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Orthodontist Assistant: Career Profile

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an orthodontist assistant. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

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If you are considering a career as an orthodontist assistant, you may need to be licensed or certified, and you can attend a dental assisting program at a technical, community or junior college, or at a trade school. Requirements vary by state, and some orthodontist assistants learn their skills on the job.

Essential Information

Orthodontist assistants aid orthodontists and are part of a rapidly growing industry. These professionals often obtain education through dental assisting programs; however, they also might earn the necessary skills on the job or through coursework specific to orthodontist assisting.

Required Education Degree from a dental assisting program or on-the-job training
Other Requirements Certification and licensure varies by state
Mean Annual Wage (2015) $36,920 for dental assistants*
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 18% for dental assistants*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Orthodontist Assistant Career Profile

Orthodontist assistants provide support to orthodontists. For example, orthodontist assistants might prepare rooms prior to appointments and make patients comfortable prior to inspections or treatments. Assistants also might take patient histories and note any relevant information of which the orthodontist should be aware. They also might assist orthodontists in areas including:

  • Preparing tooth impressions
  • Sterilizing equipment for use
  • Removing sutures
  • Conducting and processing x-rays

Educational Requirements

Requirements to become an orthodontist assistant vary by state and employer, and assistants can learn career functions in a variety of ways. In some cases, assistants acquire their skills on the job; however, many employers prefer to hire orthodontic assistants who have completed formal assisting programs and can perform advanced tasks.

Orthodontist assistants can gain formal education through dental assisting programs that culminate in diplomas, certificates or associate's degrees. These training programs are available at junior and community colleges, trade schools and technical institutions. Students opting for this route might benefit from selecting a program that's accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Students may be required to hold CPR certification prior to admission.

Additionally, some schools offer orthodontic assisting courses geared toward experienced dental assistants. These courses typically cover topics like x-rays, numbing agents and orthodontic materials and qualify graduates for state permits to complete expanded orthodontics functions.

Certification and Licensing

Many states require orthodontic assistants to obtain licensure or certification to work in the field or perform expanded functions. The licensure process may entail completion of an accredited training program and passage of an exam.

In most states, candidates can meet state requirements by passing the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam administered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). To qualify, candidates must be graduates of an accredited dental assisting program or have 2-4 years of assisting experience (www.danb.org). Candidates must also be CPR certified. CDAs may then go on to earn the DANB's Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA) designation. COA certification may qualify orthodontic assistants to handle advanced clinical duties specific to orthodontics.

Salary Information and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), mean annual earnings of dental assistants, including orthodontist assistants, were $36,920 in May 2015 (www.bls.gov). The top ten percent earned $50,660 or more per year, while the bottom ten percent earned $24,950 or less per year. Almost all dental assistants worked in dental offices, though a small percentage of jobs were available with government agencies.

Individuals in this field are expected to have a favorable job outlook in the coming years. The BLS reports that employment of dental assistants was projected to increase 18% from 2014-2024, which is much faster than the average projected growth for all U.S. jobs. A growing interest in the physical maintenance and appearance of teeth could help fuel this growth.

Orthodontist assistants provide support to orthodontists, by preparing rooms and sterilizing equipment, and performing tasks such as taking x-rays or preparing impressions. Licensure or certification may be required, and many assistants attend a formal program, while others gain permits to do expanded orthodontic assisting through advanced studies. Job growth for all dental assistants is predicted to be strong, with an increase of 18% through the year 2024.

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