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What's it really like?
To find out what it is like to be an orthodontist, I consulted 36-year-old Dr Athyr Al-Killidar, of London Smile who has been a professional in this field for nine years.
What does a typical day consist of?
"A typical day would consist of patient appointments, treatment planning sessions, some administration work and reading journals.
The patient appointments involve meeting new patients and discussing treatment options: fitting and adjustment of various appliances e.g. Invisalign, lingual braces, porcelain braces, metal braces, arch expanders, and functional appliances.
The treatment planning involves analysis of x-rays, dental study models, and photographs."
What do you enjoy about your job?
"I find my job very interesting and rewarding as it makes a difference to the quality of peoples' lives by improving their health, appearance and confidence.
I find that modern technology has made the job even more fun – especially if you are a bit of a gadget freak (like me), as you get to play with lots of equipment as well as computer simulations of treatment and facial changes."
Is there anything you dislike about your job?
"A career in orthodontics is extremely hard work. Working long hours can cause a strain on my neck and back."
What process did you go through to become an orthodontist?
"Since childhood, I always wanted to be a dentist or a doctor, and when it came to decision time, after a lot of contemplation I applied for dentistry.
I received my offers, and after completing A-levels, I started in my first year at United Medical & Dental Schools of Guys’ and St Thomas’.
I had always been gifted academically, and had assumed that getting a dental degree would be quite easy – after all, what do dentists do other than drill holes then fill them, right? So I had prepared myself for 5 years of relative boredom in order to get my degree.
The reality was very different...
Almost from day 1, we were thrown into lectures of anatomy (with accompanying dissection of cadavers), physiology, biochemistry, embryology and dental materials. Then there were tutorials, and we were continuously being tested – at a level much higher than for A-level exams, (we had been conned into believing that A-level exams would be the most difficult exams in our lives). Even the multiple choice questions were difficult as they were negatively marked, meaning that you got –1 for a wrong answer, 0 if you left it blank, and +1 for right answer.
In any case, in the 4th year at dental school, we spent some time in the orthodontic department, and even though we only covered the basics of orthodontics at this stage, I found it very interesting – it involved some detailed treatment planning which made it mentally stimulating, as well as precise wire bending requiring manual dexterity. In addition, it also required an eye for aesthetics – what does or does not look good.
After graduating, I decided I wanted to pursue a career in orthodontics. I continued the learning process and now work full time in private practice."
An orthodontist is a dentist who specialises in the correction of misaligned or irregularly spaced teeth and jaws with braces, retainers and other dental appliances.
The purpose of Orthodontics.
Oral and dental health is an important part of general health, and both children and adults can benefit from orthodontic treatment. Orthodontists are required to assess, prevent and treat dental and facial abnormalities, such as uneven teeth or an irregular bite. Being an orthodontist is a rewarding job as it can help to improve a person’s self-esteem, confidence and oral health.
Both men and women pursue careers in orthodontics, although it is unclear as to which of the two are predominant in this sector.
A comprehensive list of dental terms, including orthodontic tools and procedures, can be found here.
Salaries range from £30,000 per annum for an associate orthodontist (a self-employed orthodontist working in a practice owned by someone else) to over £150,000 per annum for those who operate their own, private practices. The average income for an orthodontist is just under £90,000 pa but will typically begin at around £40,000 pa.
It is the job of an orthodontist to:
Orthodontists who run their own business may also employ other members of staff and consult clients via phone, e-mail and/or post to ensure that they are attending appointments and to keep them informed about the treatment they will receive.
Good GCSE and A level grades will assist prospective students in securing places at university to study Dentistry. Applicants need five or more GCSEs (Grade A-C), including English, Maths and Science, plus three A levels at grades AAA to ABB. Vocational Certificates of Education (VCEs) and Scottish qualifications are also taken into account. If you apply with non-science A levels, you must select a Dentistry course that includes an additional pre-dental year (a preliminary course of Chemistry, Physics and Biology). Make certain to check the entry requirements of each university before you apply.
When you apply for a degree in Dentistry, you may be asked to take the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT). You can purchase a UKCAT student guide here. Although past papers are not available, you can read specimen questions on the UKCAT website. Universities will tell you if you need to take the test. You may also need a driving licence to travel to and from work placements.
See The British Dental Association's website to find out which universities have a Dentistry school. Reading through prospectuses and visiting each university will help you to make an informed decision.
Each course will last 5 years, at the end of which you will obtain a Bachelor of Dental Surgery, abbreviated as BDS or BChD. You may also have the letters LDS (Licentiate in Dental Surgery) after your name. BDS, BChD and LDS, although different post-nominals, all signify a person is a qualified dentist. The course includes both theory and practical training, and, once qualified, you can work in general practice as either a general dental practitioner (GDP), or as a dentist’s assistant whilst studying for the Diploma of Membership of the Joint Dental Faculties (MJDF). The MJDF, although not an entry requirement for all universities, is highly desirable, as it provides further evidence of your commitment, knowledge and understanding. An MJDF folder will document all of the experience a person has obtained whilst working in a general practice. Most universities would like you to have at least two years’ General Professional Training or equivalent in order to proceed to postgraduate level. Please consult individual universities to determine what their entry requirements are. Before you become a certified orthodontist, you will need immunisation against any disease that could constitute a hazard to your clients.
In order to proceed to become an orthodontist, a qualified dentist must apply for a three-year postgraduate MSc (Master of Science) in Orthodontic Dentistry. A student can complete this course on a full-time or part-time basis. If a student graduates successfully, he or she is then a specialist in orthodontics.
Most of the skills you will need to become an orthodontist will be acquired at university and on work placements. You will learn about different orthodontic procedures and the professional ethics involved in treating your clients. You will also develop a solid background in advanced scientific and clinical knowledge pertaining to dentistry. The following skills are helpful:
The work environment should be clean, sterile, hygienic and well lit. During work-experience, your supervisor will tell you what ought to be worn and how to clean and dispose of equipment to avoid cross-infection. Self-employed orthodontists will choose their own working hours; how long you work, (e.g. full-time or part-time) will depend on the type of dentistry you practise and the sector you work in. When working in general practice, however, you will usually work between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday, though you may be required to work evening or weekend shifts.
Ask your school if you can talk to a careers advisor, or visit a site such as Connexions Direct. If you are keen to speak to someone with experience, you might ask your orthodontist for their professional opinion. Visit open days at universities with schools of Dentistry so you can learn more about what it is like to be a student of the discipline.
To become an orthodontist requires commitment and perseverance, as you will need to devote a significant amount of time to your studies and work experience. However, the work itself is not only financially lucrative but also incredibly rewarding, as what you do has the potential to change a person’s life.