Over four-million people in the United States wear braces. Braces can help straighten an individual’s teeth, as well as fix a misaligned jaw. An orthodontist will help a person who needs these dental corrections. While over 75% of people with braces are under age 18, the remaining 25% are adults.
What is an Orthodontist?
An orthodontist is focused on repairing and straightening a persons teeth as well as using procedures to align, misaligned jaws. The most popular reason a person might go to the orthodontist is to get braces. Other reasons may include correcting an overbite or underbite, and altering the shape of the jaw.
Because of their focus on the jaw and teeth, an orthodontist must have a thorough knowledge of the mouth, jaw, skull, and face. They use a variety of instruments and tools to achieve their required tasks, and must be able to teach their patients how to care for, clean, and utilize the devices that are designed to help them.
Orthodontists will care for their patients over the course of their specific treatment, seeing them regularly for check-ups and to evaluate their progress. For example, most young people who get braces will wear them between two and three years, and may be required to see their orthodontist monthly, increasing to weekly visits closer to when they are removed. Afterwards, yearly check-ups may be recommended to ensure that the teeth do not shift. In some cases permanent retainers are available.
Educational Requirements for Becoming an Orthodontist
The minimum educational requirement for becoming an orthodontist is a doctorate degree in dentistry, with specialized training in orthodontics.
Step-by-Step Educational Path to Becoming an Orthodontist
Before applying to, or attending dental school, a student must first complete their undergraduate studies. The fours years of undergraduate study are filled with opportunities to prepare a student for success as they seek higher education and eventually clinical training. If approached properly, success as an undergraduate can set the student apart in a competitive application climate by giving them experience that will help with their more advanced education, and by mastering the discipline necessary to complete all levels of study.
One of the top things for students to consider during a bachelor’s program, is maintaining a good GPA while completing all of the prerequisite classes that are required by dental school. If this component is missing from dental school applications, the student cannot be considered for admission, regardless of their passion to become a dentist. Obtaining a minimum GPA in dental school, and a successfully completing a list of required courses early in undergraduate education, will help a student plan their studies effectively, as well as help them maintain focus when courses and work gets difficult.
In addition to submitting GPA and transcript information, an undergraduate student will need to prepare for,, and submit their Dental Aptitude Test (DAT) scores. All schools have a minimum score requirement as well as an average score for incoming freshmen. This test is designed to show that the student has the foundational knowledge and critical thinking skills required to enter into more difficult courses and study.
Finally, students should look for opportunities that will add value to their dental school application through participation in extra-curricular activities. Leadership in clubs and school organizations, volunteer work, even clinical experience will help a student in a variety of ways – from improving their application, to giving them confidence in both the classroom and clinic setting. These are also great opportunities to interact with mentors and professors who may consider writing letters of recommendation for a student when applying for dental school.
Dental school is four years of intense study. In the first two years, the student will focus on scientific coursework that will prepare them for the clinical components of later years. These science courses go into great depth and detail, and challenge students to memorize and understand systems of the body that may be affected by their work as a dentist. Many students are surprised at how difficult and in-depth these courses are, which leads to high drop out rates for those who are not prepared. The more a student knows coming into dental school, the better study habits they have acquired, and the discipline and vision they have, can all contribute to their success during this challenging time.
When learning the clinical aspects of dental care, students will be under the direct supervision of an instructor or training dentist. They will be required to walk through every procedure presented to them, answer questions about the patient and procedure, and respond to feedback from observers. It is wise to know exactly what will be monitored for each procedure and be able to accept critique in order to improve and continue on during study.
Internships and Fellowships
Only about six-percent of dentists go on to further training to become an orthodontist. In order to specialize in orthodontics, students must complete a specialty segment of education after they graduate from dental school, which is highly competitive in nature and very selective. ADA accredited orthodontic programs are three- to five-years in length. During these programs, the student studies more in-depth biomedical, behavioral and basic sciences, is trained in, and practices the skills used to facilitate tooth movement, guide facial changes, and understand facial surgery, as well as diagnose and treat other problems related to the face and neck.
Each orthodontist must first pass an exam and become licensed as a dentist. This happens through certification exams that are given at various points throughout dental school. These exams include both knowledge of the sciences related to dentistry and the skills and knowledge required for clinical work.
After becoming a licensed dentist, the orthodontist must complete their specialized training. Following that, they can apply through the American Association of Orthodontics to take the board examination. The written part of the exam tests 27 different subjects to ensure the orthodontist has a complete knowledge of orthodontic theory and practice. The clinical part of the examination involves an entire set of case records that must be evaluated. The test-taker must then develop a treatment plan for the cases they are presented with.
Understanding the Career Path
Most orthodontists work with young people to help straighten and correct the teeth and jaws through the wearing of braces and other dental devices. A great deal of time is spent with patients; directly interacting, evaluating, teaching and advising them in the care of their teeth and the maintenance of the procedures involved in their treatment plan.
Most orthodontic offices are open during regular business hours, with some after hour appointments to accommodate patients. It is rare that an orthodontist will be called into the office for an emergency, and if they run their own orthodontic practice, they can control their schedule and patient load.
The vast majority of orthodontists are employed in a single- or multi-specialty dental office. The following are some a few additional work environments where orthodontists are employed
The salary for an orthodontist varies, depending on a number of factors, such as industry, company size, years of experience, and location. The bottom 10% of orthodontists make $67,500 per year, or less. Usually, only orthodontists that are still in training make this salary. This specialization and additional schooling offers a much higher pay range upon starting a practice.
According to the The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary is more than $187,200, the mean annual salary is $201,030. An orthodontist’s pay is affected by the geographical local where they practice, the type of employment status, and their level of experience within the specialty. Those who own a private orthodontic practice will likely make a great deal more than those who are employed by a hospital or dental office without partnership ownership benefits.