Orthodontic treatment typically only takes a few years from start to finish, but the results of treatment will last a lifetime. It really does matter who straightens your teeth. Your smile and your oral health are in the balance.

And even during the relatively brief treatment period, you want the experience to be as pleasant and welcoming as possible. When deciding between orthodontic providers in your community, here are five factors to consider:

1. Licensed orthodontist – In an attempt to earn more money, some general dentists have expanded their services to include orthodontic procedures, offering Invisalign treatments in particular. Orthodontics, however, is a specialized branch of dentistry that requires an additional two years of training. For the best outcomes, it’s best to choose someone who knows what they’re doing and has experience in various treatment methods.

2. Various, advanced treatment options – These days, there are many different ways to correct bites, and all the treatment options vary in aesthetics, duration, and price. What works best for someone else may not be best for you. Furthermore, new developments are happening all the time. Find an orthodontist who’s on top of the latest technology.

3. Office design – Most orthodontists have a website for their practices these days, and you should go online to see how professional their clinic looks. Even if the website doesn’t include office pictures, the office atmosphere is something you should take in during your initial visit. It needs to be comfortable and should inspire confidence. Judging a book by its cover might seem superficial, but the office’s appearance is indicative of how much the orthodontist will care about your smile’s appearance.

4. Fees – Costs are always a concern when orthodontic procedures are involved. To ensure that you do not get surprised by hidden costs and fees, you need to ask any questions that pop into your mind about treatment. Make sure that the orthodontist you’re considering explains all the costs properly and the possibility of additional charges. Ask if they have any payment plans or participate in payment programs.

5. Credibility – Research the reputation of any orthodontist you are considering entrusting with your health. If the orthodontist’s name was a referral from a satisfied patient, that’s a good start. Also check online reviews, and take a note of any common observations from patients. What are the practice’s good points and bad points? What is the customer service like?

Make sure you take advantage of the initial consultation that most orthodontists offer, and during your visit, keep your own interests in mind. It’s a good sign if you leave the practice smiling.