For many kids—and adults—back-to-school time means a fresh start and a chance to explore new opportunities. If your family’s back-to-school plans involve helping your child improve his or her smile by getting braces, choosing an orthodontist is the most important step to ensuring both you and your child have a pleasant experience and get the results you’re hoping for.

It’s not surprising that many patients simply “default” to the doctor recommended by their general dentist for their orthodontic care. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with this approach, most orthodontists themselves actually recommend taking a more active role in selecting the provider to best meet your needs and treatment goals.

Choosing the right orthodontist is a very personal decision, but there are several factors you’ll want to consider as you evaluate options.

In addition to your dentist, seek recommendations from friends, neighbors and relatives. Most likely you already know several people who have gone down this road. Ask them about their experience with both the braces themselves and with the doctor, his/her staff and overall office environment. Also consider checking out the orthodontist on Yelp, Facebook and the like. Today, most clinicians have online reviews available from current and past patients.

Ask the orthodontist for an initial consultation. Most offer this as a free service, and the experience gives you and your child an opportunity to meet the doctor and staff, learn about their treatment philosophy and discuss your treatment goals. During this visit, ask about:

– The types of treatment systems available,
– The doctor’s experience in treating your specific issues,
– Financing and payment options,
– Your ability to view before/after photos of previous patients, and
– The flexibility of office hours to accommodate your schedule.

Don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion. Getting braces for yourself or your child is a significant commitment to improving long-term health and appearance, as well as a major financial commitment. Doing your homework now will avoid problems down the road and could save you both time and money.

Most importantly, be sure the doctor you’re considering is university trained and certified in orthodontics. Often, general dentists might take a few courses that allow them to perform orthodontic treatment, but they are NOT orthodontists and do not have the same level of extensive training in oral/dental mechanics as a board-certified orthodontist. Certified providers have committed to peer review of their cases, essentially going above and beyond to ensure the quality of their work. While board certification does not guarantee the provider will meet your specific needs, it does signify his or her willingness to be critiqued.
Make sure you are comfortable with the orthodontist as a person. You are entering into a relationship that could last for years—you want to look forward to the visits, and the beautiful end result!

Taking the time to carefully choose a provider with whom you feel comfortable in working together as a team will greatly enhance the success of your treatment and, ultimately, your long-term satisfaction with the results.

About the Author

Dr. M. Alan Bagden, D.M.D. is a practicing orthodontist in Smithfield, Virginia. He is widely recognized for his commitment to efficient treatment, having authored many research articles covering the most progressive technologies and treatment philosophies on the market. Certified by the American Board of Orthodontics and the American Association of Orthodontists, and past president of the Virginia Association of Orthodontists and the Northern Virginia Dental Society, Dr. Bagden is a frequent lecturer at both the University of Maryland and the National Children’s Hospital Center Orthodontic Residency programs. For more information, visit