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Why the Orthodontist Job Outlook Will Make You Smile

No profession is 100% “safe” from becoming obsolete; however, finding a profession that is service-based and a service that everyone needs is a great way to increase your job security.

Take orthodontists, for example: As long as people have teeth, they will need dentists to clean and repair them. And, as long as people want straight, healthy teeth, orthodontists will never be hurting for work.

This work is more than a basic exam and taking dental histories, and moreso looking at the symptoms and treating a patient's mouth. It can mean taking x-rays and working to create alignment with the teeth and get them to a normal function that is healthy.

Orthodontists go beyond a standard dental examination and have a specialty that helps correct dental abnormalities, problems with jaws, other oral cavity anomalies, or crooked teeth. The relationship of teeth can be fixed with dental appliances, like retainers and braces.

That’s great news for current and aspiring orthodontists, and the positive job outlook for orthodontists reflects the ongoing need for their services to help patients achieve greater oral health.

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Orthodontist job outlook is positive

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), orthodontist employment opportunities will grow 7% in the U.S between 2018 and 2028, which is faster than all other occupations’ average.

There could be some cause for concern, though, because orthodontist job openings have decreased by approximately 10% nationwide since 2004 (an average decrease of 1.7% per year); however, the need for orthodontists has increased — 3,640 jobs were expected to be filled by 2018.

If the demand for orthodontists continues to rise, more job openings are likely to become available, too.

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Orthodontist job growth vs. wage growth

It’s great that the orthodontist job outlook is positive, but does that mean that they won’t earn as much because there’s such a big supply of them?

Not necessarily. Orthodontists’ salary growth will depend on several factors, like location and whether they work in private practice.

Orthodontists who work in private practice, for example, have seen their mean annual salary increase since 2015 from $195,000 to $323,587 in July 2023. When all orthodontists’ offices are considered, there was a slight decrease from 2017 to 2018, according to the BLS.

In May 2017, the hourly mean wage for orthodontists' offices was $113.49 and the annual mean wage was $236,060. Flash forward to the latest stats available (May 2022), those figures decreased to $104 and $216,320, respectively.

This dip does not mean orthodontists’ salaries are going to continue to trend down, but it’s important to understand that any service-based industry is prone to income fluctuation.

Is an orthodontist job worth the potential student loan debt?

The orthodontist job outlook is promising, and there’s potential to earn a six-figure salary. Good job prospects, a nice work environment, and a high salary sound like a winning combination, but there’s another factor in the equation for many aspiring orthodontists to consider before heading down this career path: student loan debt.

Becoming a dentist of any kind requires a lot of schooling, instruction, and coursework — undergraduate studies, dental school and then two to three years of training in an orthodontic residency program. The cost estimates for pursuing dental specialties can be high.

Average student loan debt for orthodontists

According to the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), in 2020, 83% of dental school students graduated with an average of $270,125 (public school) and $349,730 (private) in student loan debt. That means almost every dental student enters their first job owing the high end of orthodontist annual mean salary — and that’s just the average debt.

The average student loan debt for orthodontists that Student Loan Planner® has worked with is $629,090.

Many professions that require student loan debt that could reach $1 million probably aren’t worth it if you’re only looking at the numbers because the job might seem like it doesn’t pay enough. But orthodontists’ potential earning power makes it an exception.

The student loan debt is worth it

If you can earn the annual mean orthodontist salary within a few years of graduating from dental school, you could potentially pay down your debts faster than people in other professions.

Plus, there are paths orthodontists can take to earn a higher salary in a shorter period of time, such as:

  • Work in a less competitive market. Los Angeles and New York are desirable locations, but you could potentially double your earnings working away from the coasts because other areas have less competition but the same high demand.
  • Start your orthodontics practice. Don’t think of opening your own practice as taking on more debt, but rather a way to increase your salary. You can do your own orthodontic procedures, create patient treatment plans, and offer your own personal service, all while earning more.

According to the American Dental Association, the average gross billings per owner dentist in private practice were $935,760 for specialists in 2020 ($900,000 for orthodontists in particular).

You’ll not only earn more salary as a private practice owner, but you can hold on to more of your income by shielding it (legally) from the IRS. Business write-offs will lower your adjusted gross income and, in turn, reduce your student loan payments.

Student loan assistance and forgiveness programs for orthodontists

Whether you earn six figures right out of dental school or open your own practice, dental student loan debt can be daunting. You’re not alone in dealing with it.

There are several student loan assistance and forgiveness programs available to help you manage your debt regardless of your situation.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

PSLF is a federal program that forgives students’ remaining direct loan balance after they’ve made 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working for a government or nonprofit organization.

According to the ADEA, many hospitals for advanced dental education qualify as eligible PSLF employers. Your payments tied to income made on direct loans during your residency should register as eligible payments toward PSFL if the hospital qualifies for the program.

National Health Service Corps repayment program

The Bureau of Clinical Recruitment and Services in the HRSA within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services administers this program. The NHSC loan repayment program (LRP) looks for dentists and dental hygienists to provide their services to underserved populations in select Health Professional Shortage Areas.

The initial service commitment is two years and the award amount varies depending on the area where the dentist served, but orthodontists could receive awards up to $30,000 and $50,000.

National Institutes of Health loan repayment programs

These Congress-established programs recruit and retain qualified health professionals, including dentists, into biomedical or research careers.

The LRPs are not intended to fund research projects but instead repay up to $50,000 annually of a researcher’s qualified educational debt in exchange for a commitment to take part in NIH mission-relevant research.

The orthodontist job outlook is on the rise

Between the potential six-figure salary, opportunity to open your own practice, increased job openings in the coming years and options to help tackle your student, the orthodontist job outlook is promising.

If you’re considering a career in orthodontics, part of the decision-making process is making a judgment and reviewing the pros and cons. Currently, the advantages currently outweigh the disadvantages.

In terms of job satisfaction, orthodontists also rated their profession favorably when it came to stress levels (below average) and flexibility (above average) and gave it average marks for upward mobility.

If you are hesitant to pursue an orthodontist career because of the potential student debt, book your pre-debt consult today.

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