From 1984 to 2006, the number of people treated by AAO members more than doubled, jumping from 2.5 million to more than 5 million. This is due in part to technological advances in orthodontics and more widespread dental insurance. But it is also because today's well informed parents, especially those who have had orthodontic treatment, are more aware of the correlation between good dental health, good overall health and the self-confidence that can come with an attractive smile. They want these benefits for their children.
Why see an orthodontist
Your dentist, who provides general care such as cleaning and cavity treatment, may recommend a consultation with an orthodontist if she suspects a problem with the development of your child's teeth or jaws.
If you notice something unusual about your child's teeth, you can contact an orthodontist for a consultation on your own, as well. A referral is not required. If your child's teeth meet in an unusual way (or not at all), if your child sucks her thumb or fingers, or if your child breathes through his mouth, an orthodontic checkup may be needed.
What is an orthodontist?
Like dentists, orthodontists go to dental school. Unlike dentists, after graduating, they go to an accredited orthodontic program for two to three additional years of education to specialize in orthodontic treatment. Only doctors who have had this education may call themselves "orthodontists."
The AAO accepts only orthodontists for membership. AAO membership assures you that the orthodontist is an educationally qualified specialist in orthodontic care.
How to find orthodontists
Your dentist can refer you to orthodontists in your area. You can also ask friends, family members, co-workers and neighbors for recommendations. If you have dental insurance, check with the insurance company for a list of providers.
Use the AAO's "Find an Orthodontist" service to confirm that the doctors in which you're interested are orthodontists.
Compile your short list, get on the phone and make appointments for consultations. Find out if the orthodontist charges a fee for the consultation and how long it is expected to last.
Cost of treatment
The fee for your child's orthodontic treatment depends on a number of factors -- for example, the problem's severity and the treatment's expected duration. Thoroughly discuss fees and payment options before contracting with an orthodontist for treatment.
Payment options can differ from orthodontist to orthodontist. Most orthodontists offer convenient payment plans and allow you to pay fees while treatment is in progress. Some orthodontists may require a down payment with monthly installments, while others may be willing to start treatment without a down payment. Other arrangements may include credit card payment and finance company agreements.
Check with your employer to find out what benefits are available to help make your child's treatment affordable. If you have dental insurance that includes orthodontic benefits, the insurance may cover a portion of the fee. You may be able to take advantage of other employer-sponsored payment programs, as well, such as direct reimbursement plans. If your employer offers one, look into using a flexible spending account or a cafeteria plan.
If your dental insurance requires using one of the company's providers, dig a little deeper to find out exactly what your coverage is. Does it pay a percentage of treatment? Is there a cap? Knowing this information ahead of time will help you when questions come up at the orthodontists' offices you visit.
Find the right orthodontist
Research is key to settling on the right orthodontist. Take your time to become as informed as possible about your child's possible orthodontic problem and need for treatment (or lack thereof). Get familiar with different kinds of orthodontic problems and terminology through the AAO's site. If your dentist recommended seeing an orthodontist, ask the dentist what prompted the suggestion so you can ask orthodontists about it.
Ask anyone who recommended an orthodontist to you what in particular she likes about this doctor.
list of questions to ask the orthodontists
. Issues you discuss might range from the kind of problem your child has and suggested treatments to office hours, what to do in case of an orthodontic emergency and payment options.
When visiting orthodontists, note how well you and your child get along with them and their staff. Your child should feel as comfortable working with your choice of an orthodontist as you do.
Orthodontic treatment is a partnership
When you select an orthodontist, you enter into a partnership that includes the orthodontist, your child's dentist, your child and you.
The orthodontist will prepare a treatment plan, carry it out and keep your child's dentist informed about treatment progress. Your dentist will help keep your child's teeth and gums healthy through regular check-ups and cleanings. Your child will need to follow the orthodontist's instructions on brushing, flossing, avoiding some foods and wearing rubber bands or head gear, if recommended. As the parent, you need to make sure your child keeps scheduled appointments with the orthodontist and dentist, follows their directions and eats a healthful diet.
Together, you will work toward a beautiful smile and good dental health for your child, who will reap the benefits for a lifetime.
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