Educating Patients About Their Orthodontic Options

Gerald S. Samson, DDS


Exciting. Scary. Exhilarating. Overwhelming. Eager. These are just a few of the adjectives I’d use to describe the emotions of prospective orthodontic patients. The first step in anyone’s smile journey requires a certain level of information gathering, and it’s up to the practitioner to guide the patient through each step.

I would imagine that many of you assume the customer is always right, right? To some extent, that may be true. But when it comes to orthodontic treatment options, it’s crucial to understand your prospective patients’ goals, enlighten them on their options, and then help them make an informed decision based on that information. To successfully accomplish this, I like to reinforce the three C’s during the initial treatment consultation: Connection, Choices, and Commitment.

The Connection

As any relationship develops, building rapport is necessary to establish a sound connection, whether it be a significant other, a friend, a colleague, or, in this instance, a patient. One of the important tasks at hand when you’re dealing with potential new patients is to keep the conversation fairly open-ended.

Before diving into what they’re looking for, ask a handful of general questions to encourage them to open up about themselves, and establish a personal connection. Whether it’s what they like to do in their free time, what recreational sports they participate in, or what they did last weekend, it helps establish some common ground and build trust.

After successfully forging patient familiarity, you’ll want to naturally transition the conversation to determine what their treatment desires and expectations are. Many prospective patients will likely have a preconceived notion about aligners versus braces, clear versus metal, and more. They’ll also likely have an idea of how long and how much the process will cost.

Once again, I always let the patients do most of the talking here before saying anything about various options, as it’s critical to understand and weigh their expectations to avoid any form of miscommunication over the course of the conversation. Make sure you also get a firm understanding of their budgetary needs, timeline, and aesthetic preferences.

The thing to keep in mind, though, is that at the end of the day, they are seeking your expert opinion. More often than not, they’ll be looking at you to provide a solution that they may not have considered.

The Choices

So at this point in the conversation, we’ve established a connection and actively worked to understand their treatment expectations. We’re now ready to provide an overview of orthodontic choices based on their feedback. You can also consider this an educational explanation, but during this phase I am still very much learning about them.

Obtaining orthodontic records or taking x-rays will ultimately show the best course of treatment, but talking things out beforehand is necessary to help the patient envision a well-thought-out treatment path without you overstepping your bounds. When you highlight the available treatment options, it’s important to incorporate the critical factors of cost, time, and aesthetics and tailor them to your patient’s wishes.

For example, if a patient is interested in a clear aligner of sorts before a wedding in 10 months, he or she will likely need to consider a fixed appliance such as Ormco’s Symetri Clear to deliver the results by the desired date. Or, if a patient is looking for a ceramic option but the price falls outside of his or her budget, then it may be best to discuss a longer treatment option that is more cost-effective.

The clearer the image you can paint for your patients, the better you’ll be able to deliver that final masterpiece to them.

The Commitment

The last step is helping the potential patient commit to a treatment option. Psychologically, once individuals have made a decision—this can be what they want to eat for breakfast or what color car they want to buy—it’s very rare for them to change course. That’s why it is absolutely vital that you give them enough information about clear solutions, aligners, and ceramic brackets so that they can decide what is ultimately best for them.

Consider yourself a shepherd throughout this process. Your job is to show the herd where they can eat, and then they can choose what pasture they like the best. When it’s all said and done, it’s your responsibility to educate your patients, not to pressure them into a decision or tell them what they “should do” or what you “would do.”

You can, and should, present the pros and cons of each and every option. Beyond this, though, we as practitioners can’t force a patient in one direction over another. Ultimately, it is the prospective patient’s choice. But it’s your job to give your patients the proper insight on what the right path may be based on their unique wants and needs.

Dr. Samson completed his pediatric dental residency at Emory University in 1979 and his orthodontics residency at Northwestern University in 1981 under the direction of Dr. Hal Perry. Since that time, he has been in private orthodontic practice. He is a Diplomat of the American Board of Orthodontics and a Fellow of the American College of Dentists. In addition to orthodontic private practice, he holds formal faculty appointments at seven postgraduate programs, lectures extensively, and reviews orthodontic mechanics articles submitted for publication to The Angle Orthodontist. He can be reached at


Dr. Samson has financial interests in Ormco Kavo Kerr Dental Products, (g)nathos education inc, and Dental Partners, Spring & Sprout Dental Management and Consulting.  

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