American Association of Orthodontists Review: Should You Join?

Updated on March 11th, 2021
American Association of Orthodontists Review: Should You Join?

The field of orthodontics has always been a popular specialty option among US dental healthcare providers. The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) exists to provide a common platform for these specialists, where they can learn, seek support, and advance the science of orthodontics.

Of course, certain criteria must be met before you can join this association.

However, is it worth considering, especially since there are other similar communities that orthodontic care providers can join?

In this article, we’ll answer that question by reviewing the American Association of Orthodontists in great depth, going over its history, the benefits it has to offer to its members, and more.

Let’s get started.

What is the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO)?

The American Association of Orthodontists ( is currently the largest dental specialty organization in the world. Founded in the year 1900, it’s also the world’s oldest organization of its kind.

The AAO serves a lot of purposes. However, its main mission is to provide practitioners, students, educators, and staff members alike a community that advocates what they do and helps promote the ever-evolving field of orthodontics.

It also provides a huge directory of active, certified member practitioners for potential patients looking for orthodontic treatment.

As of now, the AAO has more than 18,000 members, spread across the US, Canada, and some other regions outside of the North American continent. 

Whether you’re a student pursuing an orthodontic specialty, someone who has recently entered the field, or a seasoned practitioner, you’re always welcome to join the AAO as long as you meet the eligibility criteria (more on this later).

Currently, the American Association of Orthodontists is based in St. Louis, Missouri, at Lindbergh Boulevard, where you can visit them if you’re in town. Or you can visit their website to learn more about the organization, and how it can help progress your career.

Why Join the American Association of Orthodontists?

Professional associations like the AAO offer incentives to prospective members to join them. In return, they get to grow their communities, further advocate their industries/fields, and achieve their objectives.

AAO members enjoy a range of exciting benefits that you rarely get anywhere else as an orthodontist.

From finding new patients to growing your practice (and other incentives that greatly benefit your career), it’s definitely worth becoming a member of this organization.

Here are the main benefits that members of the American Association of Orthodontists get:

1. A Listing of Your Practice

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), roughly 10,658 orthodontists were practicing in the US in 2017. 

With the job outlook for orthodontic specialists looking good, that figure has likely increased over the past few years. 

As a professional, you have to start thinking about your competition.

More specifically, orthodontists need to find out new channels where potential patients can discover your practice (apart from the local yellow pages).

Social and personal web channels aside, by becoming a member of the American Association of Orthodontists, you can list your practice on the AAO website.

But exactly how does that help?

According to the AAO, their “Find an Orthodontist” tool (which is what they call their online directory) receives a total of 1 million annual visits. 

Thanks to the impeccable reputation of the AAO, people in the US and beyond trust the organization when it comes to finding a reputable orthodontist.

Having your practice listed on this platform can deliver massive exposure, an increase in brand awareness, and new leads. And not to mention – you’ll receive a significant competitive edge over any peer who’s not a part of the AAO.

2. AAO-Endorsed Student Loan Refinancing

There is a whopping $1.57 trillion worth of outstanding debt from student loans in the US.

As a professional – regardless of your field – it can be challenging to manage your career when you’re drowning in student loan debt.

This is especially true for new healthcare providers (orthodontists included) who want to start and grow their practice.

Luckily, there are some routes and programs one can leverage to easily pay off their debt, one of which is student loan refinancing.

If you have outstanding debt from multiple loans, you can use refinancing to combine them into one loan. This leads to a better rate at which you can pay off your debt easily and much quicker.

To help its members pay off their existing debt through refinancing, the American Association of Orthodontists endorses a refinancing program offered by SoFi

If you’re an AAO member, you can receive a $500 welcome bonus. This may not sound like much, but it certainly adds up when you’re trying to pay off your debts on top of your bills.

3. Professional Liability Insurance

Even the most experienced orthodontists are prone to making mistakes in their careers.

Apart from the general embarrassment and a blow to your credibility, you can get slapped with a lawsuit that can threaten the very existence of your practice.

