What Does an Orthodontist Do?
Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More
Orthodontists are specialized dentists whose expertise lies in the proper alignment of the jaws and teeth. Because of the small number of dentists that progress to orthodontics, it happens to be one of the highest-paying jobs in the United States.
Orthodontist Duties & Responsibilities
Along with some of the more traditional dentist duties, orthodontists are also experts in the shape of the mouth, jaws, and face. Their duties include, but are not limited to:
- Examining patients
- Oral communication
- Assessing abnormalities in the mouth, teeth, and jaws
- Using diagnostic tools, such as X-rays and molds of the teeth
- Connecting multiple, seemingly unrelated symptoms
- Diagnosing problems originating in the face and mouth
- Recommending corrective treatment
- Monitoring progress of corrective treatment
- Staying up to date on braces technology and other corrective appliances for the teeth and jaws
Although most commonly associated with prescribing braces, orthodontists do much more than that. They help patients correct and prevent problems that stem from the misalignment of teeth and the lower jawbone since these issues can lead to more severe issues throughout the body.
As such, orthodontists are the key to helping patients identify why the teeth and jaw muscles are contributing to cavities or problems in the neck and spine. If this line of work interests you, it is important that you commit to understanding how the body can be affected by poor tooth and jaw alignment.
Salaries for orthodontists are among the highest in the U.S. Here is a snapshot of income data:
- Median Annual Salary: $208,000+
- Top 10% Annual Salary: $208,000+
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $72,780
Education, Training & Certification
Becoming a dentist can be more challenging than becoming a physician. Like medical doctors, you would need to attend a decade or more of post-secondary education before becoming a dentist. For orthodontists, there are additional requirements beyond dental school and residency.
The most notable part of an orthodontist’s training is passing the ABO (American Board of Orthodontics) board exam. The test itself contains a long written and extended practical section. The board exam may only be attempted after completing dental school.
- Education: In undergraduate school, you would be required to complete a bachelor’s degree that meets all of the prerequisites to enter dental school. If all the requirements are met (along with a minimum GPA) you would have to pass the Dental Aptitude Test. If all of your scores are high enough, you may be accepted to a 4-year dental school.
- Certification: While formal certification and licensing would come after you’ve completed residency, orthodontists must pass both a dentist license exam, as well as the ABO’s board exam.
- Training: All orthodontists are required to complete a 2-4-year internship or residency.
Orthodontist Skills & Competencies
As noted above, orthodontists are dentists and more. Among the most important skills that you will need to develop in order to be a successful orthodontist are:
- Identifying & Applying the Correct Dental Appliances: Not every orthodontic solution is to prescribe braces. The term “dental appliance” refers to any and all corrective instruments applied in and around the mouth in order to improve a patient’s health and well-being. Orthodontists frequently employ braces, mouthguards, and retainers.
- Attention to Detail: Failing to notice a key piece of information in a patient’s medical history could have negative repercussions for the patient. As an orthodontist, awareness of your patient’s dental and medical history is vital.
- Diagnosis: A patient often visits an orthodontist at the recommendation of a dentist and/or a chiropractor. It means there is an issue in the mouth or jaw of the patient that is beyond the immediate solutions that these professionals can provide. As an orthodontist, you will often be called upon to address multiple symptoms at once after other professionals have been unable to solve the problem.
- Monitoring: Sometimes, the problem is not apparent until you attempt treatment. Therefore, patients must be monitored closely in case the initial treatment does not work according to plan.
The job outlook for orthodontists is unusually strong. As dental technology develops, the ability to treat early signs of major dental issues empowers medical professionals like orthodontists to do more with greater accuracy.
Only the best dentists can be orthodontists, and the additional training and licensing required to become an orthodontist discourage many from trying in the first place. This only intensifies the nation’s need for good orthodontists.
Orthodontists typically work out of their own office rather than at a hospital. Many will share office space with other dentists and work closely together. Because most orthodontic work occurs on young people, orthodontists must be able to work comfortably with children and teens.
Even though demand for orthodontists is high, many orthodontists enjoy a light and flexible schedule. There is little chance that an orthodontist would be visiting their patients in an emergency or another last-minute scenario. As such, orthodontists mainly see patients who have an appointment.
How to Get the Job
Write a Cover Letter and CV: Because relatively few people even attempt and complete all the educational requirements and licensing to become an orthodontist, your focus should remain on completing all requirements. Your curriculum vitae (CV) should highlight your education and credentials accordingly.
Getting Hired: As a fully credentialed orthodontist, it is unlikely that you will be completing any applications to land a job. However, prior to completing your training, you will have to apply to dental school which requires passing the DAT discussed above, as well as having a strong GPA in undergraduate school.
Comparing Similar Jobs
The field of dentistry is fairly broad. Here are a few closely related professions with their median salaries:
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
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American Dental Association. "Dental Admission Test (DAT)," Accessed Oct. 4, 2019.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Dentists: How to Become a Dentist," Accessed Oct. 4, 2019.
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