How Do People Afford Orthodontia For Their Kids Without Going Broke?

by Annie Reneau
Originally Published: 
Eleonora Grunge / Shutterstock

When I was a kid, I wanted braces so badly. My teeth were a bit crooked, but not crooked enough to need orthodontia, much to my chagrin.

I would gaze with envy at my friends who sported “tinsel teeth.” I would even open up paperclips and (stupidly) form them across my teeth to imagine what braces would feel and look like. It wasn’t so much about getting straight teeth as it was that I thought braces seemed cool.

I’d give anything to reclaim that romantic view of orthodontia.

We’ve recently learned that two of our three kids will need braces. One of them has fairly minor issues, and the other has a severe crossbite that will require extensive work. When we took them into the orthodontist for a consult, I knew that it was going to be expensive. But when they handed me the piece of paper with the estimate, I seriously had to hold back tears.

For my daughter, it was a little more than $4,000. For my son with the crossbite, it was slightly more — just for the “first phase.” We are looking at nearly $9,000, plus whatever the “second phase” will be.

We have dental insurance. The lifetime limit per person for orthodontia is $1500, which is pretty standard from what I understand. And while $6,000 (plus whatever comes after the first phase) is better than $9000, that’s still six-thousand-freaking-dollars.

How on earth do people afford this?!

As I stared at the estimate, every family vacation for the foreseeable future flashed before my eyes. Our older daughter will be starting college in a year and a half, and that looming expense was already weighing on us. We are pretty solid middle-class Americans, and shelling out thousands and thousands of dollars is a big deal. How do the vast majority of people pay for this stuff?

The orthodontist offers an interest-free payment plan, or a 5% discount paying the whole thing up front. The interest-free plan is nice, but it doesn’t change the fact that we’re going to be shelling out a buttload of money. Breaking it up into smaller chunks doesn’t change the total.

If it were merely a vanity issue, we’d just say no. But our son’s crossbite will eventually cause serious problems. Our daughter’s alignment is off just enough that she can end up with future bite and wear problems as well. I don’t understand why insurance plans don’t cover more for orthodontia when it’s an actual medical issue. I can see not covering cosmetic dental procedures, but a large percentage of kids’ orthodontia is medically indicated. It seems like it should be covered, doesn’t it?

At this point, I am thanking my lucky stars that I never needed braces. When I was little, my parents were significantly less financially secure than we are now, and there’s no way they would have been able to afford to have my teeth fixed. I honestly had no idea that braces were such an economic burden. I suppose I heard people joke about it, but until I was slapped with an estimate that could buy us an actual automobile, it never really hit me how expensive they are.

I’m beginning to think that I took a wrong turn with my life choices. Instead of becoming a teacher, I should have become an orthodontist. Then I could work four days a week like our town’s orthodontist does, make a gazillion dollars straightening people’s teeth, and get my kids’ braces for free.

Too late for that though. Instead, we’ll pinch our pennies, lament the fact that our kids inherited my husband’s teeth, and calculate how long it will take us to pay off their braces.

And perhaps start encouraging our children to explore orthodontics as a career.

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