To prevent that from happening, all orthodontists should protect themselves with professional liability insurance. If you’re new to the concept – professional liability insurance offers financial coverage for the legal costs resulting from a lawsuit.

There are hundreds of insurance companies that offer coverage.

However, members of the American Association of Orthodontists can opt for the exclusive AAO-insurance programs, where they can receive coverage at special rates for not only professional liability, but also life, disability, workers’ compensation, and more.

The programs are administered by Lockton Affinity, LLC. With the help of the group purchasing model, AAO members can enjoy comprehensive protection without having to pay sky-high premiums.

4. Annual Events

A key benefit of joining any association is the opportunity to interact, network, and learn from your peers at industry-specific events.

Don’t expect anything less from the American Association of Orthodontists.

Throughout the year, the AAO hosts some of the best events and conferences for orthodontic specialists, all of which offer amazing learning and networking opportunities.

As of now, the AAO offers two events every year, including:

  • AAO Annual Session – held anywhere between May and June, the annual sessions feature awards show that recognizes the accomplishments of fellow orthodontists, insightful lectures and speaker sessions, and other special celebrations.
  • Winter Conference – these are held anywhere between February and January every year. They offer insights and new research, delivered through speaker sessions and lectures, and up to 14.25 hours of continuing education (CE) credits.

The best thing about these events is that they are now being held both live and in-person. Whatever route you choose, it won’t affect your experience and learning.

5. Consumer Awareness Program

As mentioned earlier, the main mission of the American Association of Orthodontists is to provide advocacy for its orthodontist members and further advance the field.

To that end, the organization has a special consumer awareness program (CAP) in place that can help you grow your dental practice.

Unlike most traditional professional associations, the American Association of Orthodontists takes a modern approach and focuses heavily on promoting itself on digital avenues, including social media, paid, and organic search channels.

The association has been actively investing in growing the amount of traffic it receives on its website. The AAO claims that in 2019, their digital efforts yielded a 324% increase in total web traffic.

As an AAO member, your practice can enjoy significant coverage thanks to these online marketing initiatives.

Furthermore, you can get access to the extensive AAO library full of exclusive resources written by seasoned experts on how to promote/market your orthodontics practice and get more patients.

6. CE Credits

If you wish to further hone your skills and develop a successful career in orthodontics for yourself, you need to start investing in different programs, conferences, and exams that can give you CE credits.

Another key benefit of joining the AAO is the many ways you can receive these continuing education credits.

As discussed earlier, one of those ways is to attend one of the AAO winter conferences that can earn you more than 14 CE credits.

Also, you can earn credits through AJO-DO tests through the American Association of Orthodontists.

AJO-DO (American Journal of Orthodontists & Dentofacial Orthopedics) is a monthly medical journal that publishes the latest research in the field of orthodontics.

By reading up on the various papers published in the AJO-DO, and getting tested on them, you can demonstrate your growing knowledge and expertise in the field.

Each test consists of 16 true or false questions related to any 4 articles published within the last 12 months. The tests also specify the articles in question, to help the candidates prepare.

To pass a test, you must score at least 75%. Each test will earn you 3 CE credits.

AAO members and residents can purchase these tests at special rates.

7. Limitless Resources to Progress in Your Career

Last but not least, the AAO offers limitless exclusive educational, marketing, and business resources for member orthodontists.

Whether you’re looking for best practices for patient care or a PDF on how to improve your practice, you’ll find in-depth content written by the best in the industry in the AAO careers center, clinical practice guidelines, and other member-exclusive libraries/pages.

All in all, if you truly want to progress in your career, and want to become a part of a community that can help with that, the AAO is a good option.

How to Join the American Association of Orthodontists? [Eligibility Criteria and Process]

As one of the most prestigious organizations for orthodontists, the AAO has certain conditions in place that must be met before you can apply for membership.

However, the path is rather simple and doesn’t involve doing anything that you normally wouldn’t do when building a career in orthodontics.

Here are the most basic requirements:

  • You must graduate from a recognized dental school. This one is a no-brainer. You can’t become an orthodontist in the first place if you don’t finish dental school.
  • You must have completed two to three years of an accredited orthodontics residency program.

