We’ve spent the last six years on a journey to find a perfect smile. I’m not talking about board games, trips to Disney or enjoying a family cruise, although those do generate a lot of laughter and joy thus resulting in smiles. This is about adventures in bracehood. That isn’t a word? Whatever. Childhood, adulthood, bracehood. Made sense to me. You know, that period of life in which someone wears braces.
Madison and Kennedy got their first round of braces on when they were in elementary school. Kennedy is in the middle of her second phase while Madison recently wrapped up her orthodontic experience. I’ve had many conversations with other parents regarding the fact we did early intervention braces with both girls. I’ve also been part of many discussions about costs, the anguish of selecting an orthodontist, when to look at getting braces and more. While waiting at the orthodontist office for Madison to have her braces removed, I decided to craft an article regarding the things I’ve learned and what other parents should consider when looking for the right doctor to entrust with their child’s smile.
First and foremost, you need to have an orthodontist that knows what they are doing. Don’t be afraid to ask for a consultation so you can sit down and ask important questions. Ask your regular dentist for an opinion. They see multiple patients with a variety of orthodontic needs so it’s likely they have experience with most of your local orthodontists. You can also check their website for references of other patients and/or local dentist. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to read reviews online.
2) Are office locations and hours convenient?
Many orthodontists have a single office with set hours while others have multiple offices that are open at different times and days. Be sure to ask where and when you’re able to schedule appointments including what to do if there’s an after-hours emergency. We found that having an office nearby our house and school allowed us to schedule appointments that fit our tight schedule. Our orthodontist even had office hours before school to accommodate those of us who have multiple after-school commitments.
3) What are the treatment types?
Generally, there are three types of alignment treatments: Clear braces, metal braces and self ligating braces. In addition, there are also clear aligners. However, it’s important to note that many minor problems can be corrected with a retainer and might not need braces at all. A good orthodontist will point you in the right direction. With each type of treatment, there are multiple tactics that include extraction of baby and/or permanent teeth, palate extenders, bands, springs and more. During your initial consultation you can ask what will probably be needed and factor that in when selecting an orthodontist. Bonus points for an office that has options that give kids with braces something cool to show off. Our daughters changed the colors of the bracket bands with each visit and selected holiday or school colors and their classmates thought it was cool!
4) Treatment schedules
Both our girls were set up with split treatments referred to as phases. One treatment phase starting in elementary school and the second in junior high or high school. I always thought it was how our office handled all their patients, but discussions with the doctor clarified. Dr. Anne “Bronwen” Richards from Quad City Orthodontics offers a couple different options for treatment schedules and it varies from patient to patient and family to family. “There are situations where two phases can be beneficial but not everyone needs two phases. In some cases early treatment helps prevent extraction of permanent teeth in the future or trauma to teeth if there are protrusions. Phase one also can help kids who are very self conscious about the appearance of their front teeth when they first grow in. Good times to intervene are when they are overcrowded or protrusive (which can be broken easily) or when an cross-bite is present. The goal of early treatment is to set up the foundation for remaining teeth to erupt in the right position to minimize the treatment in the future (and allow for a successful second phase).” From a parent’s standpoint, two phases provides the opportunity to split the costs over a larger period of time. From a kid’s, it allows them to maintain their sanity and self-esteem. Two shorter phases, each with a visible end date, are easier to tolerate than one really long one where you feel like you are destined to have braces forever. It depends on your child though. As Kennedy put it, “Sometimes I wish I had them on for two years because then I could be done with it. But I really liked having a break in-between.” She also said it was nice to get two buckets of candy. That’s what our orthodontist does to reward their patients at the end of each treatment phase.
