UPMC Children's is expanding into the big business of orthodontic services

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There are a lot of children with crooked teeth out there, and in the Pittsburgh region, dozens of orthodontists stand ready to treat them.

Most are private practices, but now, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC is stepping into the ring with full-service orthodontics, according to a Jan. 8 press release. Currently, the hospital has Lindsay Schuster, an orthodontist specializing in cleft palate surgery, as director of the department of orthodontic services at the Cleft-Craniofacial Center.

Now, however, Children's seems to be targeting children with more common teeth, bite and jaw irregularities -- a huge market, given that more than 4 million babies were born in the year 2000, the most since 1992. Many of these millennial babies probably have or are getting braces now -- that is, if their families can afford the cost, averaging about $6,000, because most insurers don't cover much orthodontic work.

Children's Hospital officials could not be reached for comment, but John Buzzatto, a Hampton-based orthodontist and past president of the American Association of Orthodontists, says he welcomes the addition.

"My guess is that Children's is just expanding the scope of their orthodontic services into the community," Dr. Buzzatto said, noting that many local orthodontists in private practice serve as faculty members at Children's already, teaching residents who are undergoing the two to three years of extra training to become orthodontists -- even though, under state law, dentists are permitted to do orthodontic work too.

Nationally, there are two accredited orthodontic residency programs that are hospital-based, one in Washington, D.C., and one in New York, and those programs see patients as part of the residents' education.

Most accredited orthodontic programs, such as the one at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine/Department of Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics, are university-based and accept patients for residents to treat as part of the residents' education, said Pam Paladin, a spokeswoman for the American Association of Orthodontists. Residents in those programs are closely supervised by their professors and instructors, who are orthodontists.

The number of orthodontic programs and residents has grown in the past decade, according to Chris Bentsen, a North Carolina-based orthodontist who edits a newsletter spotlighting trends in the field, who said that in 2012, the nation's 65 residency programs produced 54 newly minted orthodontists a year -- an 18 percent increase from a decade ago.

Not only will Children's Hospital's Community Pediatrics division offer comprehensive orthodontic treatment for teeth, bite and jaw irregularities, but also the practice will offer Invisalign invisible braces and teeth whitening services, along with EarWell ear modeling for infants and a "commemorative casting" service for infants, children and adults. Providing "plaster replicas of your child's hands and feet are a great way to capture every milestone of your growing child," according to the news release.

Mackenzie Carpenter, mcarpenter@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1949. On Twitter @MackenziePG.

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