Orthodontic Professions Video: Career Options and Educational Requirements

Orthodontic Professions Video: Career Options and Educational Requirements Transcript

Nothing makes a great first impression like a perfect smile. An orthodontist, orthodontist assistant and an orthodontic technician all work together to provide patients with braces, retainers and other dental devices used to straighten teeth. Orthodontists are a specialized kind of dentist who must attend a four year dentistry program after completing an undergraduate degree. Other careers in orthodonistry are available after earning an associate's degree in Dental Assisting or Dental Technology.


Orthdonistry is the field of dentistry that focuses on straightening and aligning crooked teeth. There are three main professions available to people interested in orthodontic careers: orthodontists, orthodontist assistants and orthodontic technicians. Orthodontists are dentists who specialize in this field. Orthodontist assistants help orthodontists to treat patients and sometimes take on administrative duties as well. Orthodontic technicians create braces, retainers and other dental devices. These careers require varying levels of education, ranging from an associate's degree for assistant and technician positions to eight years of collegiate and post-graduate study for orthodontists themselves. Many positions will require a professional license or certification.

Job Duties and Skills

Orthodontists are dentists with a specialized set of skills used to straighten and align patients' teeth. Orthodontists use braces and retainers to help their patients achieve a winning smile. Orthodontists may also use their skills for more than vanity purposes. Some speech impediments and physical conditions can be corrected through orthodontic teeth-straightening procedures. The work of most orthodontists involves frequent interactions with patients, often children and teenagers. Many of their patients suffer from anxiety regarding their treatment. An orthodontist must be able to calm patients before effectively explaining treatment options.

Orthodontist assistants work alongside orthodontists during examinations and procedures. They may prepare patients for treatment, arrange tools and equipment and help calm patients during procedures. They may also have administrative duties, such as greeting patients, scheduling appointments and coordinating billing and insurance paperwork.

An orthodontic technician usually works separately from both orthodontists and their assistants. These technicians create custom braces and retainers by using molds of a patient's mouth as provided by an orthodontist. They work with resins, moldable plastics and a variety of metals to create durable, wearable and attractive appliances. Orthodontists rely upon technicians to produce appliances to their exact specifications. Even a slight change in design or size can result in a painful or even potentially harmful treatment, making attention to detail absolutely essential.

Training Required

Orthodontists attend a four-year dental program after earning their bachelor's degree. Aside from classes, students will learn the finer points of clinical practice by treating patients under the supervision of instructors and experienced dental professionals. Students may earn either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM) degree, depending on the program they select.

In addition to the degree, dentists are required to be licensed in their state before they can practice. License requirements generally involve practical and written tests. Seventeen states require orthodontists and other specialized dentists to pass an additional licensing examination prior to treating patients.

In most cases, orthodontist assistants and orthodontic technicians are only required to complete an associate's degree. These programs, which may have titles like dental technology or dental assisting, focus on practical career skills. Students typically learn how to fabricate dental and orthodontic appliances, treat patients, file insurance paperwork and other applicable skills. Orthodontic assistants and technicians may also be required to acquire a state issued license, but regulations and requirements do vary from state to state.

Career Options

Nearly one out of three orthodontists is self-employed. These professionals operate their own private clinics, developing a client base through advertising and referrals from other dental professionals. Operating a practice can be a challenge and some additional business education can be helpful. Some hospitals do employ orthodontists as well. These positions usually revolve around treating patients in need of dental and orthodontic treatment related to other conditions.

Orthodontist assistants work alongside orthodontists, usually in private practices. Most assistants develop a working relationship with an orthodontist that can last for their entire career. Smaller practices may only require a part-time assistant. Because of this, some orthodontist assistants will work at more than one practice or will also work in a hospital setting.

Orthodontic technicians usually work in a laboratory where they fabricate the appliances used by orthodontists. Some larger clinics may have an in-house technician, but most will be employed by a laboratory that services several area orthodontists.


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