How to Afford Braces
In these tough economic times, it's getting harder and harder to justify the expense of orthodontic braces. If you're lucky enough to have dental insurance which covers orthodontic treatment, you may wind up only paying a small percentage of the total cost. But if you don't have dental insurance, and are not on any sort of dental plan, the expense can be daunting. The average cost for 24 months (2 years) of metal braces is between $3,500 and $7,000, depending upon where you live. Costs are usually higher in urban areas (versus rural areas).
There are several things you can do to lower the cost of orthodontic treatment, such as:
Call Your Insurance Company - If you have health insurance, it may include dental treatment and possibly also orthodontic treatment. Most health plans don't pay for orthodontic treatment for people over 18 years old, but they do cover children under age 18. Check with your company's benefits administrator, or call your insurance company directly. If you need jaw surgery or other facial surgery, some of that cost may be covered under your medical health plan instead of your dental plan.
Work Out a Payment Plan – When you get braces, you usually pay a down payment of anywhere from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, and then spread the rest of the expense over one or two years (like a car payment). When you consult with an orthodontist, find out whether any additional financing may be possible at no interest or low interest. Many orthodontists are willing to work with their patients, as long as they are getting paid some minimum amount of money each month. Some orthodontists may offer you a large discount for paying the entire fee upfront. While this is tempting, I wouldn't recommend it. Most treatment lasts two years. In that time, if you move or if the dental office closes, you may not be able to get back the balance of the money you paid.
Go to a Dentist Instead of an Orthodontist – Dentists usually charge less for braces then orthodontists. However, you need to understand that general dentists don't have the extra years of training in tooth movement that orthodontists do. If you are considering getting braces done by a general dentist, be sure to ask how many cases of braces he has done, and whether your case is complicated. It is often better to have a general dentist do “simple” tooth movement and leave the complicated treatment to an orthodontist. If your case is very complicated, it's possible that your dentist may not have enough experience to accomplish what must be done. Don't be afraid to ask questions!
Join a Dental Plan – Dental plans are not insurance plans; they are discount plans. You pay a monthly fee and can be treated by the dentists or orthodontists who participate in the plan. The rates are typically much less than treatment you would get outside of the plan. There are usually restrictions, however. For example, some plans will not cover orthodontic treatment that is already in progress. That means you need to join the dental plan before you get your braces. If you already have braces on, the treatment would not be covered. Some dental plans have a waiting period of several months to a year before you can start orthodontic treatment. So do your homework and compare several dental plans before you choose one. One good place to start is with DentalPlans.com. But do your math and make sure that the premium or service fee that you pay doesn't cost more than the treatment itself!
Search for a Discount Dental Group – Many areas across the nation have large chains of dental groups. For example, in the Western United States there is a group called Western Dental, which has many locations and offers a wide variety of treatments. Groups like this often charge less than individual non-affiliated dentists and orthodontists. The disadvantage is that you may not always be treated by the same orthodontist, because several doctors practice at the same location.
Investigate a Dental School – Is there a dental school in your area? If so, call and inquire whether they do braces for a discounted fee. Dental schools often offer low cost orthodontic services, which are performed by orthodontists in training. They are supervised by experienced orthodontists who are their professors, so there is very little risk involved. The American Association of Orthodontists has a list of accredited schools on this page.
Look into Government Programs - If you have a low income, you may be able to get orthodontic treatment under the Medicaid program. Check with your state's Medicaid office for details. Usually Medicaid doesn't cover minor cosmetic treatment; your case would need to be deemed medically necessary, and you would need to meet other financial guidelines. If you qualify for Medicare, that program might also provide dental benefits at a lower cost. If you're not sure which government programs may apply to you, contact your local social services agency.
Dental Charities – If you are truly underprivileged and cannot afford even a small portion of orthodontic treatment, two dental charities might be able to help you. Check out the Smiles For A Lifetime Foundation and Smiles Change Lives. If you are accepted into their programs, you or your child could get braces for free or for a very low cost!
It's a shame to go through life with crooked teeth or a functional jaw problem just because you can't afford to “get it fixed.” Hopefully this information will lead you in the right direction, so you can end up with the smile of your dreams.
About The Author
Lynn S. is the founder and owner of DentaKit.com. Shortly after getting braces in 2001 at age 41, Lynn realized that there was no convenient way for her to find the orthodontic products she needed locally. She created DentaKit.com to give orthodontic patients easy access to products that would help keep their braces and retainers clean and comfortable. Along the way, she also created ArchWired.com and its Metal Mouth Message Board to provide vital information and an online community for adults who have orthodontic braces.
Lynn has a degree in Communications and Journalism, with a focus on scientific writing and research. Before founding DentaKit.com, she was a technical writer and technical trainer for various high-tech companies in Silicon Valley. Since starting DentaKit.com 15+ years ago, she has attended many meetings of various dental associations, and has read and researched extensively on a variety of orthodontic and dental subjects. The articles she writes are always vetted by one or more orthodontists or dentists before they are published.