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How to Become an Orthodontist

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Orthodontics is a field in dentistry that focuses on improving the appearance and function of abnormally arranged teeth. Orthodontists are the health care practitioners responsible for performing this procedure. They diagnose anomalies and design and implement treatment plans. To get started in this profession, you must go through dental school, possess the right skills and obtain a license to practice.

Obtaining the Degrees

The path to becoming on orthodontist begins with earning a bachelor's degree in a science field, such as biology, nursing or chemistry. This lays the foundation you need to pursue a four-year doctor of medical dentistry or dental surgery degree in a dental school that is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Successful completion of this program enables you to apply for a master’s degree in orthodontics, which takes between two to three years. Competition for admission into dental schools is high. As such, scoring high grades enhances your chances of getting accepted to pursue a degree in orthodontics.

Developing the Skills

Apart from obtaining the academic expertise required of orthodontists, you need to have skills necessary for the health care industry. For instance, practical skills come in handy when setting up or fitting orthodontic instruments, such as cutters and forceps, into a patient’s mouth. When explaining treatment plans to patients, you will require superb listening and speaking skills to do so effectively. Other useful competencies include a good level of manual dexterity, patience and a good business sense.

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Getting Licensed

All orthodontists practicing in the United States must hold a valid license to practice in their states. Although licensing requirements vary by state, many state dental boards require applicants to have a graduate degree in orthodontics from an accredited institution and pass a practical and written examination. The American Board of Orthodontics also offers a voluntary certification program, which qualified orthodontists can complete to become Diplomates of the ABO. This credential demonstrates competence.

Finding a Job

As a newly qualified and licensed orthodontist, you may begin by looking for jobs in outpatient care centers or established offices of dentists, physicians and other health care practitioners. After learning the ropes and obtaining sufficient capital, you can even start your own orthodontics business. You could also partner with other orthodontists who are interested in venturing into self-employment. To run a successful private practice, you must analyze the demand for orthodontics services in your location and obtain all the required federal, state and local business licenses.

About the Author

Based in New York City, Alison Green has been writing professionally on career topics for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in “U.S. News Weekly” magazine, “The Career” magazine and “Human Resources Journal.” Green holds a master's degree in finance from New York University.

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