"This totally depends on the child's situation," states Dr. Nathan McGuire of Crowe and McGuire Orthodontics in Cape Girardeau. "It is recommended by the American Association of Orthodontics to screen a child by age 7. This doesn't mean every child needs orthodontics at age 7, but many orthodontic problems can be detected by this age and this allows the orthodontist to do the treatment the child needs at the most appropriate age. For example, if a child has a crossbite or an underbite, it is very beneficial to do treatment well before the child is a teenager. On the other hand, sometimes it is perfectly OK to wait until a child loses all of their baby teeth and do treatment at age 11 to 14."
While some parents start thinking about college funds while their child is still in utero, few parents react to their baby's first gummy grins by planning for how they will pay for braces.
However, Laura Weiss Cook, a family resource management agent for Kansas State Research and Extension, advises that "parents can begin saving for orthodontia as soon as they learn it is in their child's future." She says budgeting for orthodontia becomes more important for families with multiple children. "If you have a dental plan that covers any portion of the cost of orthodontia, this typically is a lifetime limit," she says. "For instance, if your dental insurance has a lifetime limit of $1,000 toward the cost of orthodontia, that $1,000 lifetime limit will most likely be reached by your first child, leaving the full cost to the family for any subsequent orthodontic needs of younger children."
So, how do you know if braces are in your child's future?
McGuire lists the three top reasons children need orthodontia as "spacing concerns, jaw discrepancies -- meaning overbites, underbites and crossbites -- and aesthetics."
While the cost of correcting these problems can be serious, so can the consequences of not getting professional help. "Not getting orthodontics can lead to impacted teeth, periodontal problems, jaw problems, improper wearing of the teeth and self-esteem issues," says McGuire. "A smile is one of the first things you notice about a person, and crooked teeth can be a source of embarrassment."
If parents have not saved up for orthodontia, Cook suggests talking with your orthodontic office about the possibility of in-house or other payment plans and asking how other families finance the treatments.
"Some folks finance the treatments using their credit card or a home equity loan," she says. "Obviously, this is far from ideal and I would not recommend it. If you find that you have no other choice but to use costlier means of financing your child's treatment, take a hard look at your current budget to see what cuts you can make to pay the balance more quickly, saving yourself some interest costs. "
Finally, if you do finance orthodontia for your child, protect your investment.
McGuire says the best way to do this is for the patient to "wear (a) retainer," adding, "I am still wearing my retainers a couple of nights of week and I am more than 15 years out of my braces."
Children should also continue to keep regular dental and orthodontic appointments after their braces are off, and if they play sports, they should wear a mouthguard.
Cook suggests another way to get a kid to be involved: "Have the child contribute money toward easily misplaced things, like retainers. Having a financial interest in these objects may encourage them to keep a closer watch on them and value them more. Also, families should be frank with their children about the cost associated with treatment and the value it brings to the child's life. Conversations about money that arise due to natural circumstances are excellent opportunities to give children greater financial knowledge."