Alison and I often get asked by friends living outside of Fort Worth, “How should I pick my orthodontist?” With as many dental specialties as there are and with insurance changing regularly, I am not at all surprised by this request. Please understand, I am not posting this blog in order to persuade anyone to choose me to meet their orthodontic needs, but to educate friends in their search.
First, make sure that every professional you consider is actually an orthodontist and not just a dentist that does braces. An orthodontist is a dentist who has not only completed a graduate program in dentistry to receive their DDS or DMD (Doctor of Dental Surgery or Doctor of Dental Medicine degree), but has also gone through a competitive residency at an accredited orthodontic program for an additional 2-3 years to be trained specifically in orthodontics. One way you can be sure that he or she is a specialist is to look him or her up on the the American Association of Orthodontists website. This site lists only specialists who have graduated from an accredited orthodontic program and belong to the AAO.
A board certified orthodontist is an orthodontist who has voluntarily taken their specialty a step further. They have gone through hundreds of additional hours of preparation to demonstrate their judgment, skills, and knowledge required for providing the highest level of patient care. They have achieved board certification through the American Board of Orthodontics, the only orthodontic specialty board recognized by the American Dental Association and in affiliation with the American Association of Orthodontists. Achieving board certification is the last step in a long and intensive educational experience to ultimately provide excellent patient care. The American Board of Orthodontics website lists orthodontists who have taken this extra step and become board certified.
The next place I would seek a referral would be from other SPECIALISTS in the area, especially oral surgeons. Although there are a lot of primary care dentists who might be helpful in your search, many of them are attempting orthodontics themselves. Some general dentists also form personal relationships with specific orthodontists and may refer you to their “buddy” whether or not he or she does the best work. Oral surgeons and other specialists work with all of the orthodontists in the area. Thus they are able to see and compare their work. A primary care dentist may only work with a couple of orthodontists, but an oral surgeon typically works with dozens.
Another good source of information today is the Internet. However, you need to take the information you find there with a grain of salt. First, practice websites and social media sites do not always accurately portray the quality of work the orthodontist provides. A bad orthodontist might have found an excellent website designer. On the other hand, an excellent orthodontist just might not be up with the times. You should search for reviews on the orthodontists you are considering, but again realize that not all reviews are accurate. Happy patients usually don’t go out of their way to write reviews, but unhappy ones can’t wait to get their fingers to a computer. No doctor can make every patient happy all the time. (I would actually warn you to stay away from those who contort themselves trying.) One or two poor reviews should not scare you off, assuming they are accompanied by several positive ones.
Last but not least, pay a personal visit to the office you are considering. What is your initial impression as you park, approach the building, and are greeted at the front desk? Is the office up to date and clean? Is the staff helpful and in a good mood? Remember that you are going to be visiting this office about once a month until your treatment is complete. Upon visiting, ask yourself if the office feels like home and if the staff feels like an extension of your family. Finding an orthodontist is not always easy, but it is definitely worth your time, your mental peace, and your smile to do some homework.
Just for the record, I am a board certified orthodontist. Most dentists are not orthodontists. And not every orthodontist is board certified. I feel extremely blessed to be part of this elite group of specialists practicing orthodontics today. I encourage you to always ask your doctor if they are specialists. After all, doesn’t your smile deserve the BEST?