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What is the process, including even “minor” details, for becoming an orthodontist?

#career #dental

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Doc’s Answer

Emem if you are considering orthodontics as an occupation, you have to consider some questions before starting the path of becoming an orthodontist.

The first question that you have to ask yourself is, do I want to put in the time, money and effort to becoming a dentist and then a specialist? It takes a long time and many hours of study to become an orthodontist. An average number of years to become an orthodontist is 10 to 11 years after high school graduation. That would be 4 years of undergraduate, 4 years of dental school and 2 to 3 years of an orthodontic graduate program. Yep, that’s right. It is possible that when you go to your ten year high school reunion, you may have just graduated from your orthodontic graduate program and have just started seeing your first patients in your practice.

Do you have the patience and manual dexterity needed as a dentists? Dentists work on very small areas that are hard to reach and you have to have the manual dexterity to perform the work. It is a wise idea to do crafts or play musical instruments, that use your hands to develop your manual dexterity. Do you mind working with the public? Are you a people person? Students who are introverted have to overcome their fear and get out of their comfort zone to react with people. Dentists as a whole are outgoing and motivated to set goals and obtain them. You can’t be lazy if you are going into dentistry.

Almost all dentists and orthodontists are small business entrepreneurs. You take all the risks of small business ownership, whether good or bad. Your success and profit can change due to new regulations or legislation. Not only will you be taking care of patients treatment, but you are doing all the things a small business owner performs from hiring to firing, payroll, taxes, continuing education, complying with government regulations, accounts payable and accounts receivables. Dentists usually run a very profitable business model and control their costs well. Although a dental school education doesn’t completely prepare the dentist for business, dentists learn quickly or become an associate in a group practice to learn the business. An orthodontic practice is usually fast paced with many patients seen in a day. The orthodontist uses multiple chairs in an open bay area to see this number of patients quickly since small adjustments do not take a long appointment time. The practice is usually very efficient with their time and resources. Orthodontics is demanding mentally and physically. So... remember, you have the choice of what type of practice you want. You can have a large staff and work a lot of hours or you can have a small staff and work as little as you want. Dentistry gives you that option.

These are some of the insights in becoming an orthodontist. Remember, hard work can pay huge dividends in the long term. You have to work and study hard to become an orthodontist Emem.

Doc recommends the following next steps:

STEP 1.) COMPLETE YOUR UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE – Before you may be admitted to a dental program and train as an orthodontist, you must complete pre-dental requirements as an undergraduate and earn you bachelor's degree. Required pre-dental courses generally include chemistry, biology, physics and other science courses. You can choose to major in any subject, but since science courses are required anyway, many pre-dental students choose to major in a science, such as biology or chemistry. When you apply to dental school, you'll be required to take the Dental Admission Test (DAT), which is administered by the American Dental Association (ADA).
STEP 2.) COMPLETE YOUR DENTAL SCHOOL DEGREE – Dental programs last an average of four years, and upon graduation you'll earn a Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.) degree. Your first two years will typically be spent taking basic science courses, such as biochemistry, anatomy, physiology and microbiology. Your final two years will likely be spent gaining clinical experience under the guidance of licensed dentists. During your final two years of dental school, you'll gain exposure to different dental specialties, such as orthodontics, periodontics, pediatric dentistry, prosthodontics and maxillofacial surgery.
STEP 3.) COMPLETE YOUR POSTGRADUATE ORTHODONTICS PROGRAM – After completing a dental program, you'll need to apply to orthodontic specialty programs. Most orthodontic programs last three years, during which time you'll most likely learn about orthodontics (tooth movement), surgical orthodontics and dental facial orthopedics (guidance of facial development). You may also receive training in research methodology and teaching, complete a research project, attend conferences and prepare case reports. Upon completion of your program, you'll be qualified as a dental specialist in orthodontics.
STEP 4.) BECOME LICENSED – To practice as a dentist or dental specialist, you must earn a license. Licensure requirements are regulated by state, and they usually include graduating from an accredited dental school followed by passing a written and practical examination. To practice in a specialty, such as orthodontics, you'll also need to complete a postgraduate education program and may be required to take an additional state examination. In most states, your license will permit you to practice both general dentistry and orthodontics.
Thank you comment icon Thank you so much for the detailed answer! I’ve been trying my best to find information about this career but it’s been a little difficult since I don’t have anyone that is in the field of dentistry to explain. Your answer helped a lot and I will make sure to remember your steps as I go along. Once again, thank you! Emem
Thank you comment icon Your Welcome Emem, It was my Pleasure. The real opportunity for success lies within the person and not in the job. Doc Frick
Thank you comment icon Thank You Todd. “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” — Martin Luther King, Jr. Doc Frick
Thank you comment icon Thank You Emem for your Support. Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs. Doc Frick
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Suzanne’s Answer

Hi Emem U!

