Orthodontists don't just move teeth with braces. They're specialists who prevent serious bite problems, ensure that your jaw develops properly and even prevent tooth decay by ensuring your teeth are properly aligned. You'll have to go to dental school to become an orthodontist, and every dental school establishes a list of prerequisites students must meet before they can be accepted.
Basic Career Path
The college prerequisites to become an orthodontist are the same as those to attend dental school because orthodontists have to go to dental school first. In addition to taking the right classes, you'll also have to take the Dental Admissions Test. Dental school takes four years to complete, and future orthodontists can then enroll in a two-year specialty training program. Upon completion of the program, an orthodontist can -- but is not required to -- seek certification from the American Board of Orthodontics. In addition to the required two years of orthodontic training, some orthodontists may pursue additional training such as surgical residencies or fellowships.
Laboratory Science Courses
Science is the cornerstone or dental health care. Orthodontists have to know how to protect against infections and must be able to detect the early signs of gum disease and tooth decay. They also need to be able to determine whether a tooth is strong enough to withstand braces, and understanding the microbiology and chemistry of the mouth plays a key role in this skill. To get into dental school, a future orthodontist needs eight hours of laboratory courses in biology, general chemistry and organic chemistry.
Physics is the science of matter and movement, and you'll learn about topics such as radiation and how force affects movement. This helps you understand how much force is necessary to move a tooth, whether a certain bite configuration will interfere with oral health or chewing and how X-rays can affect your patients' health. Consequently, all dental students have to have at least eight hours of physics courses before they can apply to dental school.
Basic communication skills are a daily part of orthodontists' jobs. They have to write treatment notes and explain treatment protocols to patients. Some orthodontists also opt to write journal articles or opinion pieces. To prepare future dentists for this requirement, dental schools require that students take at least eight hours of English. Generally any two English classes will suffice, so focus on fulfilling your school's core English requirements. You might, for example, opt for classes in rhetoric, composition, technical communication or English literature.
- American Association of Orthodontists: Why Should You See an Orthodontist?
- The American Board of Orthodontics: What is a Board Certified Orthodontist?
- American Dental Association: Applying for Dental School
- Physics in Technology: Physics in Dentistry
- The University of Alaska at Fairbanks: The Physics of Orthodontics
- Towson University: Undergraduate Pre-Medical/Pre-Dental Program
- University of Connectictut: Pre-Medical and Pre-Dental Office
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.