Years ago, braces were the bane of the teenager’s existence: there was simply no way to be cool with metal lining in your teeth. And, don’t even suggest the possibility of headgear! I’ll just curl up and die right here on the orthodontist’s floor instead.
Of course, the situation is very different today as orthodontic technology has made tremendous progress. (And, maybe kids today are a little more mature and accepting of other people’s challenges… or not.) As a result, braces and other methods of straightening the teeth and jaw have become popular even among adults who want to fix a crooked smile. More patients are willing to consider wearing an appliance at the dentist’s recommendation if it’s less painful and can be almost invisible in some cases.
Unfortunately, a popular trend and modern technology also means that braces can be expensive, and they’re often not covered in full by traditional dental insurance. With the average retail cost of braces ranging from $1,500 to $13,000 (depending on where it’s performed and what styles or materials are chosen), whether or not to get braces is a major financial decision for most families.
So, if you’re hoping to straighten your smile and the dentist recommends braces, how can you afford it? This article will cover some strategies you can implement to help cover the costs of orthodontic treatments and put this valuable service within reach for you and your family.
Start with your dental insurance
Generally speaking, no major medical insurance plan offers coverage toward orthodontics. That includes standard Medicare.
However, if you have a separate policy for dental insurance, the plan most likely offers coverage toward braces and other orthodontics up to a maximum annual payout (usually $1,500 per person, or a higher total for the whole family.) Combined with the lower contracted fees participating providers have agreed to accept for the consultation and follow-up visits, this type of dental insurance coverage can cover a significant portion of the cost of getting braces.
It won’t cover all of it, though, so there are still other options to consider.
Next, explore dental discount plans
Similar to insurance, dental discount plans will have a panel of participating dentists who have agreed to offer their services at discounted rates to plan members. Assuming the plan you join includes discounts toward orthodontic services and appliances, this can be an excellent way to save money.
If you have both insurance and a discount plan available, it’s important to thoroughly research coverage details and discuss the matter frankly with the orthodontist’s office prior to moving forward with any procedure. This will allow you to determine which option saves you more money while allowing the provider to offer the best services and materials for your situation. It’s unlikely for the provider to allow both insurance AND a discount program to be applied to the same procedure, but that’s generally left up to the provider, so it doesn’t hurt to ask if that’s an option.
One potential advantage of the discount plan over time is the fact that there are no limits to how many times the discount can be applied. Since getting braces means not just a consultation and installation, but dozens of follow-up visits to inspect and adjust them, your overall out-of-pocket expense may be lower with the discount plan.
Financing through the office
These days, many dentists and orthodontists have set up programs, either privately or through a third-party lender, to offer financing for expensive procedures they know most patients can’t afford to pay for all at once. You should discuss this with each office to learn about the plan set up, interest rates, payment terms, and other details unique to that location.
While these kinds of private financing options usually end up more expensive than paying cash upfront for the services, the interest rates and terms tend to be more favorable than the average American’s available credit card or personal loan options. Low credit scores tend to be less of a deterrent than in other financing situations, too. Especially if used in combination with insurance or a discount plan, financing the remaining balance of your braces through the office can prove to be a convenient and cost-effective option.
Conventional credit or savings
A final option to consider is paying for braces using your personal credit card(s), a personal loan or line of credit, or funds from a savings account or retirement fund.
Since it can be a significant purchase, each person needs to make their own decision on how highly they value the benefits of receiving braces compared to the cost of credit or the limitations it may place on future spending. Similarly, if you’re going to take a large amount of cash out of a savings account or retirement fund, be sure you’re truly viewing the purchase as a valuable investment and not just an impulse buy. It would be advisable to discuss it with your financial planner first.
Regardless of your personal financial situation, the decision to get braces is a big one and it deserves time and attention. If you don’t currently have dental insurance or a dental discount plan at your disposal, obtaining one or both is a logical first step in the process. Then, follow through with adequate due diligence and enlist your orthodontist’s help in choosing the best options for your situation.