Money, money, money. You may be asking why I didn’t put this first. That’s a fair question since dollar signs are generally the first thing parents think of when they realize their child needs braces. I cannot stress enough that while it’s an expensive endeavor, finding the cheapest alternative isn’t always the best. Prices range from one doctor to the next but there are a lot of things to factor in. You may start with the best price but then get socked by additional add-on fees every time you turn around. Ask what is included in the quote for services. Are diagnostic records included or extra? What about consultations, x-rays, retainers, bands, headgears and palette expanders? Are there additional fees for two phases? Financially the cost associated with one phase vs two should be similar but some orthodontists charge more. Two phases allows parents to split the cost burden over time however most orthodontist offer financing plans no matter the cost or length of treatment. In addition, find out if your orthodontist provides supplies such as bands, wax and flossers that are needed during treatment. Ours even gave our girls a special mouthpiece to use for playing their band instruments.
6) Rewards / Incentive Programs
Does the office offer any type of rewards program for their clients? While it may seem trivial, having braces can be a daunting experience. Let’s face the facts… most adults don’t brush and floss appropriately. Imagine how a busy kid is going to be. Braces aren’t always the priority. Incentive programs reward patients for doing things like arriving at the appointment with clean brackets (showing that they’ve brushed after eating), no buildup around the brackets (means they are brushing properly and regularly), maintaining their braces and more. It encourages patients to develop good oral care habits and dentists love that. While many orthodontists offer branded water bottles and other tchotchkes, some (like ours) up the ante and offer gift cards to the movies or local restaurants as an added incentive. Frana Beciri, the receptionist at Quad City Orthodontics stated, “Some orthodontists give rewards only with their logos. We give gift cards too. One of the reasons for the reward system is that the dentists are happier with us and they’re the ones that refer (patients) to us.” For orthodontists, it’s a marketing expense. For patients, it’s a reason to stick to the rules. When treatment is completed, our orthodontist awards their patients with some kind of treat. When Madison finished her first phase, it was a giant cookie cake. Conclusions after that included a bucket of candies and snacks that they weren’t allowed to eat while the braces where on.
7) What about the staff?
Think about when you visit a regular physician for an exam. You see the receptionist, the nurse and others before a brief visit from the doctor. In that same way, there’s more to an orthodontist office than only the doctor. You need to feel comfortable and have faith and confidence in the entire team. Stop in when the office is busy and quietly watch to see how the staff interacts with clients. It says a lot about them if the staff remains calm, cool and collected even when things are crazy.
8) Referral programs
If you’re happy with your orthodontist, you’re going to tell other people positive things. Find out if your orthodontist has a referral program. You might be able to receive a credit on future treatments for referring new patients. Along the same line, if you know other parents who have already been through the process of putting braces on their kids, ask for recommendations and referrals. Sure gives new meaning to the phrase “word of mouth”. Of course, if a dentist refers you to a particular orthodontist, don’t feel obligated to go. Shop around and do your research in the same way you would if you were purchasing a car.
9) What if you need to relocate?
My in-laws were employed by the government so Scott’s family relocated every couple of years. We live in a community that regularly sees families relocated for John Deere and a few other corporations. Don’t let the potential for relocation inhibit you from getting orthodontic treatment. If you think this might be an issue, ask the orthodontist how they handle these types of situations. They’ll often make pricing arrangements for partial treatments and may even be able to refer you to an orthodontist in the area where you’ll be moving. It isn’t uncommon for orthodontists to take over mid-treatment when families relocate.
10) Follow-up options
What happens when the braces come off? Does the orthodontist offer any follow-up care? Back to the question about costs, find out if follow-up visits are included in the base quote or if they’re extra. Ask the orthodontist how long they’ll continue to monitor your child’s smile. If they close out your file as soon as the braces are removed then maybe that’s not the best orthodontist for you. You want someone who will be available should problems arise, teeth shift or damage occur.
Selecting an orthodontist can feel overwhelming. The most important thing to remember is that orthodontic procedures are a team effort and everyone needs to be on the same page about costs, expectations and requirements. The patient should be aware that it can be difficult but worth it in the end while the parents need to make sure the orthodontist they select offers encouragement, incentive and options that will keep everyone on the right path to success.
What is your biggest concern or question about selecting an orthodontist?