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Orthodontist Training Programs and Requirements

All students interested in a career as orthodontists must first complete either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) or the equivalent Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.) degree. Orthodontics is a specialized training that is completed after dental school.

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Essential Information

Orthodontists must complete dental school before legally practicing. They must also pursue specialized orthodontics training after graduating from dental school. All dentists, including orthodontists, must be licensed in their states in order to practice. A lot of graduate and doctoral programs in orthodontics focus on anatomy and orthodontic theory.


Doctor of Dental Surgery or Doctor of Dental Science

The Doctor of Dental Science and Doctor of Dental Medicine are both 4-year programs preparing students to practice as dentists. The D.D.S. and D.M.D. are equivalent, with very few differences, according to the American Dental Association. Both programs cover dental and general medical topics, such as human anatomy, dental morphology, dental occlusion and oral radiology. Clinical experience generally forms a major portion of the dental doctoral curriculum. Some course topics might include:

  • Gross anatomy
  • Essentials of clinical practice
  • Restorative
  • Periodontics
  • Pharmacology
  • Preclinical endodontics

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Orthodontics Specialty Graduate Program

After completing the D.D.S. or D.M.D. degree, students interested in orthodontics must pursue a post-doctoral orthodontics program that usually leads to a M.S. degree. These programs last from two to three years and provide students with advanced, specialized orthodontics training through courses like craniofacial anatomy and orthodontic theory. The curriculum generally includes clinical work and orthodontics research. Some course topics might include:

  • Clinical therapeutics
  • Anatomy of the head and neck
  • Wound healing
  • Pathology
  • TMJ therapy
  • Biomechanics

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

As of May 2015, orthodontists make a mean annual wage of $221,390, according to the BLS. The employment for dentists from 2014-2024 is expected to grow 18%, which is much faster than average compared to other occupations.

Continuing Education

Orthodontist, like all types of dentists must pass the National Board Dental Examinations, administered by their state board, and some states require addition orthodontics licensure. Orthodontists can pursue optional certification through the the National Board of Orthodontics or the American Board of Orthodontics. Both certifications require diplomates to graduate from an approved dental program and have experience as a practicing orthodontist. The American Board of Orthodontics certification, recognized by the American Dental Association, requires diplomates to take recertification exams periodically, while National Board of Orthodontic certification is renewed by meeting continuing education requirements.

Continuing education courses in orthodontics, widely available through local colleges and dental health organizations, cover topics like nutrition and diagnostic equipment, as well as addressing technological advances made in the field, such as new techniques or tools available to orthodontists. Manufacturers may offer training workshops for new products used in orthodontic treatment. Many orthodontist workshops and seminars are aimed at general practice dentists who treat simpler orthodontic cases in their practice.

Professional associations such as the College of Diplomates of the American Board of Orthodontics and the American Association of Orthodontists provide online resources for practice management and continuing education. They also provide distance education opportunities and libraries of journal articles for orthodontists. Orthodontists who wish to pursue a career in teaching or research may enroll in a Ph.D. program.

Students who are interested in more training past dental school, can pursue orthodontists doctoral degrees. In addition to being board certified, orthodontists need to keep up with continuing education courses as well.

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