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How To Become An Orthodontic Assistant


Orthodontic assistants see and take care of patients even before the orthodontist comes in. You will take x-rays of your patients’ mouths as well as photographs and impressions of their teeth. You prep patients for braces by polishing their teeth, help install and tighten braces, fix bands, and do the exam, leaving them ready and waiting for the orthodontist’s evaluation.

Orthodontic assistants have a bit more independence than dental assistants, who are expected to sit next to the dentist while they are with patients. Still, your role is to assist the orthodontist however the position is defined when you sign on.

How To Become An Orthodontic Assistant

You must first have a high school diploma or GED and be at least 18. You may need to be CPR certified, and you can become that prior to going to school. Once you have these details in place, you can go to dental assisting school. Yes, that’s where orthodontic assistants start out as well. It will usually take about one year to get your diploma, and you’ll learn about dental radiography, chairside assisting, and more. Generally, your school will be a combination of classroom learning, labs, and hands-on clinicals.

You can also go after an associate degree. The two-year program includes both general education and dental assisting in the curriculum. You’ll take classes like infection control, dental science, and clinical procedures, along with core classes such as language arts and math. You can also expect to do an internship, which is part of the graduation requirement.

Once you have your diploma or associate degree, you can also become certified as an orthodontic assistant. The Dental Assisting National Board offers the Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA) qualification. While this certification is not required, getting it is a smart choice. For other requirements, check with your state.

Ideal Characteristics

As you likely know, there are specific characteristics that can help a person be successful in any particular career. The ideal orthodontic assistant enjoys helping people. If you enjoy serving others, you will be more likely to give your 100 percent when it comes to helping your colleagues and patients.

You should also enjoy assisting people. Many people make the mistake of becoming an orthodontic assistant and finding out they actually prefer to lead rather than assist. To be a successful orthodontic assistant, you need to be proud to be the right arm of an orthodontist. It is essential to realize that you are an integral part of the orthodontics team and practice.

Handling Difficult Situations

Due to the nature of the work of an orthodontic assistant, it is vital that the assistant is able to deal with difficult situations, cases, and people very well. You’ll need to know how to deal with children, who can be difficult patients. Children often get scared or restless, so you need to know how to calm them down. Special-needs patients can also be more difficult to treat if you don’t have the skill and patience. Simple characteristics can make the difference in a successful versus unsuccessful career as an orthodontic assistant. Kindness, empathy, and patience will go a long way in this profession.  

How Much Do Orthodontic Assistants Make

Orthodontic assistants and dental assistants will earn similar paychecks. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says orthodontic assistants will make a median annual salary of $38K. However, those who have worked longer than five years can make between $52,000 and $66,000. Salaries will vary depending on your geographic location and type of office you’ll be working in.

The job outlook for dental and orthodontic assistants from now through 2026 is expected to grow 19 percent. The significant growth is due to the fact that more people have access to insurance, so they are able to take care of their oral health. In turn, dentist and orthodontic offices are hiring more staff to keep up with the patient growth.

Get Your Training

If you think becoming an orthodontic assistant is the career choice for you, it’s time to start your education. Find a school near you to begin. You’ll soon be taking care of patients, helping them get the smile they want.

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