The average orthodontist salary is $225,760 or $108.54 per hour according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
More specifically, the BLS estimates that orthodontists earn a median salary of $208,000 or more. That median salary lands orthodontist on the 2018 BLS list of highest-paying occupations. It’s tied for first place with six other careers, including oral and maxillofacial surgeons.
Of course, if you’re interested in becoming an orthodontist, your earning potential isn’t set in stone. Orthodontists make more or less depending on where they work and how many years of experience they have.
Percentile Wage Estimates for Orthodontists
Only approximately 5,350 orthodontists work in the United States, so complete salary data isn’t as readily available as it is with other professions. However, the BLS does make the following estimates for percentile wages:
- The lowest paid 10% of orthodontists earn $34.99 per hour or $72,780 per year
- The top 75% of orthodontists earn more than $142,470
- The median salary for orthodontists is $208,000 or more
Orthodontists right out of training generally make much less than those with more experience—falling near the lowest 10%. In general, the more years of experience you have, the more you’ll make. Other factors like location and whether you start your own practice influence your potential earnings too.
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Average Orthodontist Salary by Industry & Sector
Orthodontists primarily work in the offices of dentists, which includes orthodontist offices. Others venture into other industries.
The BLS lists the following as the three industries that nearly every orthodontist works in:
- Offices of Dentists: $232,980 average annual salary
- Offices of Physicians: $194,120 average annual salary
- General Medical and Surgical Hospitals: $126,010 average annual salary
The sector you choose to work in also affects your pay. For example, orthodontists choosing to work in a privately-owned general medical and surgical hospital earn slightly less than those who work in a state or local government hospital. Privately owned hospitals pay orthodontists $125,000 on average while state or local government hospitals pay closer to $127,000.
Average Orthodontist Salary for Business Owners
Many orthodontists choose to start their own practice either as a solo venture or with business partners. This requires capital upfront, but it has the potential to significantly increase your annual salary.
An American Dental Association (ADA) report (2017) lists gross billing statistics per orthodontist for owner orthodontists in a private practice as follows:
- $1,085,060 median gross billings per year
- $1,070,560 average gross billings per year
The practice expenses (excluding shareholder salaries) per orthodontist/owner are as follows:
- $600,000 median practice expenses per year
- $648,130 average practice expenses per year
The net income per specialist dentist/owner (which includes orthodontists) is as follows:
- $300,000 median net income per year
- $359,080 average net income per year
Going into business with other orthodontists pays off more than going at it alone.
The net income per solo specialist dentist/owner is as follows:
- $272,000 median net income per year
- $329,820 average net income per year
The net income per non-solo specialist dentist/owner is as follows:
- $350,000 median net income per year
- 418,310 average net income per year
Starting your own practice as an orthodontist has its upsides and downsides. To start, you’re compensated as both a practitioner and business owner, which means a significant salary boost if business is good. Plus, when you’re ready to retire, you could sell your business or your shares. That would set you up nicely for retirement.
Of course, the initial investment of starting your own orthodontist practice is a big one, and managing a business requires a different set of skills than straightening teeth. The success of your practice depends on a combination of smart business moves and your reputation as a practitioner. If the business doesn’t go as planned, you could end up in a tough financial situation.
Average Orthodontist Salary by State and City
Orthodontists in some states earn more than orthodontists in others. Cost of living, demand, population, and other factors affect salary rates across the United States.
States with the Highest Average Orthodontist Salary
The BLS identifies the following as the top-paying states* for orthodontists:
- Massachusetts: $282,740 average annual salary
- South Carolina: $279,610 average annual salary
- North Carolina: $276,550 average annual salary
- New Jersey: $274,400 average annual salary
- Iowa: $267,870 average annual salary
Moving to and working in one of the top-paying states doesn’t guarantee more spending money. In many cases, the states that pay workers the most also have higher costs of living. For example, Massachusetts and New Jersey are the 5th and 11thmost expensive states to live in according to CNBC. You’ll need that bump in salary to help cover housing, food, and transportation costs.
