7 Steps on How to Become an Orthodontist (And Skills Needed)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 7 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Learning how to become an orthodontist can help you pursue a specialised career in oral health. These specialists are qualified dentists who have completed advanced training in tooth and jaw alignment. Understanding the steps to become an orthodontist can improve your chances of success in this career path. In this article, we discuss what an orthodontist is and show you how to become one.

What is an orthodontist?

An orthodontist is a dentist specialising in diagnosing, preventing and treating jaw and teeth alignment and irregularities. They train to identify issues like bite problems, crowded teeth or jaw misalignment and use dental appliances and surgery to fix them. The goal of orthodontic care is to make sure the patient has a healthy bite. Some other issues an orthodontist specialises in are:

  • Dental braces and aligners: Braces and aligners are devices that orthodontists use to align and straighten teeth to help them position better in regard to a person's bite. Braces can be cosmetic or structural and are often used to fix under bites, overbites, gaps and crooked teeth.

  • Teeth removal: Teeth removal treatment is necessary when a patient has overcrowded teeth that need space when wisdom teeth are coming out, or they have a mouth that is smaller than average. Removal of teeth can also be a treatment for jaw positioning, lip positioning or even making spaces for braces.

  • Retainers: Retainers are removable devices that are for patients who have recently had tooth alignment treatment to maintain the shape of their teeth. Orthodontists also use retainers as a substitute for braces to close a space between two teeth.

  • Headgear: Orthodontists typically use headgear for children whose jaw bones are still growing and are used to correct bites and support jaw alignment. Headgear exerts force on the upper or lower jaw to move the teeth to a new position, enhancing the facial aesthetics of a child.

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How to become an orthodontist

If you're wondering how to become an orthodontist, follow these steps:

1. Finish secondary school

Although there aren't specific secondary course requirements for becoming an orthodontist, attaining the Senior Secondary Certificate of Education (SSCE) is an entrance prerequisite for most universities. You can consider taking advanced chemistry, biology and maths classes to gain increased knowledge and build your foundation in these areas. These courses also allow you to further understand human biology and gives you the basics for future laboratory aspects.

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2. Choose the right university pathway

There are two pathways you can take when you finish secondary school. The first option is to directly enrol in a double degree which includes a bachelor of science and Doctor of Dental Medicine for a combined study period of seven years. This option is highly competitive and requires high grades and assessment scores. Some requirements for this route are:

  • A score of 99.0 or higher in the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR)

  • A pass in the assessment process which includes a panel discussion, manual dexterity and spatial awareness test and written assessment

  • A pass in English language comprehension

The second option is to complete an approved AHPRA registered general dental degree and then apply for a postgraduate Doctor of Dental Medicine degree. This undergrad degree takes three to five years to complete. Some AHPRA-approved degrees available to individuals include:

  • Bachelor of Oral Health

  • Bachelor of Dental Science

  • Bachelor of Science (Oral Health Therapy)

  • Bachelor of Dental Health Science

  • Bachelor of Dental Surgery

3. Complete the Graduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT)

After completing a bachelor's program, you can then take the GAMSAT. This test was developed by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) and is a selection assessment for medical and health students who want to pursue a graduate degree program. The GAMSAT is a day-long test offered twice a year and consists of three sections:

  • Reasoning in humanities and social sciences: Assesses how you interpret qualitative information and reading comprehension, typically given in multiple-choice format. Topics on literature, psychology, anthropology or non-fiction are included in the exam to test your social sciences and humanities reasoning skills.

  • Written communication: Assesses if you can express your thoughts logically and effectively in response to two different stimuli. The written communication section tests your ability to develop and produce ideas in writing under pressure.

  • Reasoning in biological and physical sciences: Tests your usage of appropriate skills to analyse complex scenarios logically. The questions are based on biology, chemistry and physics disciplines and are weighted more than the previous two sections.

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4. Earn a postgraduate dental degree

Besides passing the GAMSAT and having the right grades, you may complete an interview that enquires why you want to become a dentist. After passing the interview and being accepted into a postgraduate degree at a dental school, you can expect to spend four years and undergo training in patient care and clinical methods. The first two years can consist of classroom and lab instructions, with the last two years working with actual patients.

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5. Register as a dental practitioner and gain practical experience as a dentist

All dental practitioners are required to register with the Dental Board of Australia and meet its registration standards to practise dentistry in Australia. Membership is renewable every year and a minimum of 60 hours of continuing professional development is required every three years to maintain membership. After registering, you can become a practising dentist. Hone your skills as a dentist and gain at least two years of clinical experience. This is a requirement before becoming an orthodontist.

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6. Complete a postgraduate qualification in orthodontics

After gaining two years of experience as a dentist, the next step is to complete a postgraduate programme in orthodontics. This program is typically three years of full-time studies and combines basic sciences with clinical and behavioural training relevant to the delivery of orthodontic care. You may likely delve deeper into the biomechanics of the face and jaw and continue studying facial and cranial anatomy, bone development and structure. In most cases, the AHPRA-approved degree for individuals who want to pursue a career as an orthodontist is the Doctor of Clinical Dentistry in Orthodontics.

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7. Register as an orthodontics specialist

After completing your degree, you can now apply for a specialist registration as an orthodontist. You can apply for specialist registration in your final 12 weeks at University. After you've completed your registration at the Dental Board AHPRA, you can now actively practise as an orthodontist.

What skills does an orthodontist need?

Orthodontists require various skills which can allow them to interact and deal with your customers. Some skills you'd need can include:

  • Professionalism: This dental specialist has the knowledge and skills to demonstrate expert judgement, autonomy, adaptability and responsibility as a leader in their field.

  • Communication and social skills: An orthodontist is required to be able to communicate effectively to the patient and their families the procedures and treatments needed. Teamwork and the ability to delegate tasks are also important as orthodontists may likely work with lab technicians, assistants and receptionists.

  • Critical thinking: An orthodontist is required to have specialised cognitive and technical skills to critically evaluate scientific research and literature and synthesis complex information and concepts.

  • Scientific and clinical knowledge: An orthodontist is knowledgeable in speech pathology, biomechanics and materials science. Application of clinical orthodontic techniques, knowledge of various physiological principles and the principles and application of pharmacology are also required to be an orthodontist.

  • Superb manual adeptness: Good manual dexterity, strong visual memory and the ability to discern shape, depth, size and colours are essential as you may be required to do 3D alignments and other hand-eye coordinated work. Dentists work daily with precision on an extremely small scale and good hand-eye coordination is important to ensure patient safety.

Orthodontics job outlook

According to The Labour Market Insight of Australia, the number of dentists and dental specialists is predicted to rise by 27.8% and reach 22,300 practitioners by 2026. This includes orthodontists. They typically work full-time, with an average of 42 hours per week.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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