How to Become an Orthodontist

Orthodontist Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year $274,240
Avg. Pay / hour $131.85
Education 2-4 Years
Job Outlook 7%

An orthodontist is a specialized dental practitioner who diagnoses and treats misaligned teeth.

If you are interested with health, enjoy working with people, and would like the opportunity to own your own business, a career as an orthodontist may be well suited to you.

When you become an orthodontist, you will have the rewarding task of helping people to perfect their smiles.

There are many reasons that people see an orthodontist.

Some people go an orthodontist for purely cosmetic reasons, while others may go to correct much more serious problems such as difficulty chewing, speaking, as well as sleep apnea.

A patient is usually referred to an orthodontist by a dentist or a general practitioner.

An orthodontist will diagnose a patient using a variety of methods, then formulate a plan to correct any misalignments.

Orthodontists may use retainers, braces, or headgear as a method of aligning teeth, and many treatment programs can take several years to complete.

Education Requirements to Become an Orthodontist

The education pathway to become an orthodontist is a long one, and will take several years of study at both college and dentistry school, followed by a residency.

This is definitely a career for people that enjoy school, and are academically strong.

If you’re still at high school, concentrate on getting good grades.

Subjects in the sciences, math, English, and health will all help since you’ll need a high school diploma with good grades to enter college.

At college, you will need to complete a four year undergraduate degree, most likely a bachelor of science.

Look for a school with a good premed, medical science, or nursing program.

Again, you will need to make good grades to be accepted into dental school.

You can read more about the requirements for entering dental college at the American Dental Association’s website.

After you complete college, you will need to enroll in dental school to complete a doctorate in dental science.

This will take up to four years to complete.

You will then need to pass the dentals admissions test in your state to be able to practice as a dentist.

You don’t need a particular degree to enter dental school, but you will need to have completed coursework in chemistry, biology, and physics.

An orthodontist is a specialist dentist, so you will need to complete some more education.

A science of orthodontics course is required, this will take between two and three years to complete, including a residency period where you will gain practical experience.

There is a further exam you will need to pass in order to be certified as an orthodontist in your state.

Orthodontist Job Description

Using visual observation, measurements, x-rays, and other methods, orthodontists diagnose the severity of misaligned teeth and come up with a treatment plan to correct misalignment.

The most common course of action is braces, which a patient may have to wear for anything from a few months to a few years.

Headgear and retainers can be prescribed as well, while sometimes teeth may need to removed, or even replaced with prosthetics.

An orthodontist will also measure for, and fit, braces or other specialized wear.

The patient will see the orthodontist regularly, until their teeth are in proper alignment.

During this time they may need to have a change in treatment, have braces refitted, or removed early.

It’s not uncommon for a person to wear braces for several years, then change to a retainer which they only wear at night time.

Here are some of the duties of an orthodontist:

  • Meeting with patients
  • Appointment setting and diary management
  • Keeping patient records
  • Devising treatment for misaligned teeth
  • Taking X-Rays
  • Fitting braces, retainers, and headgear
  • Follow up appointments with patients

Orthodontist Salary and Career Path

With an estimated half of the population in the United States having misaligned teeth, there is plenty of work about for a qualified orthodontist.

Orthodontists enjoy good working conditions, usually working 30-40 hour weeks in private clinics or day surgery centers, while some may work out of hospitals.

The majority of orthodontist are self-employed and the median wage for an orthodontist is $166,000 a year.

Most orthodontists will stay in this career throughout their working life.

Others may go into other areas of dentistry, or become teachers or researchers.

Some examples of these positions include:

  • Dentist
  • Dental surgeon
  • Medical doctor
  • Researcher
  • Professor

When you become an orthodontist, you can look forward to excellent career prospects and a very good salary.

If you are interested in health, as well as working closely with patients to achieve excellent results, then you might like to consider a career as an orthodontist.

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Louisiana- NA -
Michigan- NA -
Nebraska- NA -
New Hampshire$#
New Jersey$292,260
North Carolina$296,460
Utah- NA -

The top earning state in the field is Massachusetts, where the average salary is $344,120.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Massachusetts - $344,120
Maryland - $336,720
Virginia - $324,660
Maine - $304,560
North Carolina - $296,460
* Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Orthodontists, OCC Code 29-1023, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does an orthodontist do?

Orthodontists are dental professionals specialized in preventing and treating dental anomalies.

As an orthodontist you are responsible for the proper alignment of the jaws and teeth, your specialty being to realign or straighten teeth by using orthodontic retainers or braces.

Your daily activities will include studying the dental history of your patients, creating teeth molds, analyzing x-rays, developing treatment plans, fitting orthodontic appliances and checking your patients’ progress.

You will work with dentists and other medical staff, depending on the condition you have to treat, some of them requiring treatment of gums or fractured teeth.

You will teach your patients about diets, flossing and other teeth-cleaning habits, the use of fluoride and other facets of dental care.

As an orthodontist, you need good motor skills, great dexterity, and hand-eye coordination because you will operate advanced technological tools.

You also need good communication skills and patience.

Many orthodontists have their own office or share an office with other dentists.

An advantage is that your work program can be flexible because there aren’t many cases of emergency and your patients will usually have an appointment.

How much does an orthodontist make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mean salary in 2018 for an orthodontist was $225,760, making it one of the highest-paying jobs in the United States.

However, salaries vary based on many factors, including experience and place of employment.

How much does it cost to become an orthodontist?

If you want to become an orthodontist, the first step is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in science.

An undergraduate degree with coursework in chemistry, biology, and physics will help you prepare for the Dental Admission Test.

Four years of pre-dentistry training will cost you on average around $200,000.

Four years of dental school will cost you, on average, around $250,000 in total but costs vary depending on the school you choose.

After graduating from dental school, the next step is to complete your residency in an orthodontic program for the next three years and to earn your state license.

What is the demand for orthodontists?

The BLS is forecasting a 7 percent growth in employment for orthodontists nationwide from 2018 to 2028, faster than average.

A small number of dentists make the transition to becoming orthodontists and the demand for orthodontic services is expected to increase as the population grows.

Those who are willing to relocate to underserved areas should have better job prospects.

How long does it take to become an orthodontist?

Orthodontists need many years of training before being ready to practice.

If you want to become an orthodontist you will first need a bachelor’s degree in science and will have to take the Dental Admission Test (DAT).

Based on your results at this test, you will be accepted to a dental school.

After graduating from dental school you will earn a Doctor of Dental Surgery or Doctor of Dental Medicine degree and you will need to study for another three years to become an orthodontist.

Finally, you are required to complete between 2 and 4 years in a residency program.

Almost all states require a license in order to be able to practice.

Jamie Willis
Career Specialist at BecomeopediaHi, my name is Jamie Willis, and I have been helping students find their perfect internships and education paths for the last ten years. It is a passion of mine, and there really is nothing better than seeing students of mine succeed with further studies.

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