When I look back on my pictures from year 7, I cringe. Not because my mouth is full of metal and my face is full of acne but because these days, I know just how much braces and orthodontic care cost. Sorry about that, Mum and Dad.
It can come as a surprise to find out just how much it costs to replace that retainer that wound up in the cafeteria garbage can.
As expected, both of my children needed orthodontic treatment thanks to their mother’s genes. And, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks along the way that will not only help your wallet but also your sanity.
1. Don’t be afraid to shop around
Orthodontic treatment is big business. In fact, statistics show over 55 per cent of Australians are self conscious about their teeth and a further 62 per cent would like to do something about it, which means you likely have several orthodontists in your area who will be happy to treat your dental needs. But, don’t be afraid to shop around for the best deal.
Most orthodontists offer free consultations, and visiting a few offices will give you a feel for the friendliness of the office staff, the cleanliness of the office and the capabilities of the orthodontist to improve your kid’s smile. You might be shocked at the differences in price, too.
2. Pick an office close to home
One of the biggest surprises for me when it came to my kids having braces is just how much time I actually spend in the offices for appointments and repairs like snapped wires and broken brackets. My son’s orthodontist is located in a quaint downtown area about 20 minutes from our home and about 30 minutes from his school.
I quickly realised that a “quick” trip to have a bracket repaired could take upwards of almost an hour and a half with traffic, waiting room time and the repair. And, since kids usually need to be seen every 6-10 weeks for monitoring, you wind up spending a lot of time reading People magazine in the waiting room.
If you choose an orthodontist that’s close to home who fits your budget, you won’t be sorry. Because brackets only seem to break when you are about to leave on vacation or on a Friday afternoon.
3. Ask about appointment availability before you sign the contract
While we were satisfied with my son’s orthodontic care, scheduling appointments was tricky as the orthodontist and his staff split their time between two offices during the week. Because the second office was almost an hour away, we were limited to being able to schedule appointments on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which sometimes threw a wrench into our chaotic life.
Ask your prospective office manager about not only availability of appointments but also when they schedule the appointments during the day. My daughter’s orthodontist requires that certain procedures can only be done during the day, which means I have to take a day off from work and she has to miss school time. Knowing ahead of time that an orthodontist has weekend, evening and flexible scheduling hours should be a key factor in your decision process.
4. Determine whether traditional braces or tray systems are the best choice for your teen
These days, braces have come a long way from the grey metal brackets we wore in the 80s. Nowadays, while the metal brackets are still available, teens also have the choice between ceramic (clear) brackets and tray systems. Because there are so many choices and options, it’s important to find an orthodontist who will be honest with you about what will be the best for your kid.
If you have a teen who is forgetful, removable trays that he has to replace every two weeks might not be the best option. And, while those ceramic braces look good for class pictures and are less noticeable, they’ll add several hundred dollars to your bottom line.
5. Ask About Retainers While Your Kid’s Teeth Are Still Crooked
Braces are not cheap and investing in your kid’s smile is a major financial decision. Once their teeth are perfectly aligned, you are going to want them to stay that way.
One of the mistakes I regret the most was not asking up front about the types of retainers orthodontists use post braces. My son’s orthodontist firmly sticks with removable retainers, similar to the ones we all used as kids, which I found out when his braces were removed. Retainers don't grow on trees and kids can be forgetful, so he ended up losing his retainer at some point and we had to pay out of pocket for a new one.
My daughter’s orthodontist uses permanent retainers for both the top and bottom rows of teeth. To me, that feels like a better overall value for our money, and I wish I had known to factor the cost of my son’s lost retainers into our budget.
Of course, every child’s orthodontic plan is different, but it’s best to know up front what to expect when you’re about to grit your teeth and fork over major bank for your kids to have straight teeth.