Orthodontists: Job Information & Career Requirements

Orthodontists are dentists who specialize in the treatment and prevention of dental irregularities, usually through the application of dental braces. Read about the professional responsibilities and education requirements for orthodontists here, as well as what you can look forward to in terms of career opportunities and salary.

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Career Definition

Orthodontists generally work with the help of an orthodontic assistant to analyze and solve the dental problems of their patients. Daily activities may include evaluating the needs of new patients, creating teeth molds, fitting orthodontic appliances and checking on the progress of individual patients. After receiving the proper education and certification, an orthodontist may choose to open his or her own practice or join an established practice.

How to Become an Orthodontist

Required Education

College undergraduates who are interested in a career in orthodontia will most likely benefit from coursework or a major in science. Dental schools are selective, and admission requirements include an acceptable score on the Dental Admission Test (DAT); high grade point averages and recommendations may also be required. Once admitted, students usually complete the program in four years, after which, they receive an additional three years of specialized orthodontic training. A state license is required to practice; additional certifications may be available from the American Dental Association and the American Board of Orthodontists.

Skills Required

According to O*Net, the most important aspect of practicing orthodontics is an in-depth knowledge of dentistry, which is acquired primarily through academic study and hands-on practice in dental and orthodontic schools (www.onetcenter.org). Orthodontists also need to be able to pay close attention to detail, operate advanced technological tools, work well with their hands and communicate clearly with assistants and patients, including children and adolescents.

Employment and Salary Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that while income depends on experience and location, orthodontists earned a mean annual salary of $186,320 as of May 2012. Employment prospects for orthodontists should remain favorable in the near future, with the BLS forecasting a 16% growth in employment nationwide, or faster than average, between 2012 and 2022 (www.bls.gov).

Alternate Career Options

Optometrists

In addition to conducting routine examinations, optometrists diagnose and treat conditions and diseases of the eyes, either by prescribing corrective lens or performing surgery. Students who have graduated from a 4-year school can apply to a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) program; additional requirements include a state-issued license. According to the BLS, the field of optometry is growing at a faster-than-average rate, with the number of job openings expected to increase by 24% nationwide through 2022. In May 2012, optometrists earned an average yearly salary of $109,810 (www.bls.gov).

Podiatrists

Podiatrists identify and treat diseases and injuries of the ankle, foot or lower leg. A Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (D.P.M.) and 3-year residency must be completed before an aspiring podiatrist can obtain the required state license. The BLS reports that podiatrists can also look forward to a faster-than-average growth in employment opportunities between 2012 and 2022 (23%). Licensed podiatrists who were employed in May 2012 earned an average yearly salary of $132,470 (www.bls.gov).

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