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What Are the Skills Needed to Become an Orthodontist?

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People who endured years of wearing awkward braces to have a perfectly straight smile have their orthodontist to thank. Becoming an orthodontist requires a unique skill set that not everyone possesses. After all, straightening the teeth of a rowdy thirteen-year-old boy who is only sitting in the chair because his parents are making him get braces is a task that is not for everyone, and some are deterred from entering the profession based on the amount of schooling required.

Schooling and Knowledge

Becoming an orthodontist requires passing dental school. In order to get into dental school, most programs require the applicant to possess a bachelor’s degree. Some, however, give entrance to people with only two years of schooling. Though undergraduate universities and community colleges seldom offer coursework in dentistry, students interested in pursuing this field should take several science courses in biology, physiology, anatomy and chemistry. Students must also take the Dental Admissions Test to gain admittance to a dental school.

While in dental school, students take four years of science-based coursework. The last two years of school emphasize practical hands-on experience. To specialize and become an orthodontist, students take two more years of school. Upon graduation, students gain licensure by passing a state examination. Some states mandate two additional years of residency to gain accreditation. Thus, some orthodontists do not have their first patient until they have completed eight to 12 years of schooling and training.


Potential orthodontists spend years working alongside professionally trained orthodontists as an assistant to learn their craft. Donna J. Phinney and Judy Halstead explain in their book “Delmar’s Dental Assisting: A Comprehensive Approach” that the role of an assistant is sterilizing and maintaining the equipment, taking, processing and tracing intraoral graphs, giving instructions on hygiene to patients, removing cement from brackets and bands and removing excessive and loose wiring from the teeth.

Personality Traits

A willingness to work with children and young adults is a must as most patients who get their teeth straightened fall within this demographic. Furthermore, the ability to work with other staff members and effectively delegate work is another skill set orthodontists must possess. Most dental offices have staff members including receptionists, lab technicians and assistants. The Bureau of Labor Statistics explains dentists also need strong visual memory, manual dexterity and an ability to discern depth, shape, size and colors.

Ancillary Skills

Orthodontists run their own offices and therefore their own business. Because these types of dentists are typically self-employed, they must learn other basic business skills such as human resource management, taxation, billing, finance management and accounting. Sales and persuasive skills are other necessities in order to attract and maintain customers.


Since 2008 Catherine Capozzi has been writing business, finance and economics-related articles from her home in the sunny state of Arizona. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in economics from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, which has given her a love of spreadsheets and corporate life.

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