Orthodontist Degree Program Information

Orthodontists are dentists who are specially trained to prevent and treat dental irregularities. This often includes straightening teeth and correcting bite issues with retainers and braces. Aspiring orthodontists must complete Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.) programs, as well as additional training commonly leading to a Master of Science in Orthodontics. Read on to learn about these degree programs, including prerequisites and curriculum.

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Essential Information

It takes six or more years of post-bachelor's degree training to become an orthodontist. After earning a bachelor's degree, aspiring orthodontists must learn the basics of the field and gain hands-on experience in dental school. Then, they must earn master's degrees in orthodontics through programs that combine classroom work, labs and clinical experience. In every state, they are required to obtain both a dental license and a license to practice orthodontics. Most orthodontists also seek board certification as well.


Doctor of Dental Surgery or Doctor of Dental Medicine

Dental training programs awarding the D.D.S. or D.M.D. are similar in content, and both prepare students for professional dental practice. Dental students are provided with a comprehensive education in the social, basic and clinical sciences.

Education Prerequisites

Prior to starting dental school, students must complete a bachelor's degree program and pass the Dental Admission Test. Admissions in this field can be highly competitive. Coursework in biology, chemistry, physics and biochemistry are usually required; additional coursework in microbiology, anatomy and physiology, genetics and cell biology are recommended. Most programs also require criminal background checks to determine eligibility for future licensure.

Program Coursework

The first two years of a D.D.S. or D.M.D. program focus on general science coursework, while the final two years are made up of clinical rotations. Specific course topics might include:

  • Oral anatomy
  • Genetics
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Radiology
  • Endodontics
  • Cariology
  • Pain control
  • Periodontics
  • Prosthodontics

Master of Science in Orthodontics

Dentists seeking to specialize in the field of orthodontics should pursue a 2- to 3-year training program following completion of their dental degrees. Such programs commonly lead to a master's degree.

Education Prerequisites

Applicants to graduate programs in orthodontics must have a D.D.S. or D.M.D. Admissions officers generally consider a student's recommendation from his or her dental school, grade point average and a personal interview.

Program Coursework

Orthodontics students typically enroll in classroom coursework and clinical rotations simultaneously. Didactic topics might include the following:

  • Principles of orthodontics
  • Orthodontic techniques
  • Management of craniofacial anomalies
  • Materials science
  • Oral histology and pathology
  • Research methods

Career Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment growth for those in the orthodontics profession was expected to grow at a rate of 21% during the 2010-2020 decade. This rate was faster than the average for all occupations and equal to those practicing general dentistry. The increase was expected due to demand for dental work and increased availability of dental insurance.

Orthodontist salaries, while generally high, vary by location of practice. For example, the BLS reported that as of May 2012, orthodontists in Illinois made an average salary of $106,150. The national mean wage for orthodontists in 2012 was $186,320.

Continuing Education

Each state maintains its own licensing requirements for orthodontic professionals, but most require completion of 1-3 years of residency training to meet eligibility requirements for licensure. State licensure is separate from board certification processes, which are specialty-specific. Board certification for orthodontists is administered by the American Board of Orthodontics.

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