Orthodontist Job Description

Orthodontists work in a special area of dentistry that focuses on teeth and jaw irregularities. Most often, patients are referred to an orthodontist by their general dentist. Orthodontists take X-rays, evaluate patients, apply braces and retainers, and create mouth guards to address TMJ and teeth-grinding issues. Successful orthodontists employ strong analytical, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills. Some work for large orthodontic practices, while others are self-employed and manage their own offices. Orthodontists generally work full time, mostly during the week though some might maintain Saturday office hours. In 2016, the American Dental Association reported that orthodontist ranked #1 on the list of best jobs in the U.S.


Orthodontist Duties and Responsibilities

While an orthodontist’s day-to-day duties and responsibilities are determined by where they work, there are many core tasks associated with the role. Based on our analysis of job listings, these include:

Fit Patients for Braces and Other Appliances

Orthodontists mainly check patients for their need for braces or mouthguard appliances to treat malocclusion (such as overbites), overcrowded teeth, gaps, and other conditions (such as TMJ). They apply braces and aligners to the teeth of adults and children, create and fit retainers, and mold night guards and other appliances. They schedule regular checkups to make adjustments to braces and track patient progress.

Perform Diagnostic Tests

From visual inspections to digital X-rays, orthodontists use various diagnostic tests to determine the condition of a patient’s teeth and the best treatment options. They might also make plaster molds of patient teeth to analyze any occlusion issues.

Create Treatment Plans and Discuss Cost Estimates

Once a diagnosis has been made, orthodontists discuss the best treatment options with the patient. They discuss the cost and effectiveness of each option and together with the patient decide on the best course of action. They write up treatment plans and make referrals to other professionals, such as dental surgeons, if needed.

Discuss Proper Dental Care and Hygiene with Patients

Orthodontists use handouts and verbal instructions to describe the proper care of braces as well as removable mouthguards and other dental appliances. They also detail proper oral hygiene methods for the care of gum diseases and other oral problems.


Orthodontist Skills and Qualifications

Orthodontists are typically detailed-oriented, analytical individuals with a desire to help people and an interest in oral care. Those hoping to succeed as an orthodontist should display the following skills and abilities:

  • Business skills – when running their own practice, an orthodontist should be adept at various areas of business, such as marketing, accounting, personnel management, and billing
  • Communication skills – orthodontists must effectively communicate with both adults and children in this occupation; explaining adequate care of braces and general hygiene is an important aspect of being an orthodontist
  • Eye-hand coordination – performing diagnostic tests and placing braces call for above-average eye-hand coordination
  • Customer service – providing patients with a favorable experience in order to retain clients and build a successful practice calls for strong customer service skills
  • Computer skills – strong computer skills, especially when operating digital diagnostic equipment, is a must for orthodontists
  • Problem-solving skills – orthodontists should be prepared to consider various treatment plans and strategies to help patients solve problems with teeth irregularities


Tools of the Trade

Orthodontists use the following tools on a daily basis:

  • Hand tools (scalers, band pluggers, cutters, pliers)
  • Diagnostic tools (digital X-rays, 3D images)


Orthodontist Education and Training

Before pursuing a career as an orthodontist, students must finish a four-year degree program as well as a dental school program. In dental school, students must complete classroom studies as well as a clinical internship. Graduates are awarded a doctor of medical dentistry (DMD) or doctor of dental surgery (DDS) degree. After dental school, further studies in orthodontics must be completed in an American Dental Association-accredited program to obtain a master’s degree in orthodontics. This type of study involves a residency. After all educational requirements are met, aspiring orthodontists must then take and pass a licensing exam in the state in which they will practice.


Orthodontist Salary and Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the annual median salary for orthodontists exceeds $200,000. Those earning in the 10th percentile make a median yearly wage of more than $78,000. The highest salaries are seen by orthodontists working in their own or in group practices; an annual mean wage of about $115,000 is realized by orthodontists working in hospitals or surgical centers.

A 19 percent employment growth rate is predicted by the BLS for nearly all dental specialties, including orthodontics, through 2026. A greater focus on oral care and a rising demand for those specializing in more complicated areas of dentistry will fuel this projected growth.


Helpful Resources

Have you fully braced yourself for a career as an orthodontist? If you want to learn more, you can do so by accessing the various resources below:

American Board of Orthodontics – founded in 1929, ABO offers educational and certification support and information as well as videos, podcasts, and recent news

Contemporary Orthodontics – read this book to get a comprehensive look at orthodontics, from diagnostic procedures to treatment planning. Explore case studies, review the most updated technology, study biological treatment advances, and examine controversies related to this field of dentistry

Orthodontics Limited Blog – while some blogs are geared toward patients, orthodontists will find interesting posts about treatment practices, office design, and more at this website

The Progressive Orthodontist – get advice and support from a group of orthodontists who provide an annual meeting and an online publication filled with articles about business development, marketing strategies, and more

American Journal Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics – this clinical publication provides orthodontists with news about recent advances in the field, clinical reports, diagnostic procedures, imaging techniques, and other relevant practices

Journal of Clinical Orthodontics – lauded as the “only magazine” with a focus on the clinical side of orthodontics, this digital publication offers peer-reviewed articles as well as access to webinars led by top professionals in the field

Orthodontics: Current Principles and Techniques – review strategies and techniques presented by expert contributors to this extensive volume. Get details about orthodontic appliances, treatment protocols, theories, and more through detailed text, illustrations, photos, case studies, and schematic drawings


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