Orthodontic Assistant Requirements

Orthodontist assistants work with patients to adjust dental appliances such as braces.
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Orthodontist assistants work with patients to adjust dental appliances such as braces.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies orthodontic assistants under the broader category of dental assistants. Orthodontic assistants work with patients who require dental gear to align and adjust their teeth. They work under the direction of orthodontists and take X-rays, adjust braces, make dental impressions and instruct patients on care of their dental apparatus. Pay for orthodontic assistants ranges between $16 to $23 per hour, depending on a variety of factors, including industry, location and training. If you want to be an orthodontist assistant, you will need to complete a certificate or associate degree program, and some states require dental assistants to be licensed as well.

Skills and Abilities

Orthodontic assistants work with patients all day in situations that may involve pain, fear and anxiety, and need good speaking, listening, social perceptiveness and service orientation skills. They must have good close vision and finger dexterity to work in tight spaces within patients’ mouths and with small instruments and supplies. Good communication skills are essential to interact successfully with supervisors, co-workers and patients.


Those who want to pursue orthodontic assistant work must complete qualified training. Orthodontic assistant training typically includes 52 hours of dental-assisting instruction and 500 hours working in an orthodontic practice. The Dental Assisting National Board Inc. offers the Certified Orthodontic Assistant credential, requiring a higher level of training. Training for the COA credential includes CPR certification and some form of orthodontic assisting work, typically 1,000 to 3,500 hours of assisting work as part of the clinical portion of dental-assisting coursework.

Certificate Programs

Certificate programs to prepare to be an orthodontic assistant range from 12 to 18 months, and require a high school diploma or equivalent and CPR certification. Students learn dental radiography, dental materials and chair-side assisting through laboratory and clinical courses. Dental-assisting certificate programs are offered at community colleges and vocational training centers.

Associate Degree Programs

Associate degree programs in dental assisting provide general education and clinical and technical training in two years at the community college level. Students complete general education courses such as English, math and social studies, and core courses including dental science, infection control, dental radiography and clinical practice procedures. An associate degree is good preparation for students interested in pursuing advancement within the dental-assisting field, such as supervisory or office management positions in orthodontic practices or continuing on for a four-year transfer degree program.

2016 Salary Information for Dental Assistants

Dental assistants earned a median annual salary of $36,940 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, dental assistants earned a 25th percentile salary of $30,410, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $45,170, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 332,000 people were employed in the U.S. as dental assistants.

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