Orthodontist Assistant Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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

Orthodontist assistants work under the supervision of orthodontists. Check out the pros and cons below for a quick look at this career.

Pros of Becoming an Orthodontist Assistant
Minimal education requirements*
Strong projected employment growth (25% for 2012-2022 period)*
Overtime is uncommon**
Most work is done independently**

Cons of Becoming an Orthodontist Assistant
Limited advancement opportunities**
Most assistants work full time (one in three jobs are part time)**
Career is dominated by women (80% are women)**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **I Have a Plan Iowa

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

An orthodontist assistant may be responsible for taking X-rays and impressions so that the orthodontist can focus on patient care. As an assistant, you also handle minor tasks, such as tightening braces and sterilizing equipment. In some cases, you may conduct preliminary exams and inform the orthodontist of issues that need immediate attention. You may spend a considerable amount of time in the laboratory creating molds of patients' teeth or creating mouth guards and retainers. You may also work directly with patients by preparing their teeth before they get braces or explaining how to care for orthodontic devices.

Job Growth and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected 25% job growth from 2012-2022 for all dental assistants, which is much faster than average. PayScale.com reported in December 2014 that most orthodontic assistants earned between $23,931 and $45,567 per year. According to the BLS, dental assistants earned an average salary of about $35,640 as of May 2013.

Career Skills and Requirements

Some employers don't expect orthodontic assistants to have any postsecondary education. Others, however, prefer job applicants who have completed a dental assisting program. In either case, on-the-job training is usually provided.

You may be required to be licensed, registered or certified as a dental or orthodontic assistant in your state. Certification through the Dental Assisting National Board's (DANB) 2-part test for orthodontic assistants is required in some states. You may have to meet further state requirements if you use X-ray equipment or if your state has stiffer regulations for dental assisting careers.

Assistants should have excellent manual dexterity and good communication skills. The ability to follow instructions is essential as well.

What Employers Are Looking For

Being a team player is important to employers, as seen in March 2012 job ads. Employers were also looking for experienced candidates, especially for full-time positions.

  • An orthodontist in New York was looking for an orthodontist assistant with experience in electronic charting, Invisalign and providing patient care. Candidates were also asked to have 2-5 years of experience working in a high-end office.
  • An orthodontic practice in Georgia wanted to hire someone with a positive attitude and a drive to help people live healthy lifestyles. Experience was required.
  • An orthodontist in Texas wanted an energetic orthodontist assistant with computer experience. Familiarity with dental office functions was required.
  • In Pennsylvania, an orthodontist was seeking an assistant with a friendly attitude and strong communication skills. Preference was given to applicants with X-ray certification and computer skills.

How to Make Your Skills Stand Out

Experience can get you ahead in this field and help you stand out from the competition. Since orthodontic assisting and dental assisting are closely related, you may consider gaining some experience as a dental assistant first. You may also gain experience working as a receptionist in a dental office, which can help you master dental terminology and become familiar with how a dental office operates.

Joining a professional organization, like the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA), can also show your commitment to the field. Membership benefits may include product discounts and free access to continuing education courses.

Other Careers to Consider

Medical Assistant

If you enjoy the healthcare environment but aren't interested in orthodontics, you may want to consider a career as a medical assistant. In this profession, you help physicians with administrative and clerical duties. Your work may also include taking vital signs, explaining procedures to patients and performing basic laboratory procedures. You can enter the field after completing a 1- or 2-year medical assisting program. Employment of medical assistants was predicted to increase 31% from 2010-2020. The median annual pay for medical assistants as of May 2011 was $29,000, according to the BLS.

Dental Hygienist

In a career as a dental hygienist, it's your job to clean patients' teeth and help them learn about proper dental hygiene. You may perform basic exams, noting any issues or problems. You must complete a postsecondary dental hygiene program to enter this field. States also require licensing for dental hygienists. These professionals make more than orthodontic or dental assistants, earning a median annual wage of $69,000 as of May 2011, according to the BLS. Employment in the field is expected to grow 38% from 2010-2020.

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