How to Become an Orthodontist

An estimated four-million people in the United States are wearing braces! Over 75% of these people are children and teens, while the remaining 25% are adults.

Needless to say, there is always a need for orthodontists! Becoming an orthodontist means working with patients to correct their dental misalignments and improve their quality of life. You can make a difference in the community, one smile at a time!

If you’re interested in working toward an incredibly rewarding profession, here’s your guide to becoming an orthodontist:


What does an orthodontist do?

An orthodontist is a doctor who specializes in straightening a person’s teeth, repairing the alignment of each tooth, and aligning misaligned jaws through the use of various treatments, technologies and procedures.

Orthodontists have extensive, in-depth knowledge of the mouth, jaws, skull and face. They use a wide variety of instruments and tools and must be able to teach their patients how to care for, clean, and properly utilize the devices included in their treatment plan.

From creating each patient’s personalized treatment plan to overseeing their progress over the course of treatment and retaining their smile afterward, orthodontists work one-on-one with patients and their families throughout the treatment process.


Dental Training & Education

The minimum educational requirement for becoming an orthodontist is earning a doctorate degree in dentistry, with specialized training in orthodontics. It all begins with your undergraduate studies.

Undergraduate school

Before applying to dental school, you must first complete your undergraduate studies, where you’ll earn a bachelor’s degree. Undergraduate school is designed to prepare you for higher education, and eventually, clinical training.

Pro tip: Take undergraduate school seriously! Dedicating yourself to earning and maintaining a high GPA can set you apart in a competitive applicant climate, especially when it comes to your prerequisite classes for dental school.

Having a lower GPA in undergraduate studies can hinder, or even eliminate, your chances of getting into dental school.

Dental Aptitude Test (DAT) Scores

As an undergraduate student, you’ll need to prepare for and take the Dental Aptitude Test (DAT). All dental schools have a minimum score requirement as well as an average score for incoming freshmen.

This test is designed to show that you have the foundational knowledge and critical thinking skills required to handle more difficult courses and studies.

Extracurricular Activities

Be on the lookout for opportunities that will add value to your dental school application. Holding leadership positions in clubs and school organizations, doing volunteer work, and getting clinical dental experience can help you not only improve your application, but give you invaluable confidence in both the classroom and clinic setting.

Ideally, the mentors and professors you build relationships with will consider writing letters of recommendation for you when applying for dental school!


What to Expect in Dental School

Dental school involves four years of intense study. In the first two years, you’ll focus on scientific coursework to prepare you for the clinical component in the later years of dental school. These basic science courses go into great depth and detail, and challenge you to memorize and understand systems of the body.

We’ll be honest; these courses are challenging and in-depth! The challenging nature of these classes leads to high dropout rates for people who aren’t prepared.

The more you know coming into dental school, the better study habits you’ll have acquired and the more discipline you’ll have to carry you through dental school. Preparation is key!

Clinical Training

When learning the clinical aspects of dental care, you will be under the direct supervision of an instructor or supervising dentist. You’ll be required to walk through every procedure presented to you, answer questions about the patient and procedure, and respond to feedback from observers.

Pro tip: Know exactly what will be monitored for each procedure, and be open to accepting criticism to continuously improve your skill.


Orthodontic Residency and Training

After dental school, you’ll be required to complete an additional period of education and training to officially become an orthodontist. It is highly competitive to get accepted into an accredited orthodontic residency. In fact, only about 6% of dentists go on to become an orthodontist!

All accredited orthodontic programs are two to three years in length. During these programs, you’ll study more in-depth biomedical, behavioral, and basic sciences. You’ll also learn the diagnostic, biomechanic, and tactile skills used to facilitate tooth movement and guide facial changes.


Dental Licensing

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 as well as the skills and knowledge required for clinical work.


Board Examination

After becoming a licensed dentist and completing specialized training, you may apply to take the orthodontic board examination through the American Board of Orthodontics. This board certification is highly encouraged, but not mandatory to practice orthodontics.

The written part of the exam tests 27 different subjects to ensure you have a complete knowledge of orthodontic theory and practice. The clinical part of the exam 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.


What is the average orthodontist’s salary?

The salary for an orthodontist varies, depending on several factors, including the type of practice, company size, years of experience, location, and number of days worked per year.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2022 average annual salary of an orthodontist was $216,320.

Those who own a private orthodontic practice will likely make a great deal more than those who are just employed by a corporate office without partner ownership benefits. There’s a lot of room to grow in the orthodontic industry!


Begin your journey to becoming an orthodontist!

We encourage you to take the leap, prepare yourself for dental school, and join one of the best professions there is. Please don’t hesitate to ask us any questions about becoming an orthodontist at your next appointment!

Your highly-experienced Nth Degree orthodontists in West Spartanburg, East Spartanburg, Duncan, Union and Gaffney are here to help.

Looking for orthodontic treatment first? Request your complimentary consultation with us!


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