Orthodontia isn’t cheap. Is there a way you can save money on braces for yourself or your children?
In fact, there are lots of ways.
Many years ago, orthodontia was considered cosmetic and not medically necessary, and thus insurance didn’t cover the service. Crooked teeth were an announcement to the world that your parents couldn’t afford braces.
But the truth is, orthodontia isn’t just about looks; it’s about function. WebMD warns that if your teeth don’t meet the way they should, it can affect your ability to properly chew food. Crooked teeth can also lead to temporomandibular jaw disorder, a painful and sometimes debilitating condition. Misaligned teeth can be difficult to clean as well, and this can cause cavities and gum disease.
Today, most good insurance plans pay for at least a portion of the cost of braces, which can run from $3,000 to more than $7,000, according to Oral-B. Some cut-rate insurance plans insist on documentation proving the teeth are leaning or rotated to a particular degree before they will pay.
Save Money by Shopping Around
Regardless of the type of insurance you have, you will likely be left paying for some portion of the cost of braces. The best and easiest way to save money on this service is to shop around. Ask all your friends who have had braces, or whose kids have had braces, whether they liked their orthodontist. Make a list of the ones who get a thumbs up, then schedule consultations with a few.
Initial consultations are often free — if the orthodontist you call charges for a consultation, move them to the bottom of the list.
Also, check third-party review sites like Yelp to see what others are saying about the orthodontist. Really read a few of the reviews — don’t just check the number of stars. Complainers might list inconveniences like problems parking or long waiting times for appointments. While these are inconveniences, what you are really looking for is an orthodontist who produces results at a good price.
The cost of braces can vary widely, based on the type you choose and the orthodontist you choose.
Which Braces Save the Most Money?
The cheapest braces are the standard metal kind. They are much smaller and less obtrusive now than they were in the old days, but they’re still not pretty. And the average time span for wearing them is about two years. Kids in elementary or middle school like the different colored rubber bands they can choose at each visit — adults, not so much.
Some older teenagers and adults opt for the Invisalign system to straighten their teeth. These are clear plastic aligning trays that snap over the teeth and can be removed for special occasions. It sounds attractive and convenient, and it is, but customers can pay as much as 100 percent more for this type of orthodontia, and not all orthodontists offer it. Plus, it doesn’t work on every type of orthodontic problem, so it may not be right for you.
Ceramic braces are more like traditional braces, but they have clear brackets. The arch wires are metal though, so it looks more like a retainer than braces. They move teeth faster than Invisalign trays, and they look better than metal braces. The ceramic is less durable, however, so if you or your child plays sports, this may not be the best choice for you. Ceramic braces cost more than metal braces, but less than Invisalign.
Fees Vary Greatly
Once you know what kind of braces you want, you’ll want to get quotes from your chosen orthodontists. Beware: Some practices charge as much as twice the price that others do for the same service. Whereas you want good care, it is unlikely one orthodontist’s treatment is worth double that of another. And since you are only visiting orthodontists recommended to you by friends or online review sites, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about the quality of care.
Most orthodontists set patients up on a payment plan. On your initial consultation, they find out how much — if any — your insurance company will contribute, then they break up the remaining amount into the number of months treatment is expected to take. Costs can range anywhere from $100 to $300 per month for about two years.
Usually, the cost of braces is a flat fee and not based on how many times you visit the office. Most patients get an adjustment every six to eight weeks, but sometimes need to come in between visits for issues such as broken wires. A large number of orthodontia patients report having their braces on for longer than expected. While this can be disappointing, know that there is no extra charge for this.
More Ways to Save Money on Braces
If you can pay for the cost of braces upfront, your orthodontist might offer a discount. It’s worth asking. Five percent of $3,000 is $150, which can buy you a few tanks of gas. If the discount is less than 5 percent, or if paying upfront would be difficult for you, it’s probably not worth it, since most orthodontic payment plans don’t charge interest.
If you have a medical flexible spending account, use it to pay your orthodontia bills. At a 22 percent tax rate, if you pay $100 a month for orthodontia, you could save $360 per year. To figure how much you can save, plug your numbers into this FSA savings calculator.
Kiplinger recommends checking with a dental school if you have one in your area. Like hairdressing and technical schools, dental schools may offer care provided by students at a deeply discounted rate.
If you are a legitimately low-income family, you may qualify for a special program called Smiles Change Lives that provides braces for children whose families cannot afford the full cost. This program is open to children between the ages of 7 and 21 who have a moderate to severe need for braces. The family must fall below income requirements and must pay a $30 application fee, plus $650 for treatment.
This program relies on orthodontists to provide treatment at a discount, so many areas have waiting lists. The website allows you to check the wait time in your city or town.
One method of saving money on braces you may have heard of and will likely want to avoid — taking matters into your own hands. YouTube is rife with videos made by people who closed gaps in their teeth at home with rubber bands or dental floss and others who claim to have straightened their teeth with their tongue.
While you can technically shift your teeth with rubber bands, if they move too quickly, they are likely to move back quickly as well. Hence the reason orthodontists recommend wearing a retainer to sleep (and sometimes all day, too).
Another way to save money straightening teeth is by using one of the many online providers that send aligning trays to your home. Beware, however. Although these companies charge less, the service is not always worth it.
Check reviews before investing any money with any of these companies. Although some appear to have mostly positive reviews, a quick read divulges that most were written after only one visit. Negative reviews came later after patients found poor customer service resulted in delayed shipments, poor-fitting aligners, and unsatisfactory results.
No one wants to pay more for a product or service than they have to. It’s usually worth your time to shop around for the best deal before making a substantial purchase. For more tips on the best ways to save money, sign up for our newsletter now!