This is Sue and I am a retired Registered Nurse. I am curious: you seem to have chosen a very excellent career path early in life. Why? What interests you about dentistry?

This question asked and hopefully you answer it for yourself, let me congratulate you by wanting to work in the healthcare field. Good oral care contributes to better overall physical health! Dentistry is an important field.

The early steps in pursuing your dentistry academic career is establishing a firm foundation in high school. Here are the recommended prerequisites (from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs):

Pre-reqs for the University of Colorado Denver School of Dental Medicine:

General Biology I & II (with labs)
General Chemistry I & II (with labs)
Organic Chemistry I & II (with labs)
Physics I & II (with labs) - algebra based
Math - College Algebra & above
English composition I & II (needs only 1)
**Not all schools accept AP/IB credit - check each one

Additional course requirements

Anatomy & Physiology I & II
Strongly recommended courses

Cell biology, genetics, biochemistry, anatomy & physiology, immunology, social sciences, business courses, communication, computer science, biostatistics, ethics

Here is their website:

Additionally, I would recommend investigating volunteer possibilities with American Student Dental Association:

I hope this information is helpful. Understanding your personal desire to become a dental professional and your inner determination will ensure that you meet your goals. (becoming a nurse was one of the best life decisions I ever made!)

I hope this helps!

Suzanne recommends the following next steps:

1. Talk to your high school guidance counselor and make sure you are taking the correct prerequisite classes
2. Investigate volunteer possibilities
3. Know your own mind: why do you want to become a dentist?
Thank you comment icon Thank you for the advice! Just to be clear though, are those prerequisite classes to be taken in high school or undergrad because I don’t have some of those classes in high school? Emem
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Christine’s Answer


It is so exciting that you have chosen becoming an Orthodontist as a career goal. It is a specialized dentistry that provides an excellent life long business that you can build and grow with new patients. I outline the basic steps below. The business side of being an Orthodontist is important too, so I suggest you look at the financials of earnings vs. cost of owning a business to get a good idea of your income potential.

There are many schools that offer both Dental and Orthodontist programs. I suggest you research the specifics about financials and locations to see what your top 5 options will be when you are ready.

Step 1: Complete Undergraduate Requirements and Apply to Dental School - it is a good idea to look at the course requirements in case you are already enrolled in an undergraduate program to see what classes and grades the dental schools will be looking for.

Step 2: Graduate from Dental School

Step 3: Complete a Postgraduate Orthodontics Program

Step 4: Consider Earning Board Certification

Step 5: Become Licensed

You will also need to research the location of your practice, and whether you want to buy an existing practice from someone that is either retiring or existing the business, or start your own from scratch.

Christine recommends the following next steps:

Identify potential Dental and Orthodontis programs you want to apply, and what the undergraduate course work and grades are required.
Put together a financial business case for income potential and expenses
Look at the locations for your new office and options of buying an existing practice vs. opening a new one
Get your Orthodontist license, have fun, and make a lot of money :-)
Thank you comment icon Thank you for the detailed advice! As for the practice, do you think it’s better to buy an existing practice or start my own? And how would I start my own? Emem
Thank you comment icon Emem - I suggest you look at both options and create a business case. Look at one for sales and see what the price is and what comes with it. Work a financial advisor and accountant. They can offer a lot of advise and direction. I know it is hard to start anything from scratch, so having an initial base of accounts may provide a cashflow. The accountant can show you how to weigh the pros and cons of both. Good Luck! Christine Hicks
Thank you comment icon That would really help would decision making, and just overall especially since I never really considered business to really be a part of being/ becoming an orthodontist. Thank you once again! Emem
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Scott’s Answer

How exciting that you are wanting to pursue being an orthodontist!

When I looked at going in to my career field, the best piece of advice that I was given was to actually approach a couple of people in my area that currently work within that field. I contacted a couple general managers for hotels, chefs and event directors. I had asked if they would be able to spare 30 minutes of their day to visit with me, which allowed me to ask questions directly to people in that field and was even able to get a small tour/view of what their everyday life looked like on the job.

You've been given some great advice by some other people to this question. However, I would take the step I did and reach out to a couple orthodontists in your area to ask if you could take 15-30 minutes of their time to see what they business side is like and to ask what the education process was like for them. I think you will find that they will be very open to talking about themselves and the career that they love doing.

I hope this helps!

Good luck to you on your amazing career journey!

Thank you comment icon Thank you for this advice! I actually never thought of doing that but it seems like an obvious and really important step that I could take. Once again, thank you! Emem
Thank you comment icon You are very welcome. And surprisingly enough, a lot of people don't think about it. Just to ask for 15-30 minutes of their time can make a world of difference in your pursuit, direction and ultimate goal. All the best to you and I hope you are successful in whatever your end goal turns out to be :-) Scott Wilson