Choosing an Orthodontist

Has your dentist recently referred you to an orthodontist and you don’t know why or how to find one that’s a good fit for you? An orthodontist is a dentist that specializes in ensuring that the teeth and jaw are properly aligned and spaced. Your dentist may have identified an issue with your teeth or bite and feels that the treatment needed is beyond what they can provide. Don’t be concerned, this just means they want you to get the treatment that is right for you. So, where do you start with finding an orthodontist? Below is more information to help you understand why you may need an orthodontist and where to find one that is right for you.

What is an Orthodontist?

The priority of general dentists is your overall oral health, including the health of the mouth, jaw, teeth, gums, and nerves. An orthodontist is a dentist whose priority is orthodontic treatment, or the proper alignment and spacing of the teeth. Patients commonly see an orthodontist to treat overbites, occlusions, misaligned teeth, or an overcrowded mouth. If these issues are identified by a dentist, they will refer patients to an orthodontist for treatment. The work of an orthodontist is important because if these issues are left untreated, they will potentially grow worse and cause more severe problems.

What is the training for an orthodontist?

Because orthodontics is a dental specialty, it requires additional training beyond regular dental school. First, an orthodontist must graduate from a regular dental school, which is usually a four-year program.  To be a licensed orthodontist, a dentist then must complete additional study in orthodontics from an accredited orthodontic residency program. This additional training usually takes two to three years to complete.

What is the certification for an orthodontist?

Once an orthodontist graduates from dental school and completes the specialty training program in orthodontics, they can seek certification from the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO). An AAO orthodontist is an orthodontist who has been accepted for membership into the AAO organization. This certification is important to look for when you are trying to choose an orthodontist who is a good fit for you. By choosing an AAO orthodontist you can be assured that your dentist has completed the necessary training and requirements. Does this extra training really matter? Yes!  This additional training includes experiential learning to develop expertise in diagnosing, developing treatments, and implementing treatment plans for all of the possible dental issues with alignment and spacing. There are many possible treatment options for some of the issues that can arise with alignment. Part of the expertise that orthodontists develop in their extensive training is picking the right treatment option for each patient.

Can my dentist treat my dental issues?

Some dentists do provide orthodontic treatment, but it does not mean they are an orthodontist. General dentists may have some additional training in orthodontics, but if they are a general dentist, they do not have the education and experience required to be certified as an orthodontist.  If they offer to provide some treatment, it may be worthwhile to ask or find out if they have completed orthodontic specialty training from an accredited training program. Approximately 6% of general dentists complete the additional training requirements necessary to be a certified orthodontist. If your dentist has identified an issue with your teeth that may required orthodontic treatment, it is worthwhile to ask them for a referral to see a certified orthodontist.

How to find a certified orthodontist?

One of the first places to start with searching for an AAO certified orthodontist is on the internet using the AAO “Find an Orthodontist” search tool. As mentioned, the AAO only admits dentists who have completed all additional orthodontic specialty training. This search tool will only provide the names of orthodontists who are members of the AAO organization. The AAO membership requires that the providers complete the American Board of Orthodontics Specialty Certification exams. The American Board of Orthodontics is the only orthodontic specialty certification that is recognized by the American Dental Association. Once you have located AAO members in your area you can make a list and start making calls. Finding a good orthodontist for you is not just about certification, it is also about bedside manner, availability, price, and trust. A good place to start is by making a list of AAO members and then seeing if you can get in for a consultation. It does not hurt to have more than one consultation before committing to a provider. Orthodontic treatments can take multiple visits and up to three years to complete, finding a good fit is important before committing to just any dentist.

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