The employment outlook for future orthodontists is one full of growth and opportunity. Americans are more conscientious of their smiles than ever, and that’s good news for the orthodontist job market. Between the years of 2010 and 2012, members of the American Academy of Orthodontics saw a 22% increase in patients under 17, and a 14% increase in adult patients. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, orthodontist jobs are projected to increase 21% from 2010 to 2020, which is about 5% higher than the average jobs growth rate.
Despite these encouraging numbers, the optimism of many aspiring orthodontists is tempered by a few sobering realities. Many orthodontists entering the job market are beset by massive student loan debt, and are hesitant to take on even more debt to open a practice. Furthermore, in many metropolitan areas, the orthodontist job market is already saturated, making the recruiting of new patients a difficult venture. Many of today’s prospective orthodontists are looking for jobs that offer generous pay and job security in the short and long term—and it’s not always easy to find both in a private practice.
As a result, the field of orthodontics is experiencing a sea change. Debt-wary orthodontists are broadening their horizons and seeking out alternatives to the expensive and time-consuming route of starting a practice. Some orthodontists simply are not interested in running a business, and would rather focus on their craft and gaining clinical experience. Such orthodontists may find more job satisfaction by foregoing the self-employment model, and choosing to become employees themselves. Areas of orthodontics that offer this are dental research, dental public health, community health clinics, or teaching. Another option is to join a Dental Service Organization (DSO), which is a group of dental practices supported by an organization that provides non-clinical support, and hires dentists and specialists on as employees. DSOs are a relatively new practice model that is gaining in popularity, because they offer competitive salaries, a range of clinical experience, and freedom from all practice management responsibilities.
Running and owning a solo practice remains a highly viable career path that most orthodontists will end up taking. But for an orthodontic practice to thrive, the orthodontist must be just as committed to being a business owner as they are to being an orthodontist. Orthodontists who would rather focus on patient care than payroll and overhead costs might find a good fit within a DSO, or one of the other alternatives to private practice mentioned above.