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Orthodontic Assistant Classes and Courses Overview

An orthodontic assistant helps dentists with orthodontic procedures, radiology and orthodontic appliances. Although sometimes offered alone, courses for this career are generally taken through a full dental assisting program.

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Essential Information

The requirements for working as a dental assistant, including an orthodontic assistant, vary by state, but they may include completing a program, earning certification or getting licensed. Most orthodontic assistant courses are available through specializations in certificate programs for dental assistants, though some community colleges and technical schools offer a single orthodontic assisting course for those already working as dental assistants. While a full program might take a year, the single course can usually be completed in a few months.

Students in these programs learn common systems for identifying teeth, orthodontic tool use and techniques for correcting bite and tooth alignment using braces and other appliances. Other common dental assisting courses include those in safety, dental materials and dental office management. Usually taken during the last part of the program, internship courses provide hands-on experience working with orthodontists. Graduates may pursue the Dental Assisting National Board's Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA) certification if they meet eligibility requirements.

Overview of Courses

The following are descriptions of some courses that may be in an orthodontic assistant program.

Orthodontic Terminology and Anatomy

Introductory orthodontist assistant classes provide an overview of the terminology, instruments and equipment used in orthodontics. Students learn anatomy of the head, mouth and teeth, including tooth development, malocclusion classifications and tooth numbering in both the Palmer and Universal systems. Introductory orthodontist assistant courses familiarize students with the setup of an orthodontist's office and the role of an orthodontist assistant.

Orthodontic Assistant Procedures

Dental orthodontic assistant courses introduce students to treatments commonly used to correct dental crowding and malocclusion. Students learn about sterilizing equipment and taking impressions. More advanced procedures courses demonstrate how archwires, cables, brackets, rubber bands and cement work to move teeth and how bracket placement affects tooth treatment and long-term stability. Student in the advanced courses learn wire bending techniques to achieve the desired tooth movement, and may use models to practice procedures like placing brackets and inserting archwires.

Orthodontic Appliances

Intermediate-level orthodontist assistant classes cover orthodontic appliances, including headgear and palate expanders, and prosthodontics, such as bridges, crowns and implants. Students become familiar with the different appliances, including non-traditional appliances, and learn how to select, install and remove these appliances. This class may also cover dental impressions and bite registration, though some schools teach those subjects in advanced orthodontist assistant classes.

Orthodontic Radiology

In orthodontic assistant classes in radiology, students learn the terminology, equipment and methods associated with diagnostic X-rays used in initial evaluation and progression assessment during orthodontic treatment. Safety procedures for both the practitioner and the patient are discussed in-depth. Orthodontic radiology classes focus on hands-on experience. Students gain practical experience with panorex and cephalometric X-ray machines and learn to develop X-ray images in a darkroom. Courses may also address using digital X-ray equipment.

Orthodontic Assistant Internship

Orthodontist assistants get practical experience working with patients and licensed practitioners through internships. Students work with orthodontists providing the proper tools and seeing how everything they've learned fits into place. Using the tooth numbering scheme, adjusting braces and interacting with patients becomes a familiar part of life through this orthodontic assistant class experience. Internship length requirements vary by state and some programs require that students work in a dental office, as well as with an orthodontist.

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