When your baby gets her first tooth, it’s a milestone worthy of a celebration. But when she gets older and your dentist recommends braces, perhaps because of an overbite, crooked or crowded teeth, you might need to brace yourself literally for some sticker shock.
Braces are expensive, and even if you have dental insurance, it may not cover much of the cost.
As of 2009, braces cost between $1,800 and $5,500, depending on the treatment’s length of time and complexity. Most treatment lasts between one to three years. If that is more than your budget allows, don’t throw in the towel until you explore all your options. A Kansas City orthodontic nonprofit organization, called Smiles Change Lives, is the nation’s leading provider of orthodontic care for low-income families. This group believes in the importance of self-esteem and confidence for a growing child, and having a healthy smile is one way to help a child achieve that. If you are a low-income family and your child is between 11 and 18 years old, you can apply to Smiles Change Lives to determine whether your child qualifies for the program and whether an orthodontist from the organization is in your geographic area. If you were approved, you would pay around $500, instead of a possible $5,000 for braces for your child.
Dentist Versus Orthodontist
Ask your dentist whether she can do braces. Some dentists do, and the cost may be less. To become an orthodontist, a dentist must train in orthodontics, which typically takes two to three years, according to the American Association of Orthodontists. Once a dentist specializes in orthodontics, she usually charges more for braces treatment than a dentist would charge because she is now an expert with specialized training. If you are going to pay full price for an orthodontist, make sure the orthodontist is a member of the American Association of Orthodontists or has certification with the American Board of Orthodontics.
Even though the cost of braces is high, most orthodontists offer payment plans. Sometimes, you can pay monthly without paying any interest, and sometimes you can negotiate the fee with your orthodontist. Shop around for different fees. If you prefer a certain orthodontist who happens to charge a higher fee, you can mention that you can get the same service elsewhere for less. Your orthodontist of choice may come down on his price.
You may be able to save some money if you can pay for the total cost upfront, by either cash or credit card. If you do pay by credit card, weigh the interest you pay on any balance you carry with the discount the orthodontist offers. For example, if the orthodontist only offers a 5 percent discount and your interest on the credit card is going to be 14 percent, go with the monthly payments to the orthodontist.
Many orthodontists want to start treating kids as young as age 7. The theory is that if your child has treatment early, the cost will be cheaper when your child is in her teens and invariably needs a second treatment. Inquire whether you can just wait for the second treatment, forgoing the first treatment altogether. The total bill after having early and late treatments can be more than if you just have the later treatment for your child, as William Gray Grieve, an Oregon orthodontist, told SmartMoney.