Careers in Orthodontology: Job Description, Education, and Salary

FT Contributor
On orthodontist working on a patient.
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Careers in orthodontology are some of the highest-paying jobs in America, which often makes them attractive to career seekers. While jobs in this field are considered good career choices, they also require extensive training and education. A desire to learn about the complexities of the mouth and jaw and a dedication to patient health is paramount for orthodontists.

What Does an Orthodontist Do?

On a daily basis, orthodontists are required to diagnose, examine, and treat abnormalities and conditions in the mouth and jaw. They’re also required to design and create devices that help realign teeth and jaws to improve appearance and functionality.

Since these technologies are constantly advancing, orthodontists may need to attend continuing education and training to stay abreast of advancements in the industry. Many of the job duties of orthodontists are similar to the duties performed by dentists, including examining the mouth and oral history to create a dental health plan that eliminates discomfort.

Orthodontists may also be required to provide treatment records and estimates on the costs patients may incur throughout their treatment plans. They’re also responsible for following up with patients to ensure the treatment works and the devices designed for them are comfortable. Additionally, orthodontists may need to educate patients on oral health to ensure they’re taking proper care of their teeth, even after treatment.

Appliances and devices are commonly used to improve teeth and jaw alignments, so orthodontists may be tasked with creating custom equipment for patients, including:

  • Braces.
  • Dentures.
  • Retainers.
  • Space maintainers.
  • Labial or lingual arch wires.

For example, an orthodontist may see a patient who is suffering from misaligned front teeth. After careful examination and x-rays, the orthodontist will create a treatment plan to adjust the teeth back into alignment. If this plan includes braces or a retainer, the orthodontist will take precise measurements so a custom device can be created to fix the problem.

What Is the Average Annual Salary of an Orthodontist?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for an orthodontist in May 2018 was $225,760, with an average hourly wage of $108.54. The exact salary earned by orthodontists depends on seniority, experience, specialization, and location.

Orthodontists who work in dentists’ offices are typically paid more than those who are employed by medical or surgical hospitals. Those who work in private dental offices are also generally paid a higher hourly wage than orthodontists who work in physicians’ offices.

How to Become an Orthodontist

While orthodontists earn top dollar, it requires several years of training and dedication to enter the field. When compared to other professions, the hard skills learned through education and training are generally more demanding and difficult.


According to the American Student Dental Association, you must first earn a bachelor’s degree. Then, you must earn a dental degree, which may be either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD).

Next, a two- or three-year residency is required to earn a Master of Science in Orthodontics, which is an advanced orthodontics degree. The residency program must be completed through a school accredited by the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO) and the program requires the completion of both clinical and classroom work.


In the medical field, on-the-job training is crucial. During residency, students gain experience in the dentistry field but are also required to complete additional training once hired. According to the AAO, orthodontists participate in about 3,700 hours of specialized orthodontist training.


To practice orthodontics in the United States, graduates must also be board certified through the American Board of Orthodontics (ABO). To become certified, an orthodontist must pass both a written and clinical exam to be awarded a time-limited certificate. Once certified, these orthodontists are referred to as Diplomates of the American Board of Orthodontics. To maintain certification, orthodontists must pass renewal exams before their current certificate expires.

An Orthodontist’s Job Outlook

To understand whether you’d be satisfied with a career as an orthodontist, it’s important to analyze the pros and cons of entering the dental field in addition to potential earnings. Review the job security and work environment details to better understand if this career is a good fit for you.

Job Security and Growth

The dental industry is expected to experience growth as the population ages and needs more dental treatments. However, the number of dental school graduates is also increasing, which can lead to more competition in the industry. Workers in the dental industry are known to stay in their occupations for longer periods when compared to other occupational fields. Jobs in orthodontology are projected to grow at a rate of 7% to 10%, which is faster than average when compared to other occupations.

Work Environment

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most orthodontists work in dentist offices. In some cases, orthodontists may open their own practices, which requires them to market themselves and secure new patients on their own.

Orthodontists are required to work harmoniously with other doctors, dentists, administrative staff, and dental assistants. Since most people opt to fix crooked teeth and other oral ailments at a young age, many orthodontists find themselves working mostly with teens and young adults.

Orthodontists can work full- or part-time and usually only see patients who have appointments. This allows them to work flexible hours unless their appointment schedule is full and demanding.

Should You Become an Orthodontist?

To be a successful orthodontist, you must possess certain soft skills, including the ability to work with people and maintain a good bedside manner. You should also have an interest in oral health and a desire to make people feel more comfortable and healthy. A strong interest in the latest oral technologies and devices is important. If you own your own dental practice, you may need to have strong managerial, marketing, and business skills, as well as advanced communication skills.

There are many resources you can consult about obtaining an orthodontist career, including the following:

It’s important to analyze your career goals, dedication to education, and interpersonal skills when deciding if a job as an orthodontist is right for you.

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