Take a bite out of orthodontist bills
Braces make a world of difference -- and not just for cosmetic reasons. Here are some ways to bring down the costs.
Like any dental care, orthodontic treatment is costly. But there are a few ways around the high cost of a healthy smile.
These days the emphasis is on health as much as appearance. Properly aligned teeth and jaws improve the way a person bites, chews and speaks.
Flashing the tin grin now will affect dental exams in the future, too.
Teeth that fit neatly together are also "easier to clean and maintain, which means they're less prone to plaque formation, cavities and gum disease," according to a staff-written article on MayoClinic.com.
Not all dental insurance plans include orthodontic treatment, and more than 130 million Americans have no dental coverage of any kind. If that's you and someone in your family needs braces, keep reading.
Deeply discounted care
Depending on your income level you might be eligible for free or nearly free orthodontic care through programs such as Smiles Change Lives and the Smile for a Lifetime Foundation. The American Association of Orthodontists has a state-by-state list (.pdf file) of programs providing this kind of care.
Note: Each program has different qualifications -- e.g., that the child can't be older than 18. Because it can take up to a year to be approved, look into these programs now, but prepare to wait.
- Bing: Who invented braces?
Another cost-cutting tactic: Seek treatment at a dental school with an orthodontics program. The total bill varies depending on the school (the orthodontists association doesn't track pricing), but it will definitely be lower than that of an established orthodontic practice.
Some colleges accept Medicaid-authorized cases. It's also possible that a child with an unusually challenging malocclusion will have treatment fees waived entirely, according to Dr. Sundaralingam Premaraj of the University of Nebraska.
Since university programs may not offer as many appointment options as a full-time orthodontics practice, this isn't an option for everyone. Additionally, there's no guarantee your child will be accepted; dental schools seek a mix of common and unusual cases in order to give residents the most comprehensive training possible.
If you can work within those parameters, though, you'll save some bucks. The AAO maintains a list of accredited orthodontics schools in 32 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and five Canadian provinces.
Two more tactics
No dental school nearby? Don't qualify for reduced-fee care? Try a discount dental plan, for which you pay an annual fee and get treatment at discounts of up to 60%. Some of these plans include orthodontic care.
The savings can be considerable. Steven Less, of Vernon Hills, Ill., got estimates that ranged from $4,930 to $6,200. Through a discount dental plan Less found an orthodontist who charged $2,998 -- and who offered a 5% discount for full payment upfront. Thus he wound up paying $2,848 for his son's braces, a savings he calls "incredible."
"That's three thousand found dollars," Less says.
Look for plans through sites like New Dental Choice and DentalPlans.com. Before you sign up for a plan, make sure that orthodontists in your area participate and are accepting new patients.
Finally, try negotiating a better price. In an article called "Tips for keeping dental costs down," Consumer Reports suggests researching typical insurance-paid rates in your region and asking orthodontists to accept that fee (or less) in cash. Look up those rates at FairHealthConsumer.org and HealthCareBlueBook.com.
Readers: Have any kids in braces? Are you paying out of pocket or does your insurance plan chip in?
More on MSN Money:
True Dental Discounts - www.truedentaldiscounts.com that offers 20-60% in dental savings.
@Donna_Freeman the link for the article "Tips for keeping dental costs down" is a 404 error link same with the "no dental coverage of any kind"... other than that its a great article thanks!
I ended up with a minor oral surgery to correct a defect not diagnosed when I was younger. I have been out of braces for several years now and it was the best quality of life improvement I could have done for myself.
I was fortunate that my employer provided a modest assist in paying for the work.
My wife is a dentist and sometimes regrets not being an endodontist. She says that they are grossing about $2 million in our area. It's certainly not hard work and the liability is minimal.
Thanks, Donna, for these tips. My oldest son is going to need extensive orthodontic work, and I had pretty much resigned myself to having to pay it all out of pocket (no dental insurance). I may not qualify for any of these things, but who knows what will turn up!
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