My oldest child is now in second grade, and apparently orthodontia treatment starts way earlier than it used to when I was growing up. Braces have always been a dreaded expense for parents, but I’ve discovered that there are things we can do to minimize the cost. And the wonderful thing is, these tips apply to almost all planned medical and dental expenses. Here are ways to keep costs down:
1. Communicate with your dentist or doctor. Doctors and dentists often speak in vague terms about future treatment – e.g., “you’ll need to have that done at some point” or, “in a couple of years.” You need a more specific timeline in order to plan properly, so get your doctor to be more precise. If it’s an elective procedure, you’ll still want to ask when the best time to have the procedure is so you can plan ahead. You especially want to think in terms of the calendar year for your health and/or dental insurance coverage, and/or your Flexible Spending Account (see below).
2. Find our what your insurance covers. Coverage for treatments vary widely by insurance provider and contract, so you’ll want to find out exactly how much your insurance company will pay and how much you’ll have to pay out of pocket. Then you can figure out how to pay the part that will be your obligation.
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3. Get referrals and check them out. Ask your doctor/dentist as well as your friends for referrals (though you might want to run your friends’ referrals past your doctor first). Then shop around – the best orthodontists, dentists and doctors are not necessarily the most expensive. And the difference between one orthodontist and another can be thousands of dollars.
4. Contribute to your FSA, if available. Not all employers offer a Flexible Spending Account, which is an account that holds pre-tax contributions that can be applied to qualifying medical and dental expenses. If your employer does offer an FSA, be sure to take advantage of it. Contribute the amount you expect to pay in the next year for your treatment, and you won’t have to pay income tax on it.
5. Talk with your children about their responsibilities when it comes to orthodontia. This final tip applies specifically to kids and orthodontia, but it’s born of personal experience. I have to admit, I was one of those kids who didn’t wear my retainer religiously. Consequently, my bottom teeth don’t look like I ever had braces – and so my parents’ money was essentially wasted. Therefore, I think it’s important to talk with kids about the cost of orthodontia and the responsibility they will have to take in making and keeping it effective, and to decide together whether the cost of orthodontia is really worth it.