What Are the Duties of an Orthodontist?

Orthodontists are specialized dentists who work to improve their patients' smiles through correcting teeth alignment and guiding proper facial development. Read on to learn what you should expect if you decide to become an orthodontist. Schools offering Dental Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Orthodontist Duties and Responsibilities

Orthodontics, a specialty within the dental profession, involves straightening teeth and correcting bites. As an orthodontist, you are responsible for locating problems with the positioning of patients' teeth and with their oral development. You might use x-rays or plaster molds of your patients' teeth to do this. You will then use dental appliances, such as braces, retainers and space maintainers, to correct these problems for the purpose of providing better function, appearance and facial development. You will also be responsible for planning custom treatment plans that are tailored to treat each individual patient based on his or her dental records and specific anomalies. You may also be in charge of supervising and instructing orthodontic technicians and assistants in performing routine procedures.

Education Requirements

To become an orthodontist, you need to graduate from dental school with a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM). However, you'll first need to earn a bachelor's degree in most cases. It doesn't matter what major you choose, but you'll need to take certain prerequisite courses, such as chemistry, biology, physics and organic chemistry. You'll need to take the Dental Acceptance Test (DAT) during your junior year of your undergraduate studies.

Once admitted to dental school, you'll receive both didactic and clinical training. Your courses might include histology, physiology, dental anatomy, pharmacology and oral radiology. You'll be exposed to the different dental specialties, such as periodontics, oral surgery, orthodontics and pediatric dentistry. During your clinical training, you'll work with patients and gain experience working in the different dental specialties.

After graduating from dental school, you'll need to enter a residency to receive specialized orthodontics training. These programs last 2-3 years and you may be awarded a certificate and/or master's degree upon completion. Your residency curriculum could consist of seminars, lectures and clinical practice. Some orthodontic residencies also require you to complete an advanced research project that may be published in an orthodontic journal.

Licensing Info

All states require dentists to be licensed. Though requirements vary by state, most require you to have graduated from an accredited dental school and passed written and practical licensing exams. You will also need to earn a license in your specialty field of orthodontics. The American Board of Orthodontics requires that you complete an orthodontics program that is at least 24 months in length and includes extensive clinical experience. You then need to pass written and clinical exams.

Employment and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 5,530 orthodontists working in May 2012 (www.bls.gov). These orthodontists made an average annual salary of $186,320 at that time. The BLS also reported that employment of orthodontists was expected to increase 16% between 2012 and 2022, which is on par with the projected employment increase for all dentists. Contributing to this projected increase is the fact that the baby-boom generation will likely need dental services.

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