You have multiple career options if you are one of the many people hoping to help others with dental issues.
Becoming a dentist is always possible, but you might find more fulfilment in being an orthodontist. This article explains how to become an orthodontist, what makes them different from dentists and which career is better for you before signing up for school.
What Makes Orthodontists Different From Dentists?
You go to your dentist twice a year for routine cleanings and checkups, but orthodontists are more optional. These are a few things they do your dentist can’t provide in their office.
1. They Correct Irregularities
People visit orthodontists when they want to straighten their teeth, but there are other reasons to make an appointment, too.
Orthodontists know how to realign your jaw when uneven alignment happens due to crooked teeth that grow at an angle or shift over time. Although your dentist may notice this issue, they don’t have the training to fix it.
2. They Work With Adults and Kids
Some dentists work primarily with kids. Other work with adults.
Orthodontists often collaborate with both age groups because people can need orthodontia procedures at any age. They may even treat whole families at a time to provide comprehensive care.
3. They Don’t Provide Dental Care
Dental care focuses on removing and preventing cavities or treating tooth and gum diseases. Orthodontists offer many other services outside of traditional dentistry.
They often use numerous fixed appliances to resolve issues, like:
- Metal or clear braces
- Clear aligners or retainers
- Fixed space maintainers
- Jaw splints
- Palatal expanders
These appliances can improve a person’s dental health but don’t count as dental services because they require different training.
What Training Do Orthodontists Need?
If you are wondering how to become an orthodontist, read about the training you’ll need to launch your career.
It is different from becoming a dentist or doctor, so it is essential to understand how long it will take and what you’ll need to achieve your professional dreams.
1. They Need an Undergraduate Degree
Every orthodontist must earn an undergrad degree, so look for something focusing on science.
Polling shows that 70 per cent of dentistry school students studied pre-dentistry, chemistry, biology or another science major before applying. A business major or minor will also benefit you if you dream of opening a practice.
Your undergraduate degree will require four years of school. Afterwards, you can take the dental admission test to get into your preferred dental school.
2. They Need Dental School and Residency Experience
Once you enter dental school, you’ll study fields like periodontics, anatomy and radiology. You’ll also spend your time getting clinical experience in local practices. It is an incredibly busy four years that fly by. After graduating, you can start an accredited orthodontics residency program.
Residency programs require you to pass an application because they are highly competitive. You’ll get an additional two to three years of residency experience in practice before you are ready to take the next step in your career.
3. They Need to Pass the NBDE
Your residency trains you in practical experience and flexes your academic knowledge. As it ends, you’ll be much more prepared to take the National Board Dental Examination (NBDE). Sometimes students have to take this exam before getting into dental school, depending on the university.
Prepare for this exam throughout your time as a student by reading the previous exams published by the American Student Dental Association. They’ll give you a pass or fail score without numerical grading involved and you can retake it after 90 days if you fail. You have three chances to pass before waiting a year between each further attempt.
4. They Need a License
Once you pass the NBDE, you can apply for an orthodontist license. The requirements vary by state, so read the American Dental Association’s map to locate your area and what you need to do to obtain your license.
Typically, you only need to finish dental school and pass the NBDE. Speciality orthodontia licenses will require specific training indicated in your state’s guidelines, which may mean going another few months or years of training.
It is best to get a broad range of experience in dental school and residency to ensure you know exactly which type of orthodontia you prefer.
Skills Needed to Be an Orthodontist
There are many skills needed to be an orthodontist, which you can start practising today. Consider if you already have any of these skills that will help your career.
1. Customer Service Skills
Orthodontists interact with patients every day. You’ll need customer service experience to learn how to remain pleasant in challenging situations, carry small talk and work with your office members to provide the best service possible.
Even the most innovative and practised orthodontists won’t get positive reviews or eager new patients if word spreads they are distant, cold or hard to talk to.
2. Planning and Time Management
You’ll have to plan the best course of action for each patient, which may require months or years of work.
Knowing how to manage the patient’s time most effectively with the best treatment options will make you stand out from local orthodontists. Practice planning and time management daily to become the best you can be.
3. Leadership Skills
As part of the skills needed to be an orthodontist, you’ll lead your practice and team members. You may have an office manager handling the administrative duties, but people will look to you for guidance and final decisions.
Take on leadership roles in school and other areas of your life to get used to that kind of responsibility before it pays the bills.
4. Patience and a Calming Demeanor
People get nervous about going to their orthodontist appointments just like they do when it is time for dental cleanings. Maintaining a patient and calming demeanour encourages people to relax and trust your skills.
Whether you have to interact with scared kids or people experiencing aches and pains related to their orthodontic appliances, you’ll remain trustworthy and approachable.
5. Problem-Solving Skills
Sometimes patient care plans don’t go exactly how you predicted they would. They may have dental emergencies, illnesses or other factors requiring adjustments in their care.
Problem-solving helps in these moments and other challenging times, like a change in office staff.
What is the Average Orthodontist Salary?
No one wants to go to school for a career that won’t keep the lights on. If you are about to spend 10 or 11 years studying and gaining experience, will your paycheck provide a comfortable standard of living and pay your student loans?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently found the median orthodontist salary is $163,220 yearly and can become as much as $208,000 annually or more.
The sizable income is more than enough to cover the average American family’s $61,334 annual cost of living while leaving extra financial room for things like travelling, opening a practice or saving for your child’s college education.
Things You Can Do as an Orthodontist
Now that you know the skills needed to be an orthodontist, you may wonder what you can do with your career. Here are a few things you can do with your education and training.
1. Join a Group Practice
You’ll get to know other orthodontists in your area by attending conferences if those events interest you. Some orthodontists use those relationships to open a group practice eventually. Starting a business requires significant upfront investments, making it easier if additional people chip in.
You’ll also benefit from group ownership by having others who can shoulder the operating responsibilities and bills. However, you would spend additional savings to buy your partners out if you wanted to own it under your name someday.
2. Open an Orthodontic Practice
You don’t need partners to open an orthodontic practice. You can also start a business by yourself.
You’ll need a well-standing credit score to obtain a loan large enough to buy an empty building or build one from the ground up. The loan will also have to cover the machinery, office equipment, funding for marketing and enough money to hire your team.
This can be an excellent experience for anyone who wants the challenging yet rewarding experience of owning a business. You’ll have complete control over its operation and won’t have to split the profits with partners.
3. Volunteer for Community Initiatives
It is no secret not everyone can afford dental care. Orthodontic care is also costly. Some volunteer-led organizations schedule events where orthodontists donate their time to provide free services for those in need.
Many orthodontists participate to give back, help those who can’t afford it and prevent future dental problems for people in low-income communities. It is rewarding for everyone involved. You could volunteer with those organizations to help more people or start a group if you feel led to serve in a leadership role.
Learn More About Your Potential Career
Now that you know how to become an orthodontist, consider your future. If you are willing to spend years studying and training, you could have a rewarding career helping those who need services their dentist can’t provide.
You may even become a business owner one day. It depends on what you are passionate about and how you want to use your skills.
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