Consumer research conducted by the AAO this year is providing insight into the decision-making process resulting in a child starting orthodontic treatment and the selection of a particular orthodontist for that treatment. The research studied parents of children in treatment or recently out of treatment.

Changes in how consumers shop have impacted retail and even healthcare. The AAO conducted this research to first build our understanding of today’s parents and identify differences. Then as needs are identified, the AAO will provide programs and resources to members to help them adapt their marketing and patient experience for today’s parent.

Data from the research is being used by the Council on Communication (COC) to create educational materials to aid in parent decision-making. Research findings are also being used by a joint sub-committee of the COC and the Council on Orthodontic Practice (COOP) to develop resources for members to use to more effectively attract and convert parents (especially moms of the Millennial generation).

The research included two phases:

Qualitative research: The AAO conducted three focus groups with moms of children who were currently in orthodontic treatment by an orthodontist or had completed treatment within the past six months.

One group was made up of moms from the Millennial generation (born from 1981-1996). The other two groups were of mixed ages, primarily Millennials and Generation X (born 1964 – 1980).

Quantitative research: An online survey using a national sample of 650 respondents who were parents of children in orthodontic treatment, or who recently completed treatment, was used to validate findings from the qualitative research.

Key findings include:

Parents Seek Orthodontic Treatment Later Than Recommended Because They are Waiting to Be Referred

Most parents studied characterized orthodontists as specialists, with some comparing dentists to primary care doctors and orthodontists to cardiologists. In addition:

  • Most parents first began pursuing orthodontic treatment for their children at the recommendation of the child’s general dentist;
  • Most children first see an orthodontist between 12-14 years with only 22.7 percent seeing an orthodontist between 7-8 years;
  • Most parents were not aware of the recommendation that children should see an orthodontist by age 7;
  • When parents were exposed to the age 7 recommendation, they were interested and said they wished they had known sooner.

Millennial Moms Choose Orthodontists Differently than Generation X Moms

The research revealed significant differences in how moms in the Millennial group selected an orthodontist for treatment.

A majority of all respondents (55.4%) research area orthodontists online. Beyond that process, however:

  • Generation X moms tend to choose their child’s orthodontist based on criteria such as outcomes (including before and after pictures), the dentist’s recommendation, friends’ recommendations, online reviews, etc.
  • Millennial moms similarly screen local orthodontists via online research, but then use what they learn to select two or three orthodontic practices to visit. The final decision involves the child and the selection is based on the comfort of the child with the office, the doctor and the staff.

“The ‘comfort of the child’ is a concept that we will explore in more depth as we continue with this initiative,” says Mindi Brothers, vice president of growth and transformation at the AAO. “Moms describe child comfort differently than one might expect. Instead of mentioning games and activities in the office, they talked about the interactions the doctor and staff had with their children.

“These moms are more concerned about their children being treated with respect as individuals,” Ms. Brothers continues. “That includes friendliness, getting to know the child and developing rapport – but also going beyond that type of communication. The moms want to see active and positive involvement of the child in discussion of his or her condition and treatment options, if there are options to be considered. A big area of concern is the child’s individual needs and the orthodontist’s explanation – to both the parent and child – of how the proposed treatment will be customized for their specific needs.”

Initial Suggestions for Applying This Knowledge

AAO member resources are available to help members improve their online presence and in-office experience and new tools will be created. For in-depth information about how to improve your practice’s online presence and engage with patients via social media, see our newly updated guide for members: Making Social Media Work for You.

Resources from the AAO that are helpful in addressing the parent education needs described above may be posted on member social media pages and websites. These include the AAO Parents Guide to Orthodontics and existing AAO consumer website blog articles such as:

– “Does my child need to wait until they have all of their permanent teeth to see an orthodontist?”

– “6 facts about two-phase orthodontic treatment parents should know”.

– “What if my dentist hasn’t sent my child to the orthodontist?”