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The terms dentist and orthodontist are often used interchangeably without much second thought, but they’re very different. In fact, orthodontics is a specialty of dentistry. An orthodontist deals with the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of various afflictions of malpositioned teeth and jaws. Think overbites, misaligned teeth and jaws, or overcrowded mouths. As a result, they can earn more than your regular dentist. But can you live comfortably on an orthodontist salary? Let’s find out.

Orthodontist Salaries by the Numbers

According to various data, the median orthodontist salary in the United States of America is around $127,000 per year. When it comes to hours, the median orthodontist salary is about $61 per hour. In percentages, it appears that the lowest 10% of orthodontists have a salary of around $105,000 or less per year (which in hourly terms is around $40 per hour), whereas the top 10% of the orthodontist workforce receive an annual wage of around $180,000 or more. The middle 50% of all orthodontists in the United States earn around $104,000 and $154,000 per year, which is somewhere between $50 and $74 per hour.

Naturally, just like in any other professions, orthodontist salaries vary greatly depending on a plethora of factors, such as location of employment, type of establishment (a hospital, government, outpatient care facility, private practice or physician’s office), size of establishment, education, training and, last but not least, years of experience.

Just like many medical professionals, orthodontists have several benefits in addition to their salary, such as social security contributions, health care, 401K/403B, bonuses, pension, and paid time off.

orthodontist salary

Job Description for Orthodontist

So, what does an orthodontist do? When asked this question, most people will tell you that an orthodontist straightens crooked teeth with the help of braces. However, orthodontists do so much more than that. They also help straighten crooked jaws and install devices such as spacers and retainers. They help correct facial asymmetry, shifting jaws, chewing problems, and protruding teeth. So, if you have a snaggle-tooth you want to correct, you don’t actually need a dentist. You need an orthodontist.

In order to diagnose issues, an orthodontist uses X-rays and various plaster molds of the mouth and teeth. They don’t just look into their patient’s mouths and state that there is a problem that needs fixing. When an orthodontist feels like an issue is too much for them to solve on their own, they will work together with other dental specialists, such as dentists or dental surgeons, to come up with ways to correct issues and treat patients. Orthodontists help treat issues for patients of all ages, they don’t specialize in adults or children.

Aside from X-rays, orthodontists also use a variety of tools on the job, like drills, mouth mirrors, braces, forceps, probes, and scalpels. They wear gloves, white robes, and masks to protect their patients and themselves from infections. Orthodontists who work in private practices will, but they are not obliged, to take on additional responsibilities, such as supplies management, administration work, and bookkeeping. That being said, they often choose to hire people who are skilled to take care of the more managerial side of the business. While orthodontist salaries can be high, there’s also plenty of work involved on a day-to-day basis. Hiring help can significantly increase the chances of orthodontists developing a better work/life balance.

In order to become an orthodontist, one must attend dental school, which lasts from three to four years and then do at least two years in a residency program that is commissioned by the American Dental Association. But their education doesn’t stop there. For an orthodontist to maintain their license and be up to date on new treatments and diseases, they will need to continuously learn and familiarize themselves with new developments in the field.

Being an orthodontist is not an easy job and sometimes it can be either tedious or too challenging. But, as is the case with any other professions, there are rewards that can outweigh the negatives. And a generous orthodontist salary is only one of them. Helping people, diagnosing problems, and mastering complicated procedures can often bring more satisfaction than hard cash.

How to Become an Orthodontist

The first and most important thing to consider if you want to become an orthodontist is education. You will need at least two years of college-level pre-dental education before you can go to dental school. The majority of dentists, which include orthodontists, get a bachelor’s degree before attending dental school.

Then, you will have to take the Dental Admissions Test and have good scores to get into dental school. Once in, you will spend around three to four years doing lab work and taking classes. The last two years of dental school will include treating patients in various dental clinics.

After, you will need to complete a graduate program in orthodontics, which lasts two years. Finally, professionals in the industry have to get a license to practice as an orthodontist. In the United States, candidates are required to pass written and practical exams before they get their degree. Once you get your license, you will need to get board certified as an orthodontist and then search for a job in a practice. Or, why not, open your own. As the orthodontist salary varies by industry, it usually sky-rockets for those who have their own practice, along with a solid reputation in the field.

Orthodontist Tasks

Wondering what the tasks of an orthodontist are? Well, in short, an orthodontist will need to diagnose teeth issues, jaw abnormalities, and any other illnesses that pertain to the dental-facial area. Orthodontists also examine patients to make assessments on the development of the jaw, tooth position and other dental-facial structures.

Additionally, they fit dental appliances in the mouths of patients with the purpose of realigning teeth and altering the position and relationship of jaws and teeth in general. As you can see, there’s a lot to do in order to earn an orthodontist salary.

Orthodontist Salary by State

Here is average annual orthodontist salary by state:

Alabama $210,310North Carolina $200,910
California $165,960New Hampshire $197,770
Florida $162,850New Jersey $222,420
Georgia $215,690Nevada $215,310
Illinois $106,150New York $193,440
Indiana $123,020Ohio $209,370
Kentucky $219,690Oklahoma $188,330
Louisiana $187,460Oregon $196,650
Massachusetts $200,200Pennsylvania $216,110
Michigan $241,080South Carolina $208,060
Missouri $184,880Texas $239,510
Mississippi $190,610Washington $154,920

 

After careful examination of the table, we have gathered that the top five states for orthodontists are Michigan (an orthodontist has the average annual salary of $241,080), Texas ($239,510), New Jersey ($222,420), Kentucky ($219,690) and Pennsylvania ($216,110). If you’re looking for places with the highest orthodontist salaries, you can go wrong with any of these.

At the opposite pole, the lowest-paid orthodontists are found in California ($165,960), Florida ($162,850), Washington ($154,920), Indiana ($123,020) and Illinois ($106,150). While this is below average, it’s important to note that orthodontist salaries can ensure a comfortable living regardless of state.  

No data was available for the states of: Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Do I Have What It Takes to Become an Orthodontist?

If you’re considering a career in the field, you have to start early. As you’ve probably gathered from the info above, the road to becoming a skilled orthodontist is a long and challenging one, which involves plenty of active learning, patience, and desire to excel. The amount of schooling required is, on its own, one of the factors that make many young college students rethink their career choice.

However, working as an orthodontist can be immensely satisfying, which can be enough to help you keep your eyes on the prize during your training. After completing school, you will likely have to spend years working under professionally trained orthodontists as an assistant to learn the craft. As a result, patience is an important trait anyone trying to build a career in the industry will benefit from.

Besides, excellent bedside manner is a must, as well as a willingness to treat children and young adults, which can often be difficult. Critical thinking, active listening, connecting with patients, and a good memory are always a plus. Orthodontist salaries may be generous, but the workload is also heavy, so the ability to work long hours and cope well under stress will surely come in handy. 

Finally, if you dream of one day owning your own practice, you might want to learn the management part of the business when the time comes. This includes human resource management, billing, finance management, and more. Marketing skills are crucial as well, since you need to attract potential patients. If you have a healthy budget, however, you can hire people to take care of these things and focus on what really matters: making sure your patients are healthy and satisfied.

Image Source: Drkamkar

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