how to save money

How to Save Money on Braces

These seven strategies can help lower the cost of orthodontic care.

I just found out that both of my daughters will need braces. The cost of traditional braces can range from $3,000 to $7,000, according to figures from Embrace-It, an online braces resource for parents sponsored by Crest and Oral-B. So if my son ends up needing braces, too, the amount we’ll have to spend to straighten all three kids’ teeth could cover a year’s worth of college tuition at a state school. Unfortunately, our dental insurance won’t do much to offset the cost.

Some dental insurance plans do cover a portion of the cost of braces -- typically 50% with a $1,500 lifetime maximum per child, according to Embrace-It. So it’s worthwhile to check with your employer to see if dental insurance is available to you and what sort of coverage it will provide for orthodontic care. Even with insurance, you still might have to cover a lot of the cost on your own. So here are several ways to save money if your child needs braces.

Start treatment early. Treating some issues early can help avoid more complicated -- i.e. expensive -- treatment later, says DeWayne McCamish, an orthodontist in Chattanooga, Tenn., and secretary/treasurer of the American Association of Orthodontists. Schedule a consultation with an orthodontist when your child’s 6-year-old molars and permanent teeth start coming in to find out whether there are problems that need to be fixed sooner rather than later. Most orthodontists don’t charge for consultations. You might learn that you still have several years before your child needs braces -- giving you time to save up for them.

Comparison shop. Get estimates from more than one orthodontist because you might find that the price of treatment varies. Just make sure you’re comparing costs for the same type of treatment.

Ask about payment plans. One way to soften the blow of braces on your budget is to spread out the cost over several months or years. Most orthodontists offer payment plans and don’t charge interest, McCamish says. Third-party payment plans might offer smaller monthly payments because they spread them out over longer periods, but McCamish says that they typically charge interest -- which means you’ll pay a higher total cost.

Pay the total fee upfront. You might be able to get a discount of 5% to 8% if you pay the total fee for braces at once rather than in installments, McCamish says. Also ask about discounts if you have more than one child who will need braces.

Get treatment at a dental school. If you live near a school of dentistry with an orthodontic program, you may save up to 50% off the cost of braces if your child receives treatment from students (under the supervision of a professional), McCamish says. Expect appointments and the treatment period to be longer because it’s a learning environment.

Use flex account money. If your employer offers a flexible spending account (FSA), you can set aside up to $2,500 a year pre-tax to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses including orthodontic care. If you spread treatment over two years, you could use up to $5,000 of flex funds to cover the bills. The tax savings could cover 25% or more of the cost.

See if you qualify for free braces. There are several programs that provide free (or almost free) braces for children of low-income families. The Smile for a Lifetime Foundation has 150 chapters in 44 states that provide free braces for six or more kids annually per chapter. The Smiles Change Lives program is available in 50 states and requires a $30 application fee and a $600 investment from families. The Donated Orthodontic Services program is offered in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, New Jersey and Rhode Island and requires a $200 investment from families. You can call 866-572-9390 to find out if an orthodontist in your area participates in the Donated Orthodontic Services program.

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