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If you’re excited about getting braces but don’t know where to start, this article is for you. I’m sure you have a lot of questions, so I’ll do my best to share the “behind the scenes” of what happens before you begin orthodontic treatment. Most importantly, how many appointments do you need and what will your doctor do in each one?
Most patients need two to three visits to the orthodontist before they get their braces. Expect a free consultation, a record-taking appointment and perhaps another visit where you discuss your case, pricing and treatment options. You’ll also need to visit your dentist for a professional cleaning.
Exactly how many appointments you’ll need before getting braces on your teeth depends on the orthodontist you choose and the complexity of your case. In this article, I’m going to go through the most common scenarios, so no procedure will take you by surprise once you get there.
Multiple visits vs. same-day braces
Getting braces is no small decision. I strongly recommend you see an orthodontic specialist, not just a dentist, and that you go to a few different orthodontists before choosing your favorite. You’ll see your orthodontist every other month for about two years, so you need to feel a connection with that person.
Why an orthodontist and not a dentist? The truth is, we don’t learn much about braces in dental school, so your dentist won’t have the necessary training to handle your case, unless he or she has taken some courses. An orthodontist goes through three additional years of training at university, and lives and breathes braces every day. So be careful who you trust with your teeth.
Choose orthodontic offices that offer free consultations. Most of them do, and it’s a great thing, because you get to see the personnel, and chat with your potential doctor. Despite being very busy, most orthodontists will be available for a 15-20 min free chat to answer your pressing questions.
Some offices go as far as offering braces the same day, or taking impressions, dental molds and bonding braces or offering aligners at the second appointment. Unless you have a very simple case, I’d advise against this. Avoid doctors that are too eagger to put braces on and rush you into treatment.
After all, orthodontic treatment is complex, and we need to prep for it just like we would for any other long-term treatment. This involves multiple appointments for record taking, planning the financial aspects, choosing the kind of braces you want and so on.
The main appointments before getting braces
While the number and type of visits you’ll need to go through vary greatly from office to office, this is what I usually do in my practice, and what you can expect from other orthodontists as well:
1. Free consultation
This is where you’ll first meet your doctor, and hopefully you won’t be too nervous. Ask yourself these questions:
- Is your orthodontist compassionate and kind?
- Is your orthodontist patient or does everything seem rushed and sales-y?
- Does the office look clean, orderly and professional?
- Is the personnel polite? Were you received on time?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, maybe it’s time to reconsider your options. It’s best to shop around for multiple treatment options anyway, and don’t be surprised if some doctors seem to contradict each other in their recommendations. I know, it can be confusing.
During your free consultation, your orthodontist will take a look at your teeth and bite. If you have any old X-rays from your dentist, bring those too, they’re very useful. Your ortho will have a general idea about your case, based on years of experience, but don’t take everything they say as final. Your case still needs some analyzing and planning.
2. Record-taking Appointment
Once you’ve decided on an orthodontist, it’s time to take some records. Records are useful from a treatment planning standpoint, but also serve as proof of the initial state of your teeth, in case you’re unsatisfied with your treatment and want to go to a different office. It happens sometimes, let’s hope it won’t happen to you.
If any orthodontist offers to bond braces without taking photos or at least taking a mold of your teeth, know that it’s highly unusual and you’re probably not in the best hands.
So let’s get back to record taking. Here’s precisely what we need:
Once all this information is gathered, we have everything we need to make a diagnosis and treatment plan that we’ll present to you, the patient. This usually takes us to the third appointment, especially if the case is complex and needs more of our attention.
3. An optional 3rd visit for case discussion and/or spacers
You’ve already been through a couple of appointments, but you’re not done yet. Your doctor will need to discuss the treatment with you in greater detail. I say this 3rd appointment is optional because some doctors choose to do this during one long second visit.
However, I think it’s best for your orthodontist to leave it for a third visit, so they have enough time to study your case.
Once you agree on everything, either your doctor or your treatment coordinator will take you through signing documents, creating a financial plan and choosing the best type of braces for your case.
Here’s what you’ll learn during this appointment:
Some patients need molar bands, so if this is you, expect to have separators or spacers placed during this appointment, or a separate visit. Spacers are usually placed seven days before braces so that bands can be fitted, and I’ve dedicated an entire article on what they are and what to expect.
Lastly, you’ll be signing some consent forms, paying an advance and agreeing on a financial plan if you need it. And you’re almost ready to go!
But while your orthodontist is done with his or her side of things, you may still need to visit your dentist, and we’ll discuss why in a moment.
Your visit to the dentist
Ideally, you should visit your dentist every 6 months, and right before deciding to get braces. This is very important, because your orthodontist will refuse to put braces on if you have cavities or your teeth are otherwise in bad shape.
Before bonding braces, either your orthodontist’s assistants or your dental hygienist will need to do some professional dental cleaning. You can’t get braces unless your teeth are squeaky clean, and hopefully you’ll be able to keep them that way.
If your case is more complex, you may need your wisdom teeth pulled, in which case you’ll need to wait for an appointment with a dental surgeon. If you need premolar extractions, some orthodontist decide to have them extracted with braces on, so don’t be surprised if this happens at a later date.
You dentist may also need to do some prep work, such as temporary crowns or root canals. All this dental work may postpone your orthodontic treatment for at least a couple of weeks.
What about braces for kids?
If you’re reading this as a parent, not everything may apply to your child, athough most of the appointments follow the same steps.
It all depends on the age of your child. The AAO recommends that you take your child to an orthodontic assesment when they’re 7 years old, or even younger, but that doesn’t mean they’ll need braces.
In fact, most doctors decide to wait until your child is a little older. Check this article about the best age for braces and learn about phase 1 and phase 2 treatment, and what kind of braces may be best suited for your child.
Even if your child is too young for braces, it’s best to go for a consult anyway. You’ll learn valuable information about when to go for a consult again, and a ballpark of how much braces will cost so you can start saving.
Hopefully, the visits leading to getting braces are no longer a mistery. You might be impatient, but I suggest you pace yourself and go for the orthodontist that seems the most thorough and attentive. After all, a few weeks will seem like a blip in the overall treatment time. I wish you the best of luck!
Whether you’re new to braces or a braces veteran, taking care of your teeth (and your health) during orthodontic treatment is crucial. That’s why I’ve put together a list of orthodontist-recommended tools that will make caring for your braces a breeze: