INSIDE: Worried about how to pay for braces? Costing more than $3,000, they aren’t cheap! Learn the simple ways to save money on braces or spacers.
Braces are expensive. There’s no getting around that. But there are things parents can do to help pay for orthodontic care.
I’ve got three kids, and the youngest is already getting a spacer (also called a palatal expander). My oldest will need braces this spring, and my son will be in his spacer in a few months as well.
If you have a dental insurance plan, it may cover as much as 50% of the cost. You may be able to get dental insurance through your employer, or you can get it through the Health Insurance Marketplace when you enroll in an eligible health plan or dental plan during the Open Enrollment Period or Special Enrollment Period. But even if insurance pays 50% of the cost, that still leaves the remaining balance as your responsibility. You’ll need to find a way to save money on braces and spacers.
HOW MUCH DO BRACES FOR KIDS COST?
Depending on your child’s needs and the area you live in, the cost of braces can run anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000 or more!! While the cost of the expander may be included, it may not be. Traditional metal braces typically cost less than ceramic braces, lingual braces (braces placed behind the teeth) and clear aligners, such as Invisalign.
We recently visited our orthodontist for our oldest daughter. The total cost for the spacers for braces, expander, braces, retainer and all visits will be $3,300. That’s a lot of money!! And because we’ll need to do this for three kids, it will cost around $10,000 out of our pocket!! YIKES!
This is a situation all too familiar to many parents. How can you save money on braces when there’s no sale or discount? It seems impossible. But it doesn’t have to be. There are some ways to lower the cost for your child’s orthodontics.
HOW TO PAY FOR BRACES & SPACERS
1. COMPARE PRICES OF BRACES
Not all orthodontists charge the same amount for braces. You’ll find that costs vary greatly between offices. Before you decide where to go, do your research. Most offices offer a free orthodontic consultation, so you can find out the cost, payment plans and discount plans they may offer.
Make sure it’s also the right office and you like the doctor. While one doctor may be less expensive than another, he or she may not have the best reviews or do the best work. You certainly don’t want to use the wrong orthodontist; it could end up costing you more in the long run.
2. PAY FOR YOUR BRACES WITH CASH UP FRONT
Many offices offer a discount if you pay your entire bill up front. The office we go to gives a 5% discount when the bill is paid at the time of the first visit.
When you have your initial consultation, ask the office manager about possible cash or sibling discounts. We were able to save more than $100 by going back to the same office. Between the cash and the referral discount, we shaved hundreds off the total cost.
Some offices may not initially show you a cash discount offer, so be sure you inquire. And while 5% doesn’t sound like much, it’s still money in your pocket. In the case of our family, which will have three kids go through this, we’ll save more than $600 in total!!! So every penny counts!
Related: How the Cash Envelope System Saves Me Money
3. START EARLY
With many medical conditions, early intervention is key. The same is true with braces. If you can get your child into an expander at the right age, the final costs and needs when he or she is older may be minimized.
In addition, if you know your child will need braces in three to four years, you can start saving now so you’re prepared when the bill arrives (and can then take advantage of that cash discount). Start cutting back on your monthly bills, such as groceries and dining out. When you need to save for a big expense such as this, the sooner you start, the better!
Related: Why You Need to Set Financial Goals; How to Build Your Savings (i.e. How to save money for braces)
4. GET LESS-EXPENSIVE BRACES THROUGH A DENTAL SCHOOL
If you live in an area that has a dental school, it’s a great way to save money on braces. The students need to learn, and helping them do so can save you as much as 50% or more on the cost of braces.
All work is done alongside a dental professional, so you know it will be done the right way. The only downsides to using a school are that the visits can take longer and the number of available office visits each day is limited.
5. SEE IF YOU QUALIFY FOR FREE BRACES
Oh, how I wish this program had been around when I needed braces!! It would have helped my mother immensely because she could not afford them. Therefore, I had to go without.
That’s something I wish on no one. If your child needs braces but you are financially strapped, you may want to learn if you can qualify for free braces. Smiles Change Lives offers nearly free braces to families in all 50 states. You need to complete an application and pay a $30 application fee. If you’re accepted, you’ll pay just $650 – instead of $3,000 or more!
If you don’t qualify for Smiles Change Lives, there are other subsidy programs to help you pay for braces. Check with your orthodontist about the American Association of Orthodontists program called Donated Orthodontic Services. It initially launched in select states but has recently expanded nationwide. This is another program that offers deeply discounted orthodontics to select lower-income families who don’t have any type of dental insurance for their children. Because this is only available through select offices, you’ll need to call 866-572-9390 to find a participating office near you.
Medicaid also often covers orthodontic care when braces are deemed medically necessary for a child in a low-income family.
6. PAY FOR BRACES THROUGH YOUR FLEXIBLE SPENDING ACCOUNT
If your employer offers a flexible spending account (FSA), be sure you use it! With a flexible spending account, the cost of the braces or expanders is paid before you have to pay income tax on the money. A similar plan is a health savings account (HSA), which is paired with a high-deductible health insurance plan. An FSA or HSA won’t save you money at the orthodontic office, but at least you won’t be paying Uncle Sam before you pay your orthodontist. (Note, though, that you typically must use the money you contribute to an FSA within a year or it is forfeited.)
7. SET UP A PAYMENT PLAN
Orthodontists realize that the cost of braces is a financial burden for many families. Most of them offer flexible payment options, such as an installment payment plan. Rather than paying the total up front, you can break up the cost into easy-to-manage monthly payments.
And most will not charge interest, which makes it a better option than taking out a loan or paying the fee with your credit card. But be careful about using a third-party provider because it may charge interest at a higher rate than you would be charged elsewhere.
First published in 2018. Updated in February 2021.