How an orthodontist differs from a dentist

An orthodontist is a specialized dentist trained to align and move teeth. These professionals have trained for two to three more years than a family dentist, continuing in the field after they have completed dental school.

READ MORE: How Much do Adult Braces Cost?

During this time, they take advanced courses in such subjects as craniofacial growth and development, head and neck anatomy, occlusion and radiology. A significant part of their educational experience also involves clinical rotations, which help them gain experience with patients, appliances and standard procedures. At the end of their education, orthodontists have earned a post-doctorate degree.

Some orthodontist are certified by the American Board of Orthodontics. The process is rigorous, as they are tested through written and performance assessments using a series of exams and patient cases. Approximately 20 percent of practicing orthodontists are board certified.

When to start treatment

Many patients face the common questions of when to see an orthodontist and when to start treatment.

Because each person's teeth, bite and genetic growth pattern is different, the American Association of Orthodontists recommends that children have their first orthodontic screening by age seven. During this visit, the specialist will look at several things, including the eruption of permanent teeth, the jaw's growth pattern and current bite and chew patterns.

RELATED: Angie's List Guide to Pediatric Dentists

By looking at the child's X-rays, bite, teeth and jaws, the doctor can determine what type of malocclusion exists, if any. Malocclusions (a word for bad bite) are central to determining when you need to seek treatment and how long your treatment will be.

Think of each "bite" as a type of malocclusion. An overbite is a class II malocclusion, an underbite is a class III malocclusion and a bite where the jaws line up properly yet the teeth are crowded or gapping is a class I malocclusion. These classifications are important because they determine when and how long you'll need treatment.

In recent years, orthodontic treatment has started earlier for children and teens because early treatment can make room for permanent teeth, adjust natural growth patterns to accommodate jaw abnormalities and make corrections before the self-conscious teenage years. Generally, more cost and treatment are associated with a two-phase early treatment plan. Whereas a two-phase treatment has been effective for underbites, researchers found no additional benefits to treating an overbite in this manner.

Choosing an orthodontist

It's important to find a doctor that is right for you. You should also consider factors such as the doctor's educational background (dentistry, orthodontics or American Board Certified Specialist), the location of the practice and the treatment plans and appliances that practice uses most often.

For instance, some practices use both removable and permanent retainers, while others offer one or the other. Some practices offer both metal and ceramic braces, while others offer one or the other. Still other offices offer clear, removable braces like the popular Invisalign.

Take a moment to visit during peak times to see how the staff interacts with patients. Are they running on time? Do they have exceptional billing and insurance practices? Is the office patient-friendly for the demographic it serves? By answering these questions, you can select a doctor that aligns with your treatment goals, wallet and schedule. Also, be sure to check with Angie's List for member reviews of these factors.

Average cost of braces

On average, traditional metal braces cost between $3,000 and $7,350, according to CostHelper.com. Those without dental insurance pay about $4,900 on average, while those with insurance pay about $3,400 out of pocket.

Ceramic braces may cost slightly less, while lingual and Invisalign braces can cost several thousand dollars more.

 A straighter set of teeth also mean the teeth last longer, Eslampour says. (Photo courtesy of Platinum Dental)
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