The U.S. Department of Labor reports that there are about 6,500 orthodontists in the United States, and almost all of them are in private practice. Orthodontists may own their own practices or may work as associates or partners with other orthodontists. Some orthodontists work in hospitals and dental clinics.
Other opportunities for orthodontists include teaching at university dental schools, either on a full- or part-time basis. Those who teach part time usually maintain a private practice as well. Often part-time instructors are not paid or are paid only a small salary because the prestige of having a university teaching position is considered enough compensation. Also, orthodontists sometimes volunteer to teach a class to build their careers. Some orthodontists work in dental schools where there are research opportunities. Others perform research while testing new materials and procedures and writing about them for industry. Researchers may test new orthodontic materials or techniques by working on anything from model mouths to animals.
Some orthodontists are employed by government agencies, such as the U.S. Public Health Service, the Indian Health Service, or the Department of Veterans Affairs. Orthodontists also work in the military and are stationed across the country or around the world with the Air Force, Navy, or Army.
Dentists often start out by working as associates for established dentists with their own practices. They may work as associates for several years to gain experience and build up their financial resources. Then many buy a dental business or start their own.
Orthodontists may start their careers in a similar manner. A good resource to consult is the scientific journal of the AAO, the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, which lists practices to rent or buy as well as job opportunities. The Journal of the American Dental Association also features classified job ads, some of which are for orthodontists.
As is true with other professions, it is important for orthodontists to make and maintain contacts among their colleagues. One way of doing this is by attending AAO or ADA meetings. Through networking at such events, an orthodontist might hear about current job openings or meet someone who is interested in starting a practice with a partner.
Orthodontists in private practice can advance by increasing the size of their practices. One way to do this is to build a reputation with the general dentists in the surrounding community who will refer patients to the orthodontist. Orthodontists who can effectively communicate with a patient's general dentist and facilitate easy coordination of treatment are more likely to be trusted by the general dentist and therefore get more patient referrals.
Involvement in orthodontic associations and study clubs may lead orthodontists to active participation in organized dental events. Some orthodontists even become officers and committee chairs of their professional associations. Those in research and teaching often advance by publishing papers on techniques and developments in the field.
Tips for Entry
Visit https://www.ada.org/en/education-careers/careers-in-dentistry to learn more about careers in dentistry.
Join the American Association of Orthodontists and the American Dental Association to receive reduced rates on association events, access membership-only research, take advantage of networking opportunities, and learn more about education and careers.
Become certified by the American Board of Orthodontists in order to show employers that you've met the highest standards established by your industry.
Read the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics (https://www.ajodo.org) and listen to "The Business of Orthodontics Podcast" (http://aao.podbean.com) to learn more about the field.