Kids fear braces because their peers can be judgmental. Parents fear braces because they’re expensive.
Insurers rarely foot the bill, even though treatment is often needed for health reasons in addition to aesthetics. But that’s no reason to shy away from necessary dental work.
Following are ways to cut the costs of this work — in some cases, by a substantial amount.
1. Check programs for low-income families
Smiles Change Lives is a national program that pairs low-income families with charitable orthodontists.
Qualifying for the program depends on your family income, number of people in your household and where you live — and can be determined through this short questionnaire.
Also, check out the American Association of Orthodontists’ Donated Orthodontic Services program, which provides orthodontic care to underserved children who don’t have insurance coverage or can’t qualify for other assistance.
The Dental Lifeline Network’s national Donated Dental Services program gives free, comprehensive dental treatment to people who have a disability, are elderly or are medically fragile. Braces may be included.
2. Evaluate your insurance
If you have dental insurance, check your policy and see if orthodontic treatment is covered, partially or at all. In rare cases, the insurer may pay up to half the cost.
3. Consider dental savings plans
If you have a lousy policy or none at all, consider a dental savings plan. By paying an annual fee, you can get a price break at participating orthodontists.
Make sure you understand the policy’s limitations — read the fine print — and that your orthodontist or dentist participates in the network.
4. Try dental schools
Many dental schools offer services similar to private practices, and some do it for significantly less than what local orthodontists charge.
While students are not the most experienced of dental professionals, they do have extensive training. (Orthodontics is a specialty that requires years of training beyond dental school.) Professional orthodontists supervise the students.
The AAO has a list of accredited orthodontic programs in each state
Sometimes rates for orthodontic treatment are fixed. But you won’t know until you ask, and you may find an orthodontist who’s more flexible than you expected, especially if you can detail your financial difficulties.
6. Ask about payment plans
While some orthodontists are inflexible on price, they may be flexible on time. Ask about payment plans — monthly payment options are common. Be sure to get the plan in writing upfront.
7. Shop around
Braces are expensive, but prices vary among providers. Ask for recommendations from family and friends, but don’t jump on the first offer you hear.
8. Inquire about cash discounts
If you don’t need a payment plan, go in the other direction and ask about a discount for paying cash upfront.
9. Ask about procedures or charges that might be unnecessary
Orthodontists sometimes recommend work that will produce the best results fast. But such treatment might be beyond what you want, need or can afford. Be firm in asking what’s really necessary in your case.
10. Be wary of third-party payment plans
Your dentist may offer the option of a third-party payment plan, but these often charge big interest fees compared with arrangements made directly with the dental office.
If your dentist doesn’t accept payment arrangements, visit a bank or credit union to discuss loans and compare the costs of borrowing.
What’s your experience handling the cost of dental and orthodontic work? Share your thoughts in comments below or on our Facebook page.
Marilyn Lewis contributed to this post.