Meeting those basic criteria can help put your foot in the AAO.

Membership Categories

There are different categories or tiers to the memberships, based on your level of experience, where you’re from, and other factors.

These include:

  • Active Membership – this membership category is open for full-time academicians based in the US and Canada. Furthermore, candidates should have completed an ADA or CDA-accredited program.
  • Student – members have to be enrolled in an ADA or CDA-accredited orthodontics program on a full-time basis. Those enrolled in an advanced education program (after completing an orthodontics program) can also enroll.
  • Academic (International/non-US or Canada Graduates) – orthodontist graduates enrolled in an ADA or CDA-accredited residency program can apply.
  • Life Active – if you’ve been an active member of the AAO for 30 years or more, and are 65 years of age or above, you’re eligible for this membership category.
  • Service – this membership category is for military members and employees of the US or the Canadian government, who are practicing orthodontics, and have completed an accredited US or Canadian orthodontic program.
  • Retired – if you’re a retired orthodontist, who was an active, service, or international member of the AAO for 15 years, and was in good standing at the time of your retirement, you’re eligible for this membership category.
  • International – if you’re a practicing orthodontist who has completed a non-ADA/CDA accredited program, and is a member of the World Federation of Orthodontists (WFO), you can get this membership.
  • International Student – this membership category is open for students who are members of the WFO and are enrolled in an accredited orthodontic program outside of the US and Canada.

The criteria for membership are subject to change. You can always refer to their list of FAQs to learn more.

Are There Any Alternatives to the AAO?

Becoming a member of the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO) opens up a lot of avenues for professional progression.

If for any reason, you’re unable to apply for membership in the AAO (or would simply like to explore more options/improve your general knowledge), you can always consider joining another association.

Here are some promising options:

World Federation of Orthodontists (WFO)

The World Federation of Orthodontists (WFO), as the name suggests, is a global organization that brings orthodontists from the farthest corners of the globe together.

Here are some benefits of becoming a member of the WFO:

  • A listing of your practice in the global WFO directory
  • Member-exclusive discounts for major industry events and conferences 
  • Free subscription to the WFO gazette where you can find the latest articles and papers published by the best in the game

Furthermore, you get to use the WFO logo to market your practice and increase your credibility to attract more patients.

Like the AAO, the WFO also has certain eligibility requirements and membership classifications.

Southern Association of Orthodontists

If you’re an orthodontist practicing in one of the Southern US states, you can consider joining the Southern Association of Orthodontists (SAO) – a constituent organization of the AAO.

By joining the SAO, you can get:

  • Get access to exclusive news, updates, and resources
  • Annual meetings with industry leaders and association members
  • Generous scientific grants

Furthermore, the SAO also offers a special leadership program that can help you progress in your career.

Pacific Coast Society of Orthodontists

Another constituent organization of the American Association of Orthodontics, the Pacific Coast Society of Orthodontists (PCSO) offers a common platform for organizations/practices on the West Coast.

Here are a few benefits that you can enjoy as a PCSO member:

  • Quality education and insights for CE credits
  • Expand your career by exploring a leadership opportunity at the PCSO
  • Network with a community of around 3,000 members 

If you’re a young or new orthodontist looking for good educational resources and are based in one of the Western States, the PCSO is a good option.

Is it Worth Joining the American Association of Orthodontists? [Final Verdict]

The American Association of Orthodontists has been around for well over a century now.

With an ever-increasing amount of members, the organization certainly has a lot of value to offer to aspiring, new, and seasoned orthodontists alike.

Whether your goal is to add to your knowledge and skills, manage your career, scale up your practice, and/or network with fellow orthodontists, the American Association of Orthodontists is by far one of the best organizations, especially for an orthodontist based in the US or Canada.

The final decision is up to you. You have all the knowledge at your disposal to make the right call for your career.

Mike Farrell
Mike Farrell

With over 30 years of experience in the financial industry, Mike Farrell currently leads operations at Time Investment Company.