Orthodontists are a specialized type of dentist. Dentists in general focus on the health of individual teeth and gums, preventing and treating cavities and ensuring dental hygiene. Orthodontists, on the other hand, take a closer look at the structure of the teeth and jaws. The orthodontist profession has dramatically grown over the last fifty or so years, with braces and other orthodontic work now becoming a common part of childhood (though adults continue to have braces later in life).
Orthodontists typically own their own office, or they share with a few other orthodontists. Orthodontic assistants assist them in their offices, much as dental hygienists assist dentists. Depending on the area and competition, they typically serve a great number of people in their area.
Orthodontists are one of the highest-paid positions, typically making more than their dentist counterpart. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average orthodontist salary as of May 2017 is $229,380, over $110 an hour.
This is a male-dominated field, with men making up approximately 62 percent of orthodontists across the nation. As with most medical professions, however, the number of women in this field has been consistently on the rise.
The Work of an Orthodontist
Orthodontists mainly focus on teeth and jaw alignment. The most common way that they do their work is through braces. There’s a lot more to braces, though, than simply gluing down some metal onto teeth. Orthodontists must first identify whether or not braces are necessary for the patient, or if other means may better suffice. Once the need for braces has been determined, they and their assistants are responsible for taking x-ray images, making teeth molds, and taking measurements to accurately apply the braces.
Alternatives to braces that orthodontists work with include head gear to correct jaw alignment, screws to increase movement, and other tools to shape tooth and jaw construction. Because each patient and their dental needs are unique, they must frequently come up with modified, new, and outside-the-box equipment and solutions to best help them. Orthodontists, therefore, are a creative bunch.
Aside from doing orthodontal work, orthodontists are also responsible for making an overall plan and checking in with progress of their patients throughout it. For children with braces, orthodontic appointments may be as often as every six weeks, or even more frequently near the beginning and end of the process.
Orthodontists are not only responsible for creating individual plans for their patients. They also need to be adaptable with each plan depending on how the patients are progressing. They coordinate differing rubber band alignments with braces and how long each cycle should last, determine if additional orthodontic action is necessary, and make recommendations for how best to treat and take care of your teeth.
Post-braces, they are also responsible for determining what retainers are necessary and sculpt them to fit each individual.
Aside from the technical work, orthodontists are also responsible for forming relationships with their patients. Dental work can be nerve-wracking, so it’s important that orthodontists develop trust with their patients and put their minds at ease.
Overall, orthodontists are highly satisfied with their careers. Being an orthodontist is rated as one of the best healthcare professions overall. Orthodontists like that they do meaningful work, creating beautiful smiles for both children and adults. They get to make meaningful relationships with their patients, keeping in periodic contact with them and watching them grow as their orthodontic work progresses.
Orthodontists report below-average stress-levels, and their schedule is typically more flexible than most. There’s an average amount of room for promotion once they’re established doctors. The high-paying orthodontist salary certainly doesn’t hurt when it comes to job satisfaction, too.
How to Become an Orthodontist
It takes a lot of work and schooling to become an orthodontist. After high school, you first must obtain a bachelor’s degree, preferably in a science or related field. Next comes four years of dental school. After that, prospective orthodontists must complete an additional two to three years in an orthodontic residency position, during which time you’ll receive extensive education and training.
After the residency has been completed, you must then pass the American Board of Orthodontics written exam before finally becoming certified as an official orthodontist. Once you’ve become certified, you should then seek to join an orthodontic office, or, if your funds allow it, establish your own.
Additionally, it’s also important for orthodontists to be personable so they can create trusting relationships with their patients. Furthermore, it is imperative that they have the steady hands required for the technical work of orthodontistry.
It takes a lot of hard work to become an orthodontist, and it’s certainly not a job that just anyone can do. Take long and thoughtful consideration before determining to pursue this career path.
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not report the job growth for orthodontists specifically, they do provide data for dentistry as a whole. Between the years of 2016 and 2026, they estimate that the job outlook for dentist professions will increase by 19%. This is significantly greater than the national average of a 7% increase.
Orthodontist Salary Range
The mean orthodontist salary is exceedingly high, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recoding it at $229,380. This is significantly higher than the average dentist salary, which is recorded at $158,120. If you’re thinking of going into a dental profession, consider taking the orthodontic route.
Most orthodontist salaries fall somewhere within the wide range of $78,243 to $296,747, the salary level largely determined by experience level, clientele, and area.
The number one factor that affects salary level is of course experience, but there are also several other factors that play a key role. One of these is location—not only does the area of an orthodontist office affect the general salary and economy levels, it also affects the number of patients the orthodontist services.
Another key factor is the office out of which orthodontists work out of. For instance, orthodontists working out of a dentist’s or health practitioner’s office will likely make less on average than one working from a physician’s office or one who owns their own specific orthodontic office.
Highest Orthodontist Employment Levels by State
As touched on above, location is a large factor when it comes to salary level of orthodontists, as well as employment opportunities. Location determines not only the economy that an orthodontist will be working in, but also the size and composition of the clientele that they will be servicing.
When looking at the states with the highest employment rates, therefore, weigh this information carefully. While this data shows the areas where orthodontists are successfully working, you also want to avoid jumping into an over-saturated market.
The information provided below is a list of the top five states with the most orthodontists along with their corresponding amounts, as provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
1. California: 500
2. Texas: 500
3. Massachusetts: 450
4. Florida: 420
5. Maryland: 270
Highest Orthodontist Salaries by State
And now for the more economy-centric information. Aside from knowing where orthodontists are getting work, everyone of course wants to know what they’re making. Interestingly, none of the top paying states match the list above.
Listed below are the five highest paying states for orthodontists. For the top three, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide direct information, only that the salaries exceed those in the fourth and fifth places on the list.
4. Alabama: $289,740
5. Arizona: $284,310
Highest Orthodontist Salaries by Metropolitan Area
Naturally, in terms of highest paid orthodontists by metropolitan area there is some overlap with the list of states, but not entirely. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not report the direct mean orthodontist salaries of its top five metropolitan areas, but each average is higher than the salary of the sixth-place area: Lake County-Kenosha County, IL-WI Metropolitan Division, where the mean salary is $283,100.
Here are the top five metropolitan areas:
1. Yakima, WA
2. Stockton-Lodi, CA
3. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ
4. Columbus, OH
5. Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ
Final Thoughts on Orthodontists
Going into orthodontics is a very big decision that you shouldn’t take lightly. There are a lot of great benefits to becoming an orthodontist: the meaningful work, the flexibility, the healthy work-life balance and lack of extreme stress, and, of course, that high-paying orthodontist salary.
To reap all these benefits, however, you must first sow plenty of hard work. The additional four years of schooling after undergrad are enough to turn many off from the career, let alone the additional years of required residency and training. To be successful in an orthodontist role, you have to be smart and dedicated, and have steady hands capable of doing intricate and precise work.
If you possess these traits, then becoming an orthodontist very well may be the best career choice for you. With the dentistry industry as a whole going through a major uptrend in the job market, now is a better time than most to start out that career.