Orthodontists are the largest group of specialists in dentistry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Orthodontists straighten teeth by applying pressure and force through the use of braces. There is no standard undergraduate major for the aspiring orthodontist; orthodontists must attend dental school after which they specialize in orthodontics through training.
An undergraduate degree in a science, such as biology or chemistry, is desirable for an aspiring orthodontist. Prerequisites for dental school include a number of biology and chemistry courses which students can complete as part of the degree plan for a science degree; however, dental schools do not mandate a specific major for admittance into dental school. Some students opt to obtain bachelor's degrees in unrelated fields such as business, but take dental school prerequisites separately. This route does take longer, as the prerequisites are completed outside of the undergraduate degree plan requirements and so do not count towards the degree.
Dental school prepares students to become general dentists or allows specialization in a field, such an orthodontics. Dental school is four years long and requires applicants to have completed a bachelor's degree, met specific course requirements -- typically biology and chemistry courses -- and have taken the Dental Admissions Test (DAT). Undergraduate GPA and DAT scores are weighed heavily in admissions decisions. In dental school, students learn about the biology and chemistry of the mouth and teeth. Students learn how to diagnose and treat patients for a variety of issues, such as cavities or gum disease.
Post Graduate Training
In order to become specialized in orthodontics, students must complete an orthodontic specialty program. According to the American Association of Orthodontics, there are currently 70 accredited orthodontic programs in the United States. Most orthodontic programs last two to three years during which time students learn tooth movement and how to guide facial development. During this time, students treat patients under supervision from licensed orthodontists.
Once licensed as an orthodontist, students must complete continuing education courses as established by the licensing board of your home state. The continuing education courses serve to ensure that orthodontists keep abreast of new developments in the field. The courses are highly technical and science based.
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