Orthodontist Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of an orthodontist career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to find out if becoming an orthodontist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming an Orthodontist

Orthodontists are dentists who specialize in straightening teeth. Upsides and downsides to an orthodontist career are listed below.

Pros of an Orthodontist Career
Great pay (average salary of $196,000 as of May 2014)*
Good employment projections (16% growth from 2012-2022)*
Many practices offer healthcare and other employee benefits to orthodontists*
Opportunities to open your own practice or pursue an academic career*

Cons of an Orthodontist Career
Training and education can take up to ten years to complete*
Orthodontics programs are expensive; you must also rent or purchase your own instruments**
Dental schools often have competitive admissions processes**
Weekend and evening work hours are common*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Multiple school websites.

Career Information

Job Description

As an orthodontist, one of your job duties is to perform routine oral examinations in order to get a feel for patients' facial and jaw structures. You might also order X-rays, examine dental histories or make plaster casts of teeth.

After diagnosing patients, you may recommend treatment options, such as braces or retainers, to straighten teeth and fix any abnormalities. As part of your care, you could also provide cost estimates for these procedures, instruct patients on proper dental health care and adjust dental appliances as treatments progress.

Salary and Employment Outlook

As of May 2014, the average hourly wage for orthodontists was about $96, which amounted to an average annual income of roughly $201,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Those who worked in physicians' offices and outpatient care centers received higher average salaries than orthodontists working in any other industry.

The BLS projected faster-than-average job growth of 16% for orthodontists from 2012-2022. This may be due to the growing popularity of cosmetic procedures and patients' willingness to maintain oral health.

What Are the Requirements?


Orthodontists undergo an extensive educational process. You first need to complete a bachelor's degree program that includes coursework in biology, physics, chemistry and English. You also need to take the Dental Admission Test and apply to dental school. This is a competitive process, so it's important to maintain a high grade point average (GPA) as an undergraduate. Some schools also require applicants to have completed shadowing experiences in dentists' offices or dental laboratories.

Once you're accepted into a 4-year Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) program, you can study patient care techniques and special topics in dental science, such as dental microbiology and oral pathology. Clinical training also makes up a large part of the program curriculum.

Completing a post-doctoral specialty program in orthodontics is the final stage of your education. Many schools award a master's degree to students who complete these 30-credit-hour programs. Coursework includes dental materials science, craniofacial anatomy, craniofacial development, orthodontic techniques and tooth biomechanics. You could also treat patients up to three days a week in school clinics.


Before you can work as an orthodontist, you need to first become a licensed dentist. Many state dental boards require you to pass written and practical examinations after completing a dental program from an accredited school.

You're then required to earn a specialty license. This could entail completing an approved orthodontics program and passing another exam. Some states also grant licenses to applicants who've earned credentials from a certifying board, such as the American Board of Orthodontics.

What Do Employers Look For?

According to an April 2012 search of available job posts, most employers are simply looking for orthodontists who've completed a doctoral degree program and obtained a license. Others request applicants with excellent people skills. Take a look at some sample job posts to find out what employers were looking for during this time:

  • A group dental practice in Minnesota was looking for an orthodontist capable of being respectful and courteous to patients.
  • A California dental organization was looking for licensed orthodontists to fill both full- and part-time positions. Applicants needed to hold a DDS.
  • An outgoing and fun personality was a must for a position with an Arkansas orthodontics practice. A license and a DDS or DMD were also required.

How Can I Stand Out?

One way you can advance your orthodontics career is to join a professional organization, such as the American Dental Association. Not only can membership help you stay informed about the latest trends in dentistry and orthodontics, it can also provide you with access to continuing education and networking resources.

You might also consider earning certification from the American Board of Orthodontics. According to this specialty board, becoming a diplomate can demonstrate your proficiency and professionalism to future clients. Requirements include completion of an approved orthodontics program and passing scores on written and clinical examinations.

Alternative Career Options

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon

Another career option to consider is oral and maxillofacial surgery. As a dentist specializing in this area, you might remove teeth or perform surgeries on gums and palates. As of May 2011, oral and maxillofacial surgeons earned higher average salaries than orthodontists, at around $217,000. Comparable 21% employment growth was projected for professionals in this dental specialty from 2010-2020, according to the BLS.


You might also consider a career as a prosthodontist. In this occupation, you use permanent fixtures, like bridges and crowns, to replace patients' missing teeth. You might also prescribe dentures. Prosthodontists don't earn as much as orthodontists; their average salaries were around $131,000 as of May 2011. However, the BLS reported that job opportunities in this field were expected to increase 21% from 2010-2020.

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