bites, and open bites. They take x-rays from patients to assist in diagnosing problems and forming a plan of treatment. They often treat patients by applying pressure to the teeth and mouth with braces and retainers. Some orthodontists also perform oral surgery. Orthodontists that treat patients with cosmetic issues work with individuals to achieve the desired look to improve the appearance of the facial features and give patients better self-confidence. They often perform treatment for purely cosmetic reasons, but use practical procedures to also help the overall function of a patient’s teeth and mouth.

Most orthodontists work in either a private or group practice and specialize in a particular type of orthodontics such as pediatric orthodontics, cosmetic orthodontics, or oral surgery.

What kind of training does an orthodontist need?

Orthodontists must earn a doctorate degree from a dental school that is accredited. The common dental designations are Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM) and Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS). Dental school usually takes 4 years to complete and includes classroom and laboratory instruction and supervised clinical experience. Aspiring orthodontists must complete an orthodontics specialty program after completion of dental school, which typically takes 2 years to complete. Some orthodontists complete master degree programs or doctoral dentistry programs in orthodontics.

All states require orthodontists to be licensed and licensing requirements typically include completion of a dental degree from an accredited dental school and passing a written and practical examination.

What are the prospects for a career as an orthodontist?

Employment of orthodontists is expected to grow about as fast as average for all professions, increasing 9% from 2006 to 2016 (1). Population increase and the growing demand for specialty dental services will fuel job growth.

Job prospects are projected to be good especially for orthodontists with extensive experience and those with specialties. Job openings will also arise from thee need to replace orthodontists that retire or leave the occupation for other reasons.

How much do orthodontists make?

As of October 2009, the middle 50% of orthodontists earned average annual salaries between $99,765 and $147,244. The highest 10% earned annual salaries of more than $170,740 (2).

A career as an orthodontist is a great choice for individuals interested in providing specialty dental care to a variety of patients. Orthodontists must have advanced clinical and scientific knowledge and a sound understanding of orthodontic procedures. Excellent communication and interpersonal skills and ability to make patients feel comfortable are essential. Orthodontists must also have great visual memory, manual dexterity, diagnostic ability, and good judgment.

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