Residency in Orthodontics


This article was created by: Serene Dental




A student who’s managed to graduate from dental school has already passed through a severe set of filters. There were those four years of college. None of that light-hearted stuff, either. Rather, it was heavy concentrations in the natural sciences. Math. And grades were paramount.  Every grade mattered because the competition for admission to dental school is brutal.  There was also a replay of that old high school horror, but this time the DAT instead of the SAT. The Dental Admission Test. The same general idea as the good old SAT, but much, much harder.

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A student showing up to class on the first day of the first year of dental school has left behind about 94% of his or her competitors. Dental school acceptance rates are very low. Dental school itself is no picnic, either. When the dust settles, only about 2% of the applicants to dental school ever become practicing dentists.

There now are a few six-year combined college-dental school programs. Most of those receiving the state license to practice dentistry, though, have been on the journey for eight years. Some of these newly-minted dentists, however, are not quite ready to hang up their shingles. Some want to specialize.

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Orthodontics is one of the specialties requiring long and intense training after completing dental school. Acceptance to residency in orthodontics means 3-5 more years in the training pipeline. Most residents will be around 30 years old when they complete the program and go to work. A total of 11 -13 years of college, dental school, and residency.



Here the career path passes through a tight bottleneck. Fact is, there are only 70 orthodontics residency programs in the entire United States. Each these accepts perhaps three new students each year. It’s even harder to get in than it was to dental school.


There are three orthodontics residency programs in the state of Florida.  The University of Florida College of Dentistry ( annual tuition $26,800) accepts 4 new students each year. Nova Southeastern University in Davie (tuition $46,200) accepts 6, and Jacksonville University (tuition $80,000 per year) accepts only 1 student yearly for its full residency program. You’re probably doing some arithmetic in your head now – relax. Here it is: students completing the residency in orthodontics commonly shoulder $500,000 in student loans. Debt of $1 million is not rare.

Residency is a grueling 3-5 years of long hours and little rest. Residents spend their days treating patients in the clinic, mentored by professors. Evenings bring no leisure. Advanced course and laboratory work continue into the night. Early the next morning, it starts all over again.

There’s one more critical hurdle to jump at the end of a residency program. Failure is a career ender. It’s an exam, or rather, a series of exams. The American Board of Orthodontics (ABO)written, oral, and clinical exams. The clinical exam is expanded to include an intense review of all of a candidate’s patient case files. In other words, it’s not enough to shine on ABO exam days. A candidate has had to shine every day in the clinic during the entire program. Pressure, anyone?




Speaking of pressure, think of the newly-certified orthodontist setting out to build a practice, a life, and to pay down that student debt. The average income for Florida orthodontists is baseline $130,000+. Not too shabby as personal incomes go, true. Paying down a half-million dollars in debt while starting a family on those dollars, though, is a far cry from la dolce vita. Yes, it’s a fact that annual incomes in excess of $500,000 are not out of an orthodontist’s reach. Generally, though, incomes are a function of years in practice.  Not unlike other businesses.

And speaking of business, a brand-new orthodontist setting up a practice runs an obstacle course much like that faced by any startup retailer. Finding and renting office space, remodeling, procuring equipment, hiring, accounting, marketing, operations management. Somehow, 11-13 years of professional training didn’t include much preparation for this. And yet, newbie orthodontists generally adapt quickly and effectively to the business challenges. Turns out the cognitive skills and character traits the training process screens for are also those suited to rapid mastery of novel tasks.

The public, of course, complains that orthodontists are overpaid. Overpay themselves, that is. The long years of study and training and intense competition are invisible to consumers. In fact, If people knew what it took for that orthodontist to become what he or she is, they’d realize patients get full value and more for their dollar.

This article was created by: Serene Dental

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