The process of choosing an orthodontist is a vitally important process. An orthodontist will be involved in the orthodontic care for a long period of time, treating a highly visible area of the body – the smile. The following information can be used to make the process of finding an orthodontist a pleasant experience.
First, specialists in orthodontics are dentists that have pursued an additional 2-3 years beyond dental school in an accredited orthodontic specialty program. The residency will result in an orthodontic specialty certificate and sometimes a Master’s degree.
To determine if a dentist is a specialist, ask. Dentists are only allowed to advertise “Specialist in Orthodontics”, or “Orthodontic Specialist” and limit their practice to orthodontics if they have received the training mentioned above, and have received a specialty certificate. Many orthodontists have also received a Master’s degree during their training, and will have this designation alongside their name (i.e. Jane Doe, DDS, MS). Some specialists may not have obtained a master’s degree.
An additional way to determine if a dentist is a specialist is through the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO). The AAO is an organization that limits their membership to orthodontic specialists only. Therefore, dentists who display membership in the AAO can also be regarded as specialists.
The American Board of Orthodontics (ABO) is another good way to look for well qualified orthodontists. Board certification is a voluntary process that orthodontists pursue in order to have their clinical knowledge and competency evaluated. The ABO, which was founded in 1929, was created to establish and maintain the highest standards of clinical excellence in orthodontics.
As discussed on the ABO web site, "A board certified orthodontist is a dentist who has completed an American Dental Association accredited graduate program in the specialty of orthodontics. A dentist who graduates from a specialty program becomes an orthodontic specialist who is eligible to become board certified through the voluntary examination process of The American Board of Orthodontics (ABO). Involvement in the certification process is a demonstration of the orthodontist's pursuit of continued proficiency and excellence."
Board certified orthodontists can be found on the ABO web site, and will also be noted in their advertising as "Diplomate, American Board of Orthodontics", or "Certified, American Board of Orthodontics."
A friend or neighbor who has had braces may be able to provide a recommendation. The best way to determine the kind of care someone provides is by asking someone who is currently in treatment. They can describe how the doctor and staff treat the patients and parents. Have they had any problems? Would they recommend the orthodontist to their friends? Have the procedures and treatment been explained well? Try to distinguish between normally painful or uncomfortable procedures and rough or uncaring treatment. Remember that braces make the teeth sore for everyone to varying degrees. Having pain does not necessarily mean that the orthodontist is a poor orthodontist.
The general dentist can be an excellent source of information regarding specialists. The dentist likely refers patients to specialists that treat their patients well. If they have issues with a specialist, they will likely no longer refer patients to them. There are some instances where dentists are required to refer their patients to certain providers for insurance reasons. In this case, their choices for referrals may be limited.
A dental insurance company may provide referrals to participating providers. While the quality of the provider cannot always be determined with certainty, most insurance companies have a credentialing process that may prevent poor practitioners from maintaining provider status.
Magazines and newspapers sometimes print articles on the “Best” or most highly rated dentists and specialists. Be wary of these types of articles since they do not necessarily represent those with the highest qualifications. The rating systems and the basis for the results may be suspect, since they tend to be more of a popularity contest than a true reflection of their ability. Word of mouth and a little research will usually lead to the best practitioner to provide the orthodontic treatment.
Lastly, a state board of dentistry may be another place to look for information. Most state licensing boards will now have their information available online. Verification of dental license status and if there have been any actions brought against them will be available for review.