The last thing a financially struggling parent wants to see is their child’s teeth coming in crooked. After groceries, school clothes, car payments and the rent or mortgage, there may not be much left to pay for a trip to the orthodontist so the child can be fitted with braces.
But for those determined to help their child improve their smile, there are ways to work around those financial difficulties.
“Sometimes you must be creative, but many families who want to give their children orthodontic care can do so with a little planning and budgeting,” says Dr. Ana Castilla, an orthodontist and author of The Smile of Your Life: Everything You Need to Know for Your Orthodontic Journey (dranacastilla.com).
Dr. Castilla knows from personal experience what it’s like to be a child who needs and wants braces, but whose parents can’t afford them. She had to wait until she was an adult and could pay for them herself.
She says one of the first mistakes parents make is waiting until they think they can afford orthodontic treatment before taking their child in for an evaluation. However, waiting can only make the situation worse as many issues can be corrected easier and less expensively with early treatment.
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends children be seen by an orthodontist no later than age 7. Dr. Castilla encourages all parents to take advantage of free consultations offered by most orthodontists so they can become aware of any issues with their children’s teeth. She also has several recommendations for ways to work orthodontic treatment into the budget:
- Flexible financing. “Most orthodontic practices offer zero-interest in-house financing but not all of them are equally flexible in their payment plans,” says Dr. Castilla. She says parents should ask if they offer “extended financing.” This type of financing is longer than the length of treatment. For example, the treatment may last only 24 months, but the last payment may not be due for 36 months.
- Insurance. You are not required to have insurance to get orthodontic treatment. However, Dr. Castilla says if you do have insurance, be sure to read the policy. “You need to be your own advocate and learn the rules of your coverage,” she says. Many parents rely on an employer promises instead of reading the policy. “Just because your employer says you have coverage for braces, that doesn’t mean you are fully covered – or even covered at all,” says Dr. Castilla. There are many factors that affect coverage such as age limitations, waiting periods, and insurance payment schedules.
- Combine insurance policies if possible. If you and another member of your household have two or more separate insurance policies, there is a chance that both insurances can help pay for treatment. Your employer’s human resources department should be able to help you maximize your benefits.
- Use flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts. “Many employers offer these accounts to their employees to help them manage their health expenses,” says Dr. Castilla. Employees can contribute tax-free dollars for payment of qualified medical expenses, such as orthodontics.
- Use third-party financing companies (medical credit cards). This is not the No. 1 option that Dr. Castilla recommends because of high interest rates. “I would only consider this option if you cannot find an orthodontist that offers extended financing near you,” she says. “Make sure you read the fine print.”
“I hated my teeth as a child, but I kept it to myself because I knew my parents could not afford braces for me,” Dr. Castilla says. “When I was finally able as an adult to fix my smile, I realized what a negative impact my old smile had on my self esteem. That’s why I want to help as many parents as possible afford a bright smile for their kids.”