Consider a career as an orthodontist

September 26, 2014

Passing instruments to the dentist on our pre dental study program If you had braces in the past, you might be familiar with what an orthodontist does. Orthodontists are dentists who have specialized training to correct dental irregularities. It can be an interesting and rewarding choice for those entering into the dental field.   

What does an orthodontist do?

Dental irregularities include misaligned teeth, problems with the bite and incorrect jaw position. Orthodontists diagnose and treat conditions, such as an overbite, underbite, crooked teeth and spacing problems.

Part of the responsibilities of an orthodontist is to make a diagnosis. This includes performing a dental exam, ordering x-rays and taking plaster models of the teeth. After determining what the dental irregularity is, an orthodontist will decide on the appropriate treatment. Treatment will usually involve the application of dental braces. Additional dental devices may be needed, such as palate expanders and retainers.

After the treatment plan is prescribed, the orthodontist will monitor the patient’s progress and make adjustments to the braces as needed. Additional treatment may be needed, such as a tooth extraction to correct certain misalignments.   

Education to become an orthodontist

A career as an orthodontist starts in college. Students interested in becoming a dentist can major in anything they like, but certain science classes, such as anatomy and physiology, will be required for admission into dental school. Another dental school requirement is the dental school admission exam (DAT). The DAT is a multiple choice test, which covers quantitative reasoning, reading comprehension and perceptual and math ability.

Dental school will take up the next four years of your life and includes classes, such as biochemistry and anatomy, as well as clinical work mastering the skills a dentist needs. Students will learn the basics, such as performing a dental exam, cleaning teeth, filling cavities, tooth extractions and treating gum disease.

After graduating from dental school and passing the boards to become licensed to practice as a dentist, additional training is needed to become an orthodontist. Orthodontic residencies are between two and three years long. After completing an orthodontic residency, dentists are eligible to take an exam administered through the American Board of Orthodontics.

Skills needed 

Orthodontists need to have very good manual dexterity since they will be working in small, confined spaces in the mouth. Small details matter in orthodontics, so dentists in this specialty need to be detailed oriented. 

Additionally, orthodontists need to have good judgment and strong problem-solving skills. Not all treatments work on all patients. Dentists need to figure out alternative treatments when something does not work.

As with all areas of dentistry, good communication skills are vital.  Orthodontists teach patients how to care for their teeth while they are wearing braces. Since orthodontist often treat children and teens, they should be comfortable caring for patients of all ages.


Most orthodontists work in private practice or as part of a dental group. Salaries depend on experience and geographic location. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2012, the average salary for orthodontists was about $187,000 a year.