Can I trust student orthodontists?
May 12, 2011 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Can I trust student orthodontists?

I'm in my mid-twenties and am considering getting adult braces, hopefully ending with a "permanent retainer."

Will it be cheaper to work with student orthodontists?
Will my insurance help pay for student work?
Is this a horrible idea?

Are there parts of the process that I should opt for a professional and others for a student?

You are welcome to assume that I am completely ignorant about the health industry as a whole.
posted by jander03 to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Anecdotal, but I did not have good luck having a cavity filled by a student dentist. It took four hours and I had pain in that tooth for years afterward. Based on that, I personally wouldn't go to a student orthodontist.
posted by amro at 12:54 PM on May 12, 2011

It will be cheaper and it will take a lot longer - you'll probably have to do an extra intake visit. Student dentists vary widely by school - a selective program will have better students and more supervision. Where are you planning to go?

Due to my work, I know plenty of people who've gotten good care from supervised student dentists - remember that a student dentist late in their education is just a few months from full-on dentist-hood.
posted by Frowner at 12:59 PM on May 12, 2011

I had a gum graft performed by a periodontic fellow (ie, in training), and it worked out great, as well as being less expensive. The trainees you'll have doing work on you are already dentists and are training in their sub-specialty. However, this strikes me as the sort of thing that's best when you have a common problem rectified with standard procedures, rather than something complex/unusual.

That said, I did this when I was a grad student with no dental insurance. You have insurance, apparently. At the very least, you should look at the cost differences and consequences. This also strikes me as a procedure where you will need to have regular followups over a period of months and years to monitor your progress, and it might be better to have a single orthodontist supervising this process.
posted by deanc at 1:00 PM on May 12, 2011

I don't know about orthodontics, but I had a bunch of other dentistry (fillings, cleaning, one root canal, crown) done with students at a dental school. As I didn't have dental insurance, the savings of dental school vs. dental practice was significant. I'd recommend it, especially if cost is a major issue. Lots of dental schools take insurance though - call and ask if they'll accept yours. I'm sure you can ask about prices as well if you talk to them.

It's also not as if the student just does the work and sends you out the door - every step of the process has to be approved by faculty or dental instructors. The drawback is that appointments take a lot longer than a regular dentist visit. Usually 3 hours per session. There's a lot of down time, so I'd recommend bringing something to listen to or read.
posted by raztaj at 1:00 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

My co-worker had her braces done by a student orthodontist. Each appointment took a really long time, and my co-worker said that the student dentist accidentally jabbed or poked her on a pretty regular basis. However, she's really happy with how her teeth turned out, and it was dirt cheap. She doesn't regret doing it. I am thinking about getting adult braces, and I'm definitely going to consider going the student dentist route, based on her experience.
posted by craichead at 1:05 PM on May 12, 2011

I had all of my (5 years of braces/metal mouth hell) done by University of Michigan's orthodontist student center and it was awesome! They were very thorough and had excellent oversight from their Doctoral staff.

Not only do I now have perfect teeth 9 years later, it saved my very kind parents a pretty penny.

Do your research, but I couldn't have been happier with my outcome.
posted by handbanana at 1:07 PM on May 12, 2011

I had pretty screwy-looking teeth when I was a kid and had work done by orthodontists at a dental school. Wore braces for almost five years (and thus dealt with several student orthodontists). Came out fine (except that I really should've been better about wearing my retainer--whoops).
posted by substars at 1:11 PM on May 12, 2011

I had the same dilemma 2 years ago. It was somewhat cheaper to go with students, supervised by a faculty member, but I opted to be treated by a faculty member/full-on orthodontist. I think the cost premium was about 20%, and the choice did not affect how much insurance covered for me. I'm happy with my choice, but if money were significantly tighter, things probably would have turned out ok with the students as well. I'd be more inclined to trust a student if your case is relatively routine... I had substantial bite/crookedness issues, and ended up having jaw surgery as part of treatment. I certainly would have had reservations about being advised about surgery by students.
posted by deadweightloss at 1:11 PM on May 12, 2011

I don't know about orthodontics specifically, but I've had excellent luck getting all kinds of other dental work done at my local dental college. The tradeoffs were:

1) All the work took much longer than it would have at a regular dentist since a) the student dentists were working more slowly than an more experienced professional would have and b) every step of the process had to be double-checked by an instructor.

2) The work cost about 1/2 to 1/3 what I would have been charged at a regular dentist's office. They also were willing to work out a long-term payment plan for me.

3) The final results were about the same quality as I was used to at a regular dentist's office.
posted by tdismukes at 1:42 PM on May 12, 2011

Orthodontics is going to be a multi-visit commitment. Depending on what exactly you have done, you may need to return as frequently as every month to have adjustments made. When I was in braces (middle/high school), I could tell a marked difference between the students/new techs and my regular dentist. He could pop those bands off, reset a bracket and put my mouth back together in 30mins flat, with a light touch and chatting you up at the same time. The various other techs/students were various degrees of less skilled, from the older lady almost as good as the Doc to the girl that took 2.5 hours and made my jaw hurt for 2 weeks.

Sometimes you get what you pay for.
posted by T.D. Strange at 1:47 PM on May 12, 2011

I had a bunch of work done 6 years ago at Tufts Dental School. Had a fourth year student assigned to me as my personal dentist, she was wonderful, my insurance covered most everything, and if I still lived in Massachusetts I'd go back there.
posted by mareli at 7:11 PM on May 12, 2011

I had my orthodontics done at UPenn's school as a kid and loved it. Now that other people mention it, my appointments probably did take forever but I didn't mind at the time. I had three different students, but the same professor throughout. All three students were very gentle and I came out of the whole experience actually enjoying going to the dentist. My sister also had her braces done there and likewise had a series of extremely pleasant and kind students.
posted by sepviva at 6:07 PM on May 13, 2011

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