*Salary data isn’t available for Arkansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington
Cities with the Highest Average Orthodontist Salary
Choosing one city over another even within the same state also influences your earning potential as an orthodontist. The BLS reports that the following metropolitan areas pay orthodontists the most:
- Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH: $277,770
- North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL: $276,290
- Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, CA: $267,330
- New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA: $254,200
- Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV: $232,760
States with the Lowest Average Orthodontist Salary
Orthodontists practicing in some states earn far less than the national average annual salary for orthodontists. These are the lowest-paying states* for orthodontists:
- Utah: $113,710 average annual salary
- Louisiana: $129,830 average annual salary
- Kentucky: $139,450 average annual salary
- Montana: $187,130 average annual salary
- Texas: $188,190 average annual salary
When comparing the highest-paying states to the lowest-paying states, salaries are doubled in several cases. Location truly matters when deciding where to open your business or where to work.
*Salary data isn’t available for Arkansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington
Paying for Dental School & Orthodontist Training
To become an orthodontist, you must first complete a bachelor’s degree and then move on to a four-year dental program. Then, dental school graduates must complete a 24-to-36-month-long advanced dental education program in orthodontics. All-in-all, that’s roughly 10 to 11 years from your first year of undergrad to your last year of orthodontics training.
Average Cost of College for Orthodontists
The American Dental Association reports the following 2017-2018 tuition statistics for the cost of a single year of dental school:
- Average for in-state residents: $50,770
- Average for out-of-state residents: $68,403
- Average for public dental schools: $37,877
- Average for private dental schools: $67,087
Other expenses of your dental school program include your undergraduate tuition and living expenses, books and supplies, and your living expenses while in dental school.
The cost of orthodontics training programs varies greatly based on your residency status and the institution’s classification. For example, the University of Pennsylvania Dental Medicine, a private institution, charges $74,946 for tuition for the first year of their orthodontics program. The University of Maryland Dental school, a public institution, charges $38,870 for in-state residents and $61,146 for out-of-state residents. Other fees for orthodontist programs include accident insurance, malpractice insurance, materials, and living expenses.
Another cost worth considering is the wages you miss out on while you’re in dental school and an orthodontist program. Your fellow chemistry majors from undergrad earn an average of $63,818 per year just starting out in the field. Assuming their salary goes unchanged for the six years you’re in graduate school, that’s an average of $382,908 (plus potential matching contributions to a retirement plan) that you’re missing out on.
Learn more about the cost of dental school here.
Average Student Loan Debt for Orthodontists
Orthodontists accumulate a lot of debt to pay for their 10 to 11 years of school. According to the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), indebted dental school seniors in 2018 graduated with an average educational debt of:
- $326,133 for graduates of private dental schools
- $251,869 for graduates of public dental schools
Those totals include undergraduate and dental school debt combined.
Debt totals increase significantly when you add in two to three years in a special orthodontist program. According to the American Association of Orthodontists, indebted orthodontists graduate with an average of $365,000 in total educational loans.
Of course, not all students borrow that much to become an orthodontist. The ADEA reports that one-fifth of dental school graduates in 2018 had either no student loan debt or less than $100,000.
Thankfully, there are a few moves you can make to minimize your educational debt:
- Attend a community college for your first two years of undergrad and then transfer to an in-state public four-year institution
- Make payments on your unsubsidized loans right away to reduce accruing interest
- Unless you’re awarded substantial scholarship or grant money from a private institution, choose an in-state public dental college and orthodontist program
- Apply for dental scholarships to reduce your out-of-pocket costs
Paying Off Your Educational Debt
Is it really possible to pay off all that educational debt? It is. Dental school graduates, including orthodontists, are known for their timely payments. You just need to be smart about how you approach things.
Here are a few ways to best manage your debt:
- Join the Army Dental Corps after becoming an orthodontist and receive Health Professions Loan Repayment plus a salary and bonuses
- Work in the public sector or for a qualifying not-for-profit organization for 10 years and then apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness to have all of your eligible federal student loans forgiven
- Look into refinancing your student loans—several of our lenders offer perks like reduced monthly payments for dental residents
- Improve your credit score to ensure you get a low-interest rate on a refinanced loan
- Enroll in a federal student loan repayment program to keep your monthly payments manageable based on your income. The ADEA illustrates what your monthly payments could look like under each plan.
Is Becoming an Orthodontist Worth It?
Given the high earning potential, becoming an orthodontist is worth it. Of course, you’ll need to make savvy financial decisions when it comes to choosing where to attend college and how to pay back your loans.
You also need to make sure this is the right career for you.
Borrowing all that money to become an orthodontist is worth it because of the profession’s excellent job outlook, high job security, and high earning potential. However, if you decide halfway through dental school that this isn’t the career for you, paying back that debt will be a lot harder.
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