Images of picture-perfect smiles complete with straight, even, white teeth are often as a result of the work of an orthodontist. Regular dentist visits to fill cavities, check for healthy gums and professionally clean teeth provide us with great oral care, but, in some cases additional care is necessary. Orthodontists specialize in treating irregularities and abnormalities of the jaw and teeth which may necessitate the use of braces, headgear or specialty pieces to align the teeth and achieve facial balance. Becoming one of these specialized dentists is a process that involves a few critical steps and the passion to provide excellence in oral care and hygiene for patients.
One of the first steps to becoming an orthodontist involves acquiring a 4-year Baccalaureate degree. This four year degree should ideally be in pre-medicine or nursing as the courses that are usually required to obtain said degrees contain a variety of science courses as well as generic requirements that will help boost GPA as well as prepare you for admissions into a dentistry program. Be sure to research your Dental school of choice before determining your Bachelor's degree. Courses in Biology, Physics, Psychology, English and other language courses are recommended to include in your degree program. Depending on the program you are looking to enter after your Bachelor's degree, community service or volunteer hours are also a good thing to include during your academic career as these will set your application apart from others. Taking other supplementary courses to boost your GPA is also recommended during your program.
Once you have completed your Bachelor's degree, you will need to study for and take a Dental Aptitude Test. Similar to the MCAT's for medical students the DAT is an entrance requirement for any Dental school you apply for that measures your skills and knowledge in dentistry. Be sure to research schools before applying as each school will have specific admissions requirements and deadlines to adhere to in order to gain acceptance. Check your local library or university library for a copy of a previous DAT exam to get an idea of what will be on the examination and what to study for. Bookstores often carry tests as well that you can purchase, located in the reference sections. Flashcards may also help you study for this all important test.
The next step in becoming an orthodontist is the successful completion of a 4-year graduate degree in Dental School. Once you have completed this program, you will have obtained a Doctor in Dental Medicine or Dental Surgery allowing you to specialize in multiple post-graduate programs including Orthodontics. (Some schools require a separate Masters Degree in a specialization in order to be considered for a specialty study in Orthodontics.) This final program in Orthodontic Specialties differs from school to school and may contain various research and teaching components as well as surgical residencies to complete the program. After you have completed this final specialty program generally lasting 2-3 years, you will need to apply for design and take a final certification test in order to practice as an Orthodontist. Each province or state has different guidelines for certification and the procedure may be different in each area, so be sure to research ahead of time when deciding where to apply for work.
The process leading up to a rewarding career in Orthodontic Medicine can seem long and tedious; however, with the dedication and passion for practicing specialized dental medicine and making short-term goals, you will find you will find the dream of becoming an Orthodontist is well within your grasp. Commitment and hard work will be necessary to achieve this goal as well as planning your steps wisely taking university courses and choosing extra-curricular activities. Be sure to plan financially as well for the tuition and living costs, researching each school thoroughly before committing to a program. Academic advisors will help you make an informed decision as will practicing Orthodontists who may be able to address any concerns or questions you may have regarding the profession and the process to join the prestigious Orthodontic community.