How to handle the cost of braces for your children

Less Expensive Braces

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How to Handle the Price of Braces

We know that braces are going to very costly (anywhere from $3-5,000). We don't have a dental school nearby (I live in Canada . When I lived in Philadelphia there was an excellent one there). Any tips on how to make it through this?? This is the oldest of four children.
Marja-Liisa B. of Addison, Ontario

Don't Jump In

It is difficult to determine a child's need for braces without consulting first with an orthodontist. Some orthodontic problems simply require moving a few teeth. Others are more complicated. They may even involve moving teeth and altering the jaw bones.

You do not say whether you have seen an orthodontist for a consultation yet. For the price of a consultation, you will get an idea of how complicated your child's case will be. The more involved it is, the more costly it is. You can get them to print out an estimate. The advice of a professional as to what to expect is certainly worth the consult costs. You can also try shopping around since every orthodontist will have a slightly different and maybe even less expensive approach. But beware. You will probably be charged a consultation fee for each opinion. Ask if there is a fee. Some may not charge for a superficial examination.

There are several preventive measures you can take:

  1. Make sure cavities in baby teeth are filled right away. These baby teeth are vital for "holding the space" for the permanent teeth to come. If they are left to decay, the child's jaw will lose space and the permanent teeth will be crowded. If a baby molar is extracted prematurely, get your dentist to make a little metal space maintainer. It's made to hold the space open until the permanent tooth erupts.
  2. Better yet, make sure your child is getting fluoride treatments twice a year and brushing with a fluoride toothpaste. Watch out for bargain toothpastes. The expiry date on the tube will determine the life of the fluoride. If it is expired, it's no bargain!
  3. See an orthodontist early if you suspect that there is going to be a crowding problem. Your child may not have enough "parking space" for all those permanent teeth. An orthodontist or pedodontist may be able to recommend a cheaper intermediate appliance that may fix the problem as its developing. But you have to catch it early. I have even seen children work with the end of a Popsicle stick every night to pop a crooked tooth into place. Caution! This must be done early and under supervision of a dental professional!

If you've done everything that you can and your child still needs braces, you may want to check into getting dental insurance for that time period. The premiums may turn out to be worth it compared to the price of orthodontics. If you have a policy or are thinking about getting one, check the coverage for orthodontics. Often there is a maximum per child for the total treatment. You need to read the policy carefully. There may be a lot of "dentaleeze" in there so get your dentist to translate before you commit.

One final thought: The dentist I work for belongs to a Barter Network. He often trades services for his work. If you have something you can trade, its worth asking. You may be able to contact a bartering network in your area. They charge a fee to join the network but it would certainly be worthwhile if there is an orthodontist or pedodontist on the network too.
Mira, Registered Dental H

Related: Cut Down Your Dentist's Bill

Payment Options

Check to see if your employer has a medical spending program. This is a program whereby a specified amount of money is taken out of your paycheck on a pretax basis. It cuts down on your taxes and you can send in for reimbursements immediately at January 1 of each year, even if the full amount has not been taken out yet.

Another option is to begin to prepay immediately with your selected orthodontist, before your child has braces put on.

Also you can perhaps look for a younger orthodontist that may be starting his/her own practice right out of their training program. Often their fees are lower and they may be willing to take a portion of the fee off for a confirmed referral. This latter option you may even be able to work out with a more established doctor.

Above all, do not be afraid to approach the doctor himself/herself (in fact if you are going to propose something out of the ordinary, start with the doctor). Oftentimes, the billing people will tell that something is not possible when the doctor will agree to a proposal. This is because the billing/administrative/secretarial people are working from a set of ground rules but the doctor has the ultimate say.

Related: How to Avoid Dental Scams

Problems to Avoid

My wife used to work at one of the largest dental care/braces manufacturers in the world. During her stay there she was amazed at what people and dentists would do to save a dollar. When looking around for braces you should go to an orthodontist for anything more than minor repairs. Many dentists do braces, but only have a weekend's worth of specialized training apart from they initially learned in dental school. If you are not careful, they can mess up your teeth (root absorption).

Always ask your dentist/orthodontist if they reprocess the braces. (These are second hand braces) Reprocessed braces have a much higher rate of not sticking to your teeth - hence more visits. They also do not fit as well since they may have been manipulated to fit the previous patient.

The latest thing is positioners. Some dentist are trying to use fancy plastic retainers to correct teeth instead of braces. This should be used after you had braces, not instead of braces.

I honestly had 10 years of braces before I met my wife. Trust me, It's worth paying a little more for someone with the proper education and the right practices.

Shop Around

I do think it's important to check around for an orthodontist. This is something your child will have to live with the rest of his/her life. We were new to town when this all began so we got a referral from our own dentist and then called our friends' dentists to ask who they referred to. That gave us a list of people to begin interviewing. Some say one orthodontist is the same as another but, after interviewing quite a few, I disagree. One kept me and several children waiting 30 minutes after ushering us into an exam room (which incorrectly led me to believe that he would soon appear). Another offered us a "deal" financially but reminded me of a snake oil salesman. It eventually turned out that his diagnosis and treatment plan was different from all the other orthodontists we interviewed. The one we decided on was the one who did the most thorough exam at the first visit and encouraged us repeatedly to ask questions, call him if we thought of something later, etc. He had a combination of experience and being current on all the latest developments in the field.
Mary W

Are You Sure?

When my daughter was 11 (and I was a single mom with dental insurance that did not cover orthodontics!) my dentist informed me that she needed braces. I could not see a problem at all in this child's mouth - in fact, everybody comments on how beautiful her smile is. He said she had a "cross-bite" whatever that is. I wanted a second opinion, so I asked around and got the name of a highly regarded orthodontist and scheduled an appointment. It cost me $150 out of my pocket for the X-rays and molds, but he told me that it was really not necessary for her to have braces. She had a very slight bite problem but it didn't have to be corrected. People live with a lot worse. Besides, he said - she already has a beautiful smile! It was well worth the $150 to find that out, instead of paying the $3000+ it would have cost. After that I changed dentists and our new one agrees that she does not need braces. The moral of this story: GET A SECOND OPINION. Unless your child has a cosmetic dental problem, or has trouble chewing, or has a lisp, there's a big chance your dentist just needs a new boat!

Cover the Price of Braces with a Payment Plan

I live in Ontario as well and I had braces put on at the age of 21. It was one of the first things I wanted to do when I got my first job. Having straight teeth did wonders for my confidence in myself.

I'm not sure if this reader has a job with benefits but if so, they may wish to check with their benefits plan. A lot of benefit plans through work will cover some of the cost of braces. This is mostly for children under 18. Because of course, when I started working full time, I wasn't under 18, I was not covered. Fortunately for me, the orthodontist that I went to had me pay on a monthly plan with no interest. (But I'm sure he made his money!) When I had them put on I had to pay $900.00 up front. After that I paid monthly for the 2 1/2 years I had braces, $80/month for the first two years and $60/month for the remaining 1/2 year. When my braces were off, I stopped paying. I had my braces taken off in 1995 and had to wear a retainer for a year, plus I still go once a year for a check up. All of this was included in the price.

It is well worth the money but you can always work out a payment plan with your orthodontist. If he is not willing, you may have to shop around.
DW in Waterloo, Ontario

Reviewed March 2018

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