Education and Training Requirements

High School

You should begin preparing for an orthodontics career with a course load that emphasizes, but is not restricted to, math and science subjects. Courses such as algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus are important to take. Biology, chemistry, physics, and health are also necessary. Additionally, you should take computer science, English, history, and other classes recommended by your school as baseline courses for college preparation.

Postsecondary Training

Getting admitted to dental school requires that you first complete three to four years of undergraduate college education. Because gaining acceptance into a dental school is fiercely competitive, maintaining a strong grade point average while you are in college is necessary. A bachelor's degree is not strictly required, but it is a credential that significantly increases an applicant's chances of being admitted to a dental school.

Recommended college courses are similar to those suggested in high school. A typical degree for someone entering this field is a bachelor of science in biology. Required course work generally involves taking math classes, such as algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus. Science courses include biology, anatomy, physiology, anthropology, zoology, botany, and microbiology.

On the practical side, business classes such as marketing, economics, accounting, management, and finance prepare you for owning and operating a business. Liberal arts courses such as psychology, sociology, and English may also help a future orthodontist become more comfortable in communicating with people.

You must score well on the Dental Admissions Test (DAT) before being admitted into a dental program, which usually takes three to five years to complete. Doing well on the DAT helps dental schools determine whether or not you will succeed in dental school. Dental school courses are made up of advanced science classes, clinical work, and laboratory classes. During the last two years of dental school, clinical treatment is emphasized, and you give supervised treatment to patients at a university dental clinic. Graduates receive a Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.) degree.

This degree qualifies you to work as a general dentist. To become an orthodontist, however, you will be required to continue in your schooling. Postgraduate programs, which are accredited by the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation, may last from two to three years. Gaining acceptance to a postgraduate program in orthodontics is also competitive. Therefore, it is critical that you maintain a high grade point average during dental school.

Other Education or Training

To keep abreast of advancements in orthodontics, orthodontists regularly take continuing education (CE) courses. Other educational activities include attending workshops and seminars, reading professional journals, and participating in study clubs. This helps a practicing orthodontist acquire the most up-to-date skills and knowledge of the best materials to use. The American Association of Orthodontists provides CE opportunities at association-sponsored conferences and via online courses. Recent offerings included "Contemporary Approaches to Marketing," "Creative Technology for Your Orthodontic Practice," and "How to Run a More Profitable Practice." The association also offers the Business of Orthodontics learning series for students and residents. The American Dental Association also offers CE classes, webinars, and seminars. Contact these organizations for more information. 

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Board certification is available through the American Board of Orthodontists (ABO). To achieve ABO diplomate status, orthodontists must file an application with the ABO, be interviewed and approved as a candidate, pass written and oral examinations, and provide written orthodontic case histories. It may take eight to 10 years to gain ABO diplomate status.

Before new dentists are allowed to practice, they must first pass a licensing examination in the state in which they are planning to practice. This test may include working on a patient. In some states, orthodontists must also pass a specialty licensing examination. In order to maintain their licenses, orthodontists, like all dentists, must take continuing education courses.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

There is no way to obtain direct experience in orthodontics until dental school, but in high school it's a good idea to take as many health and science classes as possible and participate in science clubs.

Orthodontists who run their own practices should be self-motivated and have strong management skills. These qualities will help them run their practices efficiently and attain maximized profitability while providing the highest quality results.

Good organizational skills and efficient work habits are essential for all orthodontists because they see so many patients, each having individual treatment issues, in a single day. In fact, several patients might be seated in orthodontic chairs at the same time, waiting for treatment. The orthodontist must move swiftly yet efficiently from one to the next.

Being an effective communicator while under time pressure is critical. One moment an orthodontist may be discussing the need for good tooth brushing with an eight-year-old patient while an adult patient is waiting for a consultation on a new treatment plan and an insurance company representative is on hold about a claim misunderstanding. Because they see a large number of patients in a day, orthodontists often do not have the luxury of spending a lot of time to make their point or explain treatment options. In addition to being good communicators, orthodontists must be good listeners. They must have good people skills. Patients want to know that their orthodontist hears and cares about their concerns.

Orthodontists like to help people. After the braces come off, most patients will feel more self-assured and confident when they speak or smile, which is one of the reasons orthodontists find satisfaction in their jobs.

Being an orthodontist is physically challenging. Manual dexterity and strength are necessary assets. Fingers, hands, wrists, and arms are in controlled motion within a small space throughout the day. There is little room for error. Keen vision and perception in three dimensions are needed to locate tiny openings and parts of only a few millimeters in size. Excellent eye-hand coordination as well as an artistic eye and the ability to judge symmetry will help when it's time to apply the braces. To prevent the back injuries that can plague orthodontists as they lean over patients all day, it's important that orthodontists take the time to stretch during the day and exercise regularly.