Written by: Andriy Gaydaychuk RDA
Date: January 24, 2022
Interested in a career in orthodontic assistance? You’re in for a great career!
Orthodontic assistants, like dental assistants, support the orthodontic team in a variety of tasks. They work in a fast-paced, team-oriented environment with a hard-working team of other dental professionals. If you’re quick on your feet, enjoy a social environment, and like working on a team, then a career in orthodontic assistant may be the right job for you!
In this guide, you’ll find answers to all your questions on the job of orthodontic assistant: salary, job outlook, work environment, how to find a job, and more. Read on for more information on this challenging and rewarding job.
Orthodontic Assistant Salary
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a data analysis group run by the U.S. government, doesn’t aggregate separate data for orthodontic assistants but includes it in data about dental assistants, which are trained and licensed the same way but don’t work in dedicated orthodontist offices.
The BLS reports that in 2018, dental assistants earned a median salary of $40,080. Top earners can earn as much as $56,930, while the lowest-paid dental assistants earn $27,980. Glassdoor, which looks at salaries and wages by profession, does have information about orthodontic assistants: according to Glassdoor, orthodontic assistants make an average salary of $37,727 per year.
Orthodontic Assistant Responsibilities
Orthodontic assistants perform a wide variety of roles, based on their specific training/certification, the needs of the office, and the certification requirements of the state of employment.
Different states have different licensing requirements for certain aspects of the orthodontic assistant role: this includes operating x-ray equipment and processing radiographs, applying sealants and fluoride treatments, and assisting in procedures.
Common responsibilities of orthodontic and dental assistants:
- Preparing patients for examination and treatment
- Assisting in infection control
- Assisting dentist or dental professional in procedures, and handling any emergencies
- Taking and managing patient records
- Exposing dental x-rays and caring and cleaning x-ray equipment
- Providing post-treatment instructions from the dental professional
- Taking impressions
- Cleaning and disinfecting dental equipment, instruments, and patient areas
- Educating patients on proper oral health and at-home directions for care
- Front desk administration: contacting patients, scheduling appointments, billing and insurance communication, ordering and stocking supplies
Orthodontic assistants work in orthodontic practices, so they have duties unique to these facilities:
- Wielding suction tools and passing instruments during treatment
- Changing out wires and brackets
- Adjusting fit of clear aligners such as Invisalign
- Adjusting retainer fit
- Taking x-rays
- Providing at-home instructions for proper orthodontic care
- Preparing and taking patient molds
- Setting up, tracking, and monitoring patients’ payment plans for braces treatment
Education, Licensing & Experience
The licensing requirements for dental and orthodontic assistants vary by state. To become a certified dental assistant, you’ll need training – either through a program or through on-the-job experience – and to pass national and sometimes state exams. Certification is granted through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), which administers a number of certification exams. States may have their own licensing requirements for working as a certified dental assisting in that particular state: you can find the licensing requirements for your state using this guide from the DANB.
Going to a dental assistant program – which is the education route for both dental and orthodontic assistants – can jumpstart your career if you don’t have experience in the field. Programs run between 7 months and 2 years, depending on the type of program. There are both certification diploma programs, which tend to be accelerated, and 1-2 associate’s degree programs. You can find dental assisting programs at your local technical and community colleges, as well as online programs.
Most training programs involve some kind of clinical training; if your program is online, you may have to secure in-office training through an externship outside your program.
If you don’t go to a training program, on-the-job training can lead to certification: the DANB allows individuals to take the Certified Dental Assistant exam after working full-time in dental or orthodontic assisting for 2 years.
Whether you go to a program or gain on-the-job experience, getting certified is a good idea: a 2012 study from the DANB found that certified dental assistants generally earn more per hour than their uncertified counterparts. You will likely be a more appealing candidate for jobs, as certification is a way to demonstrate your expertise and depth of training.
Top Orthodontic Assistant Skills
There are a variety of skills necessary to be an effective, successful orthodontic assistant:
- Technical expertise. Dental care is a complex task, and orthodontic care even more so: this work requires precise movements using delicate instruments, all while making the patient comfortable and avoiding hurting them.
