Orthodontic Assistant  What They Do

Just the Facts

Dental Assistants Career Video

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dotOne of the first people you'll meet at the orthodontist's office will be the orthodontic assistant. "We meet the patient, take X-rays of their mouth, take photographs and take impressions of the person's teeth," says Beth Thomas, an orthodontic assistant.

They also prepare the patient for the orthodontist, perform simple tasks such as tightening braces, and conduct a preliminary examination.

dot"Assistants collect the diagnostic data for the dentist," says orthodontic assistant Marlene Heics. "They sometimes work with the dental hygienist, as well as being responsible for [the] sterilization of equipment."

dot"It's very different from a dental assistant," says Deanne Hemphill, an orthodontic assistant. "A dental assistant sits next to the dentist and passes him instruments and assists in the procedures."

dotOrthodontic assistants are much more independent, often working in their own office.

Orthodontic assistants also work in the lab, pouring and shaping molds from the impression they took earlier. "We trim them up on a grinder, remove blemishes and bubbles, soap and shine them," says Thomas. They also make mouthguards and retainers.

dotOrthodontic assistants also prepare and polish a patient's teeth before they have braces installed. Some assistants may then help the orthodontist apply the braces. After the braces are installed, an orthodontic assistant usually attaches the wires and advises the patient on how to brush and floss while wearing them.

dotThe independence of the job can be rewarding. "If I had to start all over, I'd do this again," says Deanne Hemphill. "Unlike a dental assistant, I'm very independent from the orthodontist."

dotIf you're interested in this line of work, you should enjoy working with people. "I love working with people and helping them improve their self-esteem by improving their smiles," says Heics.

She warns that this isn't a job with a lot of opportunity for advancement. "Once you're in, it's a dead-end job," she says. "But that doesn't have to be a bad thing. It's interesting, and when I go home I leave my work at the office. This work is also steady and is decent paying."

dotAssistants work in an orthodontist's office. However, if people in the field want to do other types of dental assisting, jobs can be found in dentists' private practices, dental hospitals, or public health departments.

"There are many different roads you can take with this job," says Thomas.

dotIn the United States, many dental assistants -- approximately one in three -- work part time rather than in full-time positions. Also, more than 80 per cent of dental assistants are women. "In all my years of working I have only met one male assistant and he was just working in the military for a short time," says Hemphill.

dotAn orthodontic assistant generally works 40 hours a week. Some clinics open on Saturdays to accommodate working patients, which means an orthodontic assistant may be required to work some weekends.

But the job doesn't require overtime. "We run on time," says Hemphill. "I can count on one hand the number of times that we have run late. You don't get that in a dentist's office. Procedures there can often run over time and push ahead the appointments."

dotOrthodontic assistants, like dental assistants, work in well-lit, clean environments. Job hazards include handling radiographic equipment when taking X-rays. However, lead shielding and proper procedures can minimize the risk.

dotAn orthodontic assistant sits, stands and moves back and forth to retrieve instruments and X-rays while on the job. "You're constantly on the go," says Thomas. Obviously, some manual dexterity is required.

At a Glance

Take X-rays, photographs and impressions of teeth

  • The training is the same as that of a dental assistant
  • Not much overtime is required
  • Orthodontic assistants often work independently