How to Select an Orthodontist – Stuff That Matters

Pick the right person to put these on your teeth – find out how!

Not all of my friends and family reside in Arizona and so I am often approached with the question, “How do I choose an orthodontist?”  There is no simple answer.  There are so many factors that need to come into consideration when you are selecting an orthodontist for you or your child.  There are also some miscellaneous things that shouldn’t matter, but sometimes are a deciding factor for parents.  So, I am breaking this information in to two separate posts: stuff that matters and stuff that doesn’t matter.

Stuff that matters when choosing an orthodontist

1.   Is the doctor an orthodontist or general dentist who does orthodontics?  An orthodontist is a specialist, and has attended a 2-3 year residency program.  During this time they are exclusively treating orthodontic patients and studying tooth movement, jaw growth and development.  This person generally has a master’s degree in orthodontics and usually has done extensive research and defended a thesis on the subject.  A general dentist can take courses in orthodontics and is legally permitted to perform orthodontics, but has not been through an orthodontic residency.  If the person offering to do your braces also does cleanings, fillings and crowns, that doctor is a general dentist not an orthodontist.  I often hear people tell me, “My dentist is also an orthodontist”.  It doesn’t work that way.  Orthodontists ONLY do orthodontics.  They NEVER do cleanings and fillings.

2.  Who does your dentist recommend?  This is the starting point for your research.  You should find out who your dentist recommends and then ask him/her why they recommend that individual and if there are others they would also recommend.  Some general dentists refer only to those orthodontists that produce the best results.  Others refer because they are golfing buddies, are members of the same church or because that orthodontist brings the practice and the doctor lots of goodies on a regular basis.  I once was told that a male dentist referred to me because I was hot.  I was flattered, but I’m sure his patients wanted him to refer to me because of my excellent results.  You will never be able to differentiate why you are getting a particular referral, but at least it will give you some names.

3.  Who do your friends recommend?  Once again, this is a jumping off point.  Talk to people and find out their experiences.  Ask them pertinent questions.  How easy is it to get an appointment?  How is the staff?  Does the orthodontist build a relationship with you and your kids?  Is it a warm, welcoming, friendly place?  Do they care about you and your kids, or does it feel like an assembly line?  Are you happy with treatment?  Your friends won’t be able to accurately assess the quality of treatment, but you will find out a lot about the office and will get another list of names to work from.

4.  Review the qualifications of the doctor.  In the end, you are choosing an orthodontist – not an office, orthodontic technique or particular bracket.  It takes technical skill to produce an optimal result.  Review the doctor’s education (especially dental school and orthodontic school) and experience.  Not all orthodontic schools are created the same.  Some are excellent, some are good and some are quite poor.  Some of the top orthodontic programs in the country include: University of Michigan, University of North Carolina, University of Washington and Baylor University.  Just because an orthodontist did not attend one of these schools does not in any way indicate they are not as good of an orthodontist, only that if an orthodontist did attend one of the top schools they are more likely to be a good orthodontist.

5.  Is the orthodontist board certified?  Most people think board certification is required and that all orthodontists are board certified.  Board certification is voluntary in orthodontics and only a small percentage actually go through the rigorous process.  If your orthodontist is not board certified, it doesn’t mean they don’t do a good job.  But, an orthodontist who is board certified is making a concerted effort to better themselves.  For an updated list of board certified orthodontists in your area, please visit  Unfortunately, some orthodontists misrepresent themselves as board certified when they are not.  If your orthodontist claims to be board certified, verify it with the American Board of Orthodontics.

6.  Is the location convenient to school or home?  If your child goes to school 30-45 minutes away from your home, an orthodontist closer to school may be a better choice.  You will be driving to and from the orthodontist every 6-8 weeks, not including emergencies.  It needs to be easily accessible to the places your child spends most of his time – school and home.  There’s always some exceptions to this rule…like if you are coming to see me

7.  What are the hours?  Some orthodontists (including myself) have multiple locations.  Some even have locations in different states.  Find out the hours that the orthodontist is on-site at the location you are planning on visiting the most.  If the orthodontist is only available one day of the week, that office might not be as convenient as you first thought.  If you need a bracket repaired or have a scheduling conflict, you may need to drive 30 minutes to an alternate location.

8.  Does the doctor have ownership in the practice?  This may sound like an odd question, but there are more and more orthodontists working out of general and pediatric practices.  They are hired by the general practitioner as an associate.  Because they have no ownership, there is no guarantee that they will be there for the entirety of your treatment.  In the state of Arizona, there are many “corporate offices” owned by non-dentists.  These offices frequently demand high production out of their doctors and will fire a doctor if they are not bringing in enough money.  In those situations, it isn’t unheard of to have 3-4 different orthodontists working in an office during a two year period.

9.  How accessible is the orthodontist?  When you go in for the exam, watch the office run.  Can you even find the orthodontist?  Is he/she interacting with the parents and patients?  Do the patients and parents feel comfortable with the doctor?  You should feel that the doctor is available to you at every appointment to explain what is happening in treatment and to listen to any of your concerns.

10.  Do you like the staff?  Evaluate every interaction you have with the staff of the office, from the first phone call to the second you walk out the door.  You are going to be with them for the next two years.  Are they friendly?  Are they accommodating to your schedule?  Are they helpful?  Did you feel like they were pushy?  Did you feel like they were giving you the “hard sell”?  Watch how they interact with existing patients.  Are they just as friendly with them?

11.  Ask who sees patients if there are after hour emergencies.  There are some offices where a staff member is available to take care of your needs.  In other offices, you have access to the doctor and he/she will see you for after hours care.  This might not make or break your decision, but it’s nice to know how accessible the doctor is to your needs.

12.  What does the practice charge for additional services?  In an effort to make their treatment fees appear lower, some practices will present you with a lower fee and then surprise you with additional fees for required services such as x-rays, models, retainers and emergency appointments.

13.  Are there extra charges for extended treatment?  Some orthodontic offices have policies of charging additional monthly fees for treatment that takes longer than expected…even if it’s not you or your child’s fault.  These additional fees can add up to hundreds and even thousands of dollars.  Insurance will not pay for these additional charges so they become 100% your responsibility.


Coming soon…stuff that doesn’t matter when choosing an orthodontist

2 Responses to “How to Select an Orthodontist – Stuff That Matters”

  1. Renee says:

    Good info! In a future blog can you discuss why kids are getting braces so young these days. Just curious.

    • Courtney says:

      I’ll be happy to do a post on one phase versus two phase treatment. If someone does a two phase treatment, the first phase is usually done around 8 years old. This is not needed for everyone! Thanks for the idea.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Are you human? Click the Pineapple...