How To Become an Orthodontic Dental Assistant (8 Steps)

By Indeed Editorial Team

March 15, 2021

Orthodontic dental assistants help orthodontists perform their duties and listen to patients' orthodontic concerns. If you're an aspiring orthodontic dental assistant, learning about ways to achieve this career can help you make a career plan. In this article, we provide a job description, duties, salary and job outlook for an orthodontic dental assistant and list steps you can take to pursue this career.

Related: What Is a Dental Assistant? Average Salary, Requirements and How To Become a Dental Assistant

What is an orthodontic dental assistant?

An orthodontic dental assistant is a dental assistant who specializes in helping an orthodontist perform tasks like installing braces and educating orthodontic patients on caring for braces, retainers and other dental equipment. Here are some skills for dental assistants in the orthodontic field:

  • Dexterity: Dental assistants can use manual dexterity while they use dental tools to inspect and maintain patients' orthodontic devices.

  • Organization: You can use organizational skills to manage your tasks and ensure orthodontic procedures go smoothly.

  • Communication: Dental assistants to orthodontists can use communication skills to speak with patients about caring for orthodontic devices and maintaining dental hygiene.

What does an orthodontic dental assistant do?

Below is a list of duties for orthodontic dental assistants:

  • Listen to patients' orthodontic concerns.

  • Maintain orthodontic records for patients.

  • Sterilize dental equipment.

  • Take X-rays of patients' teeth.

  • Create molds of patients' teeth for customized retainers and mouth guards.

  • Remove or replace orthodontic devices like elastic bands, springs and wires.

  • Clean and tighten braces.

  • Educate patients on proper hygiene and after-care for orthodontic devices.

  • Perform administrative duties like collecting payments and taking insurance.

Salary and job outlook for an orthodontic dental assistant

According to Indeed Salaries, an orthodontic dental assistant's average base salary is $18.73 per hour. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects jobs for dental assistants, including orthodontic assistants, will grow 7% between 2019 and 2029.

Related: How Much Does a Dental Assistant Get Paid? Top 20 Cities for Dental Assistant Salaries

How to become an orthodontic dental assistant

If you're interested in a career as an orthodontic dental assistant, you can follow these steps to achieve this goal:

1. Earn a high school diploma or GED

First, you can earn a high school diploma or GED in order to apply to orthodontic dental assistant programs. If you haven't earned a high school diploma, you can take online classes to prepare for a GED exam.

2. Review requirements for your area

U.S. states have varying education and certification requirements for dental assistants. Before you explore educational programs, you can learn about your state's requirements to help you discover what to expect from an orthodontic dental assistant career path.

3. Explore educational programs

Once you know the career path to becoming an orthodontic dental assistant in your state, you can begin exploring educational programs to gain the necessary abilities to work as a dental assistant to an orthodontist. Researching educational programs can help you decide how long you want to go to school and what skills you want to learn the most.

Specific programs for orthodontic dental assistants are rare. However, if you're having trouble finding training programs for orthodontic assistants, you can pursue a dental assistant program that offers orthodontic classes to help you gain the necessary skills for this career.

4. Complete a training program

Next, you can enroll in dental assistant courses at a community college or technical school. There are a few options for an orthodontic dental assistant education.

You can earn a certificate or diploma from a dental program that takes about a year to complete. You can also earn a certificate through a longer educational program that includes hands-on work and takes about two years to complete. A certificate program may be preferable if you want to explore your career options before committing to an associate degree program.

Another option is to earn a two-year associate degree to become a dental assistant. Advantages of this option can include higher pay and more specialized orthodontic class opportunities. It can also be easier to transfer credits from an associate degree to a bachelor's degree program, should you decide to continue to grow your career.

Here are skills you can learn in a certificate, diploma or associate degree program to become a dental assistant:

  • Office administration: You can learn the skills necessary to perform billing, payment and insurance-related tasks in an orthodontic office.

  • First aid: You can learn to administer CPR and other basic first aid to dental patients.

  • Counseling patients on dental hygiene: Orthodontic dental assistants can talk to patients about proper hygiene for their dental devices, a skill you can learn in a dental assistant program.

  • Helping dentists perform procedures: You can learn to assist a dentist or orthodontist as they perform procedures on patients.

  • Equipment sterilization: Sterilizing equipment can help keep orthodontic patients safe during procedures.

  • X-rays: During a certificate program, you can learn to take X-rays of patients' teeth.

5. Gain experience with an externship

Optionally, you can participate in a dental assistant externship to learn about performing dental duties in a clinical setting. An externship is a hands-on opportunity to learn career skills that results from a partnership between an educational institution and an employer. An externship can be an especially valuable opportunity for dental assistants who want to specialize in orthodontic care because it can allow you to work in an orthodontic office.

Beyond gaining experience with hard skills, participating in an externship can also have other advantages. An externship can allow you to network with other dental professionals, which can help you learn about job opportunities once you finish your training program. It can also give you an edge over other candidates for orthodontic dental assistant positions.

6. Create a resume

Once you complete a dental assistant training program, you can create a resume that emphasizes your knowledge and skills in general dental assistant duties and specialized orthodontic duties. Here are some tips for your orthodontic dental assistant resume:

  • Highlight hard skills. You can set yourself apart from other job candidates by emphasizing your technical dental assistant skills.

  • Include certifications. Another way to demonstrate your skills to employers is to include any dental certifications you earn on your resume.

  • Quantify accomplishments. You can use numbers where relevant to help you show employers your impact as a dental assistant.

Related: Dental Assistant Resume Samples

7. Get a dental assistant job

In some states, you may need to work a certain number of hours as a dental assistant to qualify for an orthodontic dental assistant certification. Getting a job as a dental assistant before specializing in orthodontics can also give you more experience to list on your resume.

8. Obtain Orthodontic Assistant Permit and certifications

Once you work as a dental assistant, you can prepare to take exams for dental assistant certifications, including the Orthodontic Assistant Permit. You can also earn a Certified Orthodontic Assistant designation that can allow you to work in an orthodontic office. While your state may not require you to earn a certification to work as an orthodontic dental assistant, certifications can help you show employers your qualifications.

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