- Critical thinking. Things can change rapidly in an orthodontist’s office: it’s important to be quick on your feet and be able to make choices and solve problems, even under demanding, high-pressure circumstances.
- Physical skill and capability. An orthodontic office is busy and most dental professionals are on their feet for much of the day, moving and operating equipment, and cleaning and preparing instruments. Orthodontic assistants will need to be physically healthy and able to work a physically demanding job for many hours a day.
- Teamwork skills. From the smallest orthodontic office to the largest, all dental and orthodontic professionals work in a team. Successful orthodontic assistants need to be comfortable working on a team, with good communication skills, a balance of leadership and listening skills, and patience and respect for all your colleagues.
Given the near-constant demand for orthodontic services across the country, the job outlook for orthodontic assistants is extremely good.
According to the BLS, data that includes dental assistants and orthodontic assistants found that this job is expected to grow 7% between 2019 and 2029, which is faster than average. The sector is expected to grow 23,400 jobs.
Schedule & Work Environment
Orthodontic assistants report that one of the best aspects of the job is its flexibility and work-life balance.
Orthodontic assistants have a good deal of flexibility in their schedules, although every office schedule is different. Some offices work 7 days a week, so orthodontic assistants work 5 of those shifts, usually taking a rotating schedule to cover weekends. Other offices are only open Monday through Friday or during certain days of the week.
The work environment is busy and fast-paced, with many different activities happening at one time. Those who enjoy an energetic, social environment are likely to thrive in a dental or orthodontic workplace.
All orthodontic assistants also need to carefully comply with state and local regulations about patient and staff healthy & safety, including OSHA, HIPAA, and other digital record privacy laws. Understanding medical practice compliance is a part of dental assisting training programs, and on-the-job training will also cover compliance.
Orthodontic Assistant vs. Dental Assistant & Dental Hygienist
Though all wear scrubs, work together and cover many of the same job responsibilities, orthodontic assistants are unique from both dental assistants and dental hygienists.
Orthodontic assistants attend the same dental assistant programs and are certified by the same organizations. Unlike dental assistants, however, orthodontic assistants work in orthodontic practices, assisting orthodontists with treatment plans and care for patients getting braces or Invisalign treatment.
This means orthodontic assistants may refrain from certain dental assisting tasks, such as polishing teeth or assisting in cavity and root canal treatments. They also do additional tasks, including changing out rubber bands and braces brackets, checking retainer and clear aligner fit, and educating patients on proper orthodontic at-home care.
Dental hygienists also support the dental or orthodontic team, but dental hygienists attend specialized training programs and are licensed under a different organization, the National Board of Dental Hygienists. They generally perform more advanced clinical tasks, and may or may not work in an orthodontist’s office.
Orthodontic Assistant Jobs
Due to the positive outlook for jobs in orthodontic assisting, trained orthodontic assistants have excellent job prospects throughout the country.
These resources can help you find an orthodontic assistant job you’ll love:
1. Career assistance from your dental assisting program.
Your dental program likely has some kind of support for recent graduates; this might be a job board, a career fair, an email list service, or dedicated career counselors. Ask your school’s administrator for resources on hiring.
2. The office where you completed clinical training or an externship.
If you’ve had a positive experience in your externship training, ask about job opportunities when you’ve completed your training. Establishing a relationship is key to getting hired!
3. Online job boards such as Glassdoor, CareerBuilder, ZipRecruiter, Indeed, and more.
These online job resources can help you find jobs in your area, and filter for preferred job specifics, like part-time or full-time, and minimum salary.
4. Dental associations like the ADA, or the DANB.
Both of these organizations have job postings on their websites that can help you find great orthodontic assistant jobs.
5. Federal government employment websites.
The federal government hires many dental assistants for work in its federal healthcare centers, especially the VA. Check https://www.va.gov/dental/careers.asp to find orthodontic assisting jobs in your area.
Interested in a career as an orthodontic assistant? Learn more about Diamond Braces orthodontic assistant jobs.