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A Career in Orthodontics

The GDC currently recognises 13 various fields of dentistry with regards to their specialist register. You are not required to join a specialist list to practise a specialty, however, only dentists on these specialist lists have the right to use the ‘specialist’ title. In this series of articles you can find out more about each specialty from experts in their respective fields, with advice on the career pathway as well as sharing their experiences as a specialist.

Orthodontics involves the development, prevention, and correction of irregularities of the teeth, bite and jaw.

In the following article, Orthodontic Consultant, Iain Buchanan discusses how you can establish a career in this field.

Mr Iain Buchanan | BDS Ed., FDS RCS Ed., FDS RCPS Glasg., D.ORTH RCS Eng., M.ORTH RCS Eng., MSc., PGCAP, FHEA

Clinical University Teacher/Honorary Consultant in Orthodontics

University of Glasgow Dental School

Iain Buchanan graduated from Edinburgh University in 1982 and following almost 2 years in general dental practice started training towards a specialist career in Orthodontics. Following Hospital training posts in Edinburgh and Dundee he gained his Fellowship in Dental Surgery from the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (1986). He then moved on to speciality training in Orthodontics in Manchester at the completion of which he passed both the Diploma and Membership in Orthodontics exams of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (1988) and later also gained a Master of Science degree from the University of Manchester (1991).

In 1989 Iain moved to Glasgow as Senior Registrar in Orthodontics at Glasgow Dental Hospital and School and higher specialist training in Orthodontics was completed in 1992. He was then appointed to a Consultant Orthodontist post at Glasgow Dental Hospital in 1993. Having worked full-time at the Dental Hospital for 4 years he then changed to a part-time contract and opened a Specialist Orthodontic Practice in Paisley in 1997.

From January 2009 Iain Buchanan is now Clinical Teacher/ Honorary Consultant with the University of Glasgow where his main responsibility is Orthodontic teaching. He is the Undergraduate Orthodontic Teaching Lead, Programme Coordinator DClin Dent(Ortho) course, Clinical Governance Lead for Orthodontics and Director of the Dental Education & Professional Development Board, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. He is also presently a Scottish External Advisor on Appointment Committees. Clinically, Iain has a particular interest in the management of hypodontia. He continues to work part-time in specialist Orthodontic Practice.

A Career in Orthodontics

Orthodontics is a speciality of dentistry concerned with the growth and development of the teeth, face and jaws, as well as, the diagnosis, prevention and correction of dental and facial irregularities.

Orthodontic clinical care centres around the assessment and management of malocclusion. Careers in Orthodontics vary greatly depending on where you work. If based in specialist practice it will involve a significant chair-side commitment each week. You may also have a business to run. Working as a hospital-based Consultant will, alongside patient treatment, involve teaching, training and management. If in an academic post part of the week will be spent also on teaching and research. 

Pros & cons of a career in Orthodontics
  • Most patients see you because they choose to and are receptive to treatment
  • Range of jobs within orthodontics
  • Transient patient base
  • Patients with relapse

Obviously you need to be interested in the subject. Attention to detail as a personality trait is an advantage.

I didn’t really understand orthodontics as a student but was curious – not a great reason for a career choice to be honest!

The most rewarding cases for me are patients who present with a severe malocclusion. Some patients present with a severe malocclusion and are very anxious about treatment. Taking time to build their confidence and giving them both improved appearance and improved confidence is rewarding.


Yes, but manpower issues are now a potential problem.

A typical week…

I have a week which is split between specialist practice (1 day) and a University teaching post/Honorary Consultant (4 days). This means I am involved in patient care, teaching and administration related to this. I enjoy my work partly because of the variety of work during my week.

Specialty training pathway

You are not required to join a specialist list to practise orthodontics, however, only dentists registered on the GDC held specialist list have the right to use the ‘specialist’ title in the UK.

To be granted entry to the list an applicant must have been awarded a Certificate of Completion of Specialist Training (CCST) as a result of completing a GDC approved training programme, with a dedicated national training number (NTN).

Entry Requirements

Within the British Orthodontic Society website,, is a section “Careers in orthodontics” which is an essential read.  Bearing in mind that there is competitive entry to specialist training it is a good idea to take advantage of any opportunities whilst doing your BDS – prizes, electives etc. all help. Try and build your CV as an undergraduate.

Entry to Orthodontic training is via competitive entry and recently has changed to a National recruitment process where all posts are allocated at the same time. This is held in London, usually in May, and the Orthodontic StR posts start on the September 1st.

To be competitive ideally you should have:

  1. a broad range of experience
  2. MFDS or MJDF (not listed as essential but you will struggle to compete without it)
  3. evidence of audit projects and having presented at meetings
  4. evidence of research, at least one publication in a peer-reviewed journal
  5. evidence of interacting with the Orthodontic specialty (associate BOS membership, go to events run on Orthodontic recruitment, go to journal club meetings etc). Even if you don’t have a job in Orthodontics try to make contact with local Orthodontists and find out a bit more about what they do.

The above is the minimum typically expected from prospective applicants. However, it is strongly recommended to check the essential and desirable criteria listed in the person specification provided for specific specialty training posts (StR). An exemplar person specification can be found in the ‘Further Information’ section at the bottom of the page.

Training Pathway

Orthodontic specialist training involves a 3 year full-time programme leading to an M.ORTH exam run by the Royal Colleges and typically a research element (MSc, DClinDent etc) run by the University. With these qualifications and 3 years satisfactory clinical training the end point is a Certificate of Completion of Specialist Training in Orthodontics.

Career options after specialty training

  • Specialist Practice

Most Orthodontists work in “high street” specialist practice. Treatment will be provided under NHS regulations or private contract depending on the practice.

  • Speciality Dentist Post (hospital-based)

If you wish to progress to Consultant level you need to do another period of training (2 years) as a Post CCST Orthodontic trainee. This is again via competitive entry at National recruitment (twice per year). At the end of this period of extra training there is a further exam. Many Hospital departments also have Specialty Dentist posts in Orthodontics.

  • Academia

There are also academic opportunities in Orthodontics which would tend to involve doing a PhD. There are options both for orthodontic research and teaching. Many academic Orthodontists will do some form of teaching qualification.

  • Also…

Some people have split posts – part-time hospital based, part-time practice.

If you opt for specialty training it will take a few years and needs commitment. When starting out it may seem too long a path but remember that you will work for 40+ years and it is really important you do what is right for you.  Don’t be put off by duration of training.

Also before starting a career in Orthodontics don’t just take my advice – speak to several people involved in Orthodontics.

Before starting out on specialty training seek advice about the workforce situation and job prospects.

Further Information


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    September 17, 2022 at 5:52 pm

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