Orthodontist: Career Profile

Working as an orthodontist requires significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and licensure to see if this is the right career for you.

Orthodontists aim to fix abnormal teeth alignment by application of braces, retainers, dental plates, and the like. They must earn a college degree, complete dental school, and become licensed; certification is optional.

Essential Information

Orthodontists are dentists who specialize in diagnosing dental abnormalities and realigning teeth. After earning an undergraduate degree in order to gain admission to a dental school, prospective orthodontists must earn a professional degree in dentistry. After completing dental school, aspiring orthodontists pursue a post-degree training program or a 1-2-year residency in orthodontics. All orthodontists must be licensed to practice.

Required Education Undergraduate degree; Doctor of Dental Science degree via the completion of four years of study at an accredited dental school; orthodontics residency
Licensing and Certification Licensing is required in all states; board certification in orthodontics may be required
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 18.3% (much faster than average)
Mean Annual Salary (2015)* $221,390

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Profile for an Orthodontist

While some general dentists may perform orthodontic services for their patients, the majority will refer them to an orthodontist. Orthodontists work with patients to improve the functioning of their jaws and teeth, achieve their desired dental appearance and increase overall self-confidence. Orthodontists examine patients, dental records and X-rays to determine alignment and occlusion issues. They consult with patients to determine the best treatment plans and fit patients with braces, retainers and other dental appliances.

Required Education

In order to become an orthodontist, students need to complete four years of dental school. Coursework in dental school includes anatomy, physiology and microbiology, as well as classes that apply more specifically to orthodontics, such as dental anatomy and occlusion, pediatric dentistry and dental materials. Dental students learn in traditional classroom settings but are also required to gain practical experience treating patients in clinics during their last two years of study.

Licensure Requirements

In order to practice, all orthodontists must be licensed by their state. To receive a dental license, candidates must graduate from an accredited dental school, successfully complete the written National Board Dental Examinations and pass state clinical tests.

Certification Information

After becoming a licensed dentist, aspiring orthodontists may choose to be certified by the American Board of Orthodontics ( Board certification may help practitioners demonstrate their expertise in orthodontics to patients and peers. In order to become certified, candidates must pass both written and clinical exams after completing an orthodontics residency. To keep their credentials current, certified orthodontist must be recertified every ten years.

Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that job opportunities for orthodontists would increase 18.3% between 2014 and 2024 ( The BLS noted that orthodontists earned average annual salaries of $221,390 as of May 2015.

An orthodontist's job is to fix misaligned teeth. After finishing college, they then go through dental school where they undergo both classroom and hands-on training. To apply for licensure, one must graduate from dental school and pass a few necessary exams.

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