How times have changed. Just a few years ago, a potential patient might have come into your office seeking treatment after seeing one of the TV or radio spots put out by the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO). But today, it’s more likely they sought out a specialist like you because of a Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube post.

In the last year, the AAO consumer outreach strategy has been focused on digital. And as part of that strategy, the AAO Board of Trustees, through the Council on Communications (COC), has been focused on beefing up the resources available to patients and parents on its consumer-facing website—

The AAO recently launched a new Parent’s Guide to Orthodontics at The online guide is designed to serve as a resource for parents—a kind of Orthodontics 101, if you will. The AAO COC set out to design a portal that can answer parents’ questions before, during, and after treatment.

The guide starts by introducing parents to the recommendation that children get their first orthodontic check-up no later than age 7, and then walks visitors through everything from choosing an orthodontist, the first visit, how orthodontic treatment works, to what parents should look for and the importance of orthodontics. In fact the “how orthodontic treatment works” section includes a breakdown of the different appliances—including braces, clear aligners, palate expanders, headgear, and temporary anchorage devices—the parent/patient may encounter during treatment. From there, visitors to the online guide can learn about the different phases of treatment itself, including beginning treatment, life with braces (which includes a handy diagram of the parts of a typical set of braces), post-treatment, and even paying for treatment. Additionally, the guide offers a glossary of terms to help parents understand the jargon they may encounter but not fully understand during an office visit.

According to Jacqueline Miller, DDS, MS, of Walde Miller Orthodontic Specialists, located in Washington, Mo, who is currently serving on the AAO COC as a representative of the Midwestern Society of Orthodontists, the guide is “especially for parents who want to take a deeper look into what their child may be going into once they get into braces.”

But that doesn’t mean the guide can’t be useful for orthodontists. As Miller puts it, orthodontists will do all they can to answer parent questions during an appointment, but they can’t cover everything, or a parent may forget to ask something. Miller recommends orthodontists and staff refer patients to the guide to not only reinforce what they learned during the appointment, but also as a resource to generate additional questions for the next appointment.

While bits and pieces of this information previously existed on different pages of the AAO consumer website, the Parent’s Guide to Orthodontics portal is designed to bring all these various threads together into one easy-to-navigate area. Moreover, it was formulated to answer the common questions the AAO receives when consumers call in. The guide is part of the AAO COC’s efforts to not only make the AAO consumer website more user friendly, but also the authoritative place for people to find out about orthodontic treatment. “We want to be the first place that everybody checks,” said Miller. “We want to be the authority when it comes to anything ortho.”

For AAO members who wonder how the guide can help them, Miller points out that it’s all about educating consumers about the importance of seeing a specialist for their orthodontic needs. And more importantly, it’s about connecting consumers to AAO member orthodontists. Throughout the guide, visitors are prompted to click through to use the website’s Find an Orthodontist feature to locate a local AAO member orthodontist for their treatment. In addition, the Find an Orthodontist tool allows consumers to contact AAO members by clicking on the “Request Appointment” button to generate an e-mail that is sent to the member, or, if using a mobile device, users can tap the telephone icon to call the AAO member’s office directly. “It’s just a really great way for our potential consumers to find us as orthodontic specialists,” says Miller. “And this is one way the AAO advocates for its members.”

To make sure the public knows about this new resource, the AAO will be launching a promotion campaign. The bulk of the campaign will focus on grass roots efforts, says Miller—talking to orthodontists and sending them information to let them know about the new guide. In addition, the AAO will be posting about the guide on its social media channels and digital outlets to let the public know about it.

The guide is part of a larger strategy to better engage and educate the consumer. Since the Consumer Awareness Program (CAP) was re-launched in June 2017, online ads have appeared over 800 million times, reaching over 100 million people in the United States. According to the AAO’s figures, the consumer website has seen over 5 million visitors since last June, and those visitors are viewing content such as the doctor locator and the association’s new blog.

The blog, which launched last October on the consumer website, is also designed to educate consumers, says Miller. “The whole idea is once a month we write a blog to help educate consumers about orthodontic topics such as retainers, oral hygiene, do-it-yourself orthodontics, how to take care of a retainer, really anything. It’s a huge range of timely topics. We started out with about one post a month, but we plan to increase the posts to between two and four a month.

“And at the end of every blog it talks about Find an Orthodontist. So, it’s really beneficial for our members because it brings the reader back to the website and to Find an Orthodontist,” says Miller, adding that the blog posts are promoted through AAO social media channels and digital ads.

While the blog itself has been read over 1.5 million times since its launch, with visitors spending an average of 7 minutes on those pages, the Find an Orthodontist page has seen over 75,000 conversions, or Find an Orthodontist completions—and that’s where the CAP has the most direct or immediate impact for AAO members.

“For us, we’re really trying to educate our consumers about the importance of seeing a specialist for their orthodontic needs. We’re really trying to educate the public as to the difference between a specialist in orthodontics and somebody who’s not. And we’re trying to preserve the specialty,” says Miller.

The AAO encourages members to share not only its blog posts on their practice pages and social media channels, but also the other resources and information items the AAO puts out for the public. It’s all about getting the word out and educating consumers, says Miller.

In the coming months, Miller says AAO members should be on the lookout for some whiteboard animation videos and two BuzzFeed videos the association is putting out. “They’re just a clever way to show people the importance of seeing a specialist for their orthodontic care,” says Miller.

The CAP outreach targets a wide range of audience segments, with the new Parent’s Guide geared more toward parents and/or decision makers. Miller says the AAO wants to educate “from the youngest to the oldest.”

“We’re really trying to make a platform with different formats—the blog, the videos. Something that might reach across the age barrier and educate the public.”

In the end, all these projects are about capitalizing on digital media and reaching consumers where they are and using AAO member dollars effectively and efficiently.

“[Parents and/or patients are] on their phone. They’re on their tablet. They’re on their computer,” says Miller. “And we want to make sure that we’re reaching them, and that we are giving our AAO members the most we can out of the money we have to spend.” OP