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Word of Mouth

Get a recommendation for a good orthodontist, and don't delay treatment.


Don't wait until October to notice that your child's smile looks remarkably similar to the jack-o'-lantern you just carved.

Take advantage of the slow pace of summer to get a free orthodontic consultation to learn treatment options and the answer to the most-dreaded question--how much will it cost for your little pumpkin to have a movie-star smile?

You have heard that orthodontics is expensive, and you are probably not anxious to take a second mortgage on your home.

But procrastination can work against your pocketbook when it comes to straightening teeth, because the cost is usually determined by how difficult those teeth will be to straighten. And it's likely that the longer you wait, the harder it will be.

And by harder, we mean not only more expensive but harder on little Brad or Janet. Everyone's dental development differs.

When children go to an orthodontist early--as young as 6 or 8--the doctor can take advantage of the skeletal growth of the child to correct overbites or overcrowding, dental assistant Cathy Terrill said.

Terrill has worked for 23 years at the Thousand Oaks orthodontic office of Redmond, Buto and Smart. They also have offices in Simi Valley and Oxnard.

She recommends that you pick an orthodontist through recommendations from friends and your pediatric or family dentist. She also suggests finding an orthodontist who has been around for a while and has a busy office.

If you think your child might need braces or if you get a recommendation from your dentist to take him to an orthodontist, don't put it off, she said.

X-rays can be taken to make sure there are permanent teeth behind the baby teeth, neck gear can be prescribed to fix an overbite and an appliance can be put in to widen an arch, she said.

Impacted permanent teeth can also be discovered early and coaxed out of the gums, she said.

All of this is called Phase I and can prepare a young mouth for braces, known as Phase II, during which the teeth are corrected.

Every case differs, but a best-case scenario will cost about $2,800 to $3,100 for Phase I. Without Phase I, Phase II would cost about $4,500 to $4,800. After down payments and insurance payment, if any, the treatment price is divided into monthly payments without interest, she said. There is a discount for Phase II patients who have been through Phase I, she said.

Costs include a two-year follow-up after the braces come off for retainer treatment, she said.

At Western Dental in Simi Valley and Oxnard, the orthodontists may change but the service remains the same, said office manager Vicky Rodriguez.

The first consultation visit, in which the patient is given a visual exam and financial matters are discussed, is free.

She also said that each case is different, but a standard two-year treatment with metal braces costs about $2,970. That price can be broken up into no-interest payments.

Retainers, molds and records are included.

"Some orthodontists send you out to a lab, and molds and records needed at the beginning and end of treatment cost extra," Rodriquez said.

A Phase I treatment costs about $1,920 but could vary depending on the patient's needs.

Rodriquez suggested that those looking for an orthodontist take advantage of the free consultations to learn about the quality of work and the personality of the orthodontist.

Clear and gold braces are also available at Western Dental for $300 more for each arch, which means $600 for both top and bottom teeth to have the alternative materials.

Venda Kawai, office manager for Dr. Roger Zierenberg, agreed with her counterparts about how to pick your doctor. "Word of mouth is the best way to find a good orthodontist," Kawai said.

Most of Zierenberg's patients come from referrals by dentists or former patients, she said.

On the first complimentary visit to Zierenberg in his Thousand Oaks or Moorpark office, a patient can expect to get an evaluation with a basic idea of what he or she will need and what the next step will be, she said.

Sometimes the answer is to wait and see.

"There is nothing to lose by coming in and finding out the best treatment and the best time to get started," Kawai said.

Young patients can come back every six months at no charge until it is time to get started, she said.

A Phase I and II best-case scenario can cost about $4,000 to $4,500 total, she said.

But prices go up the more that is involved. And gold and clear braces cost more, she said.

"Usually it is our adult patients who want the gold and clear," said Kawai. Kids are happy with the bright-colored bands that decorate the usual silver braces.

Get going now and your child will have black-and-orange colored bands by October, instead of that jack-o'-lantern smile. And you will have less guilt.


Nancy Needham writes a weekly consumer column and can be reached at

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