How to Select an Orthodontist – Stuff That Doesn’t Matter

Is this the orthodontic office for you?


When discussing orthodontics with friends and family across the country, it’s always interesting to hear the reasons why they chose a particular orthodontist.  I was surprised to discover that many of the reasons had nothing to do with the quality of treatment they were receiving.  So I decided to compile the most popular responses and give my analysis on why I think those things shouldn’t matter.


1.  Price

Orthodontics is not a commodity.  While four offices may all offer orthodontic treatment, they do not offer the same product, service or results.  Sadly, most people don’t understand this point.  People come into my office regularly and say, “Dr. X is going to charge this much less – can you match it?”  More often than not, my answer is no.  If I charge you less, can I provide you a lesser result?  Of course not.

I once had a mom who was a private school teacher upset with me because our fees were higher than a competing orthodontist.  My argument was, “You’re a teacher right?  Do you believe all teachers are equal?  I mean, you’re all certified by the state.  So you’re all the same.  Why should I choose to pay tuition to your school, when I can get the same thing for free down the street?”  So often, people see the differences in quality within their own professions, but when it comes to orthodontics they think all doctors are the same and the only difference is cost.  For the most part, orthodontic fees may vary by a few hundred dollars within a particular region.  If someone is $1000 less than everyone else in the area, there is probably a reason and not someone you want to see.

2.   The Orthodontist is a Famous Speaker

While perusing a potential orthodontist’s website, you may notice credits for speaking at local or national meetings.  There are a couple reasons why this doesn’t really matter.  Firstly, most doctors overstate how much they actually lecture. Many of us lectured frequently during our orthodontic residencies when we were engaged in active research and touting these engagements is completely legitimate.  Following residency, very few of us give more than occasional seminars and study club lectures and these are hardly noteworthy.

Secondly, if your chosen orthodontist is truly a national lecturer, just realize most these lecturers are paid by an orthodontic company to promote a particular bracket or product.  Also understand that speakers are chosen for their charisma and oratorical ability, not their skills or ability as an orthodontist.  While they may also be great orthodontists, one has nothing to do with the other.  I’ve personally seen great cases and not so great cases from various national speakers.

3.   The Orthodontist Gives Back to the Community

It’s important to find an office that matches with your value system.  Ultimately, the goal should be to find someone with a heart and that isn’t all about the money.  Sometimes it is difficult to discern truly giving back versus self promotion thinly veiled as community service.    Spend some time differentiating what is charity and what is marketing.  Some of the most charitable orthodontists I know give an amazing amount because it’s the right thing to do.  Because of their honorable intentions, they prefer to do it without any pomp and circumstance.

4.   The Office is “Kid Friendly”

Obviously children need to feel comfortable in an orthodontic office.  The atmosphere shouldn’t feel like a museum with a bunch of fragile knick knacks they can’t touch.  But, the office décor or presence or absence of video games or frozen yogurt machines shouldn’t be a deciding factor.  We all want your child to have fun and be happy in our offices.  I have video games and a separate play area for little kids.  But if the treatment is subpar or unnecessary, does it matter that the office is like Disneyland?

5.  The Biggest/Most Popular Office in Town

Their name is all over town and all your children’s friends go to a particular office.  They must be the best.  Really?  It is much more likely their massive popularity is a result of their marketing efforts rather than their orthodontic prowess.  The doctor may be great…or just a great businessman.  It’s up to you to determine the difference.  For a year, I worked in the big, popular office in a city and state to remain unnamed.  I was appalled by not only the poor orthodontic treatment but the lack of treatment planning, documentation and communication.  To this day, that office continues to grow exponentially in their community.

6.   Type of braces or orthodontic technique

You are choosing an orthodontist, not type of bracket or orthodontic technique.  Despite what an orthodontist, dentist or internet search may tell you, no orthodontic bracket has been proven to produce better or faster treatment results.  There are some really big claims out there and if the doctor is pushing the bracket or technique over their own technical skill, it’s something to think about.   Just remember that if there really was a “magic” bracket or technique that could produce better, faster, more comfortable results, without ever needing extractions, surgery, or more invasive procedures, everybody would be using it.

Something to note is that there are some less than ideal bracket choices out there.  In attempt to control costs, a few orthodontists may use “recycled” brackets.  These are brackets that were worn by another patient, sent to be sterilized and inspected and then used again.  Others will use brackets produced with inferior manufacturing processes and metals in countries with lower labor costs.  Ask the doctor what company manufactures the brackets they use.  The companies I trust are: American Orthodontics, Opal, 3M Unitek, Ormco and GAC.  If they respond with something else, it doesn’t mean that they are bad.  But, I would do some research into the company to make sure they produce the quality product you want.

7.  Top Doctor Listings

I get letters in the mail all the time congratulating me on being selected as one of the top orthodontists in the country, state or city by different companies.  The letters are all very complimentary and include a form for me to fill out if I choose to accept their award.  In accepting the award, I can order a very expensive plaque to display in my office.  How nice!  The problem is that they are sending these letters to everyone.  They cash in and the doctor has a beautiful plaque to display in their office.  Doctors know these awards are meaningless but some will buy plaques to advertise themselves as a “Top Doctor”.  I received the latest offer last week.  Not only did this one charge for the plaque, there was also a hefty “membership fee” I needed to pay.  They made sure to mention they were a “Christian” organization – sure.

Some local magazines also select top doctors.  Their selection criteria are often questionable as they are little more than popularity contests where you vote for me and I’ll vote for you.  Many doctors refuse to participate in these silly surveys.  In my home state of Arizona, the state dental association has spoken out against local magazine rankings, because of the arbitrary selection process.

8.   Clear Aligner Provider Rankings

Some companies that produce clear aligners give online labels to top doctors (customers) based on how many cases they have treated (purchased).  In theory, the more cases a doctor has treated, the better doctor they are with this technology.  Although it is nice to have a doctor with experience, more cases treated doesn’t necessarily equate to better results…particularly with aligner therapy.  The number of cases submitted to aligner companies doesn’t mean the person is detail oriented, careful nor has high standards when it comes to results.


Hopefully I’ve given you something to think about.  Choosing the right orthodontist for your family is an important decision.  Make sure you are taking the right factors into consideration.


If you missed my previous post on stuff that does matter, visit:

3 Responses to “How to Select an Orthodontist – Stuff That Doesn’t Matter”

  1. Angela says:

    Great post! Looking forward to seeing the new office; as I’m sure my children will be spending many years there. =)

  2. Karinthia says:

    Extremely helpful atircle, please write more.

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