Orthodontic treatment is costly, and how to pay for it can be a scary proposition. However, smart planning and budgeting can offset some costs and make the expense easier to handle, said Dr. Lee Graber, an orthodontist in Vernon Hills, Ill., and president of the American Association of Orthodontists. These tips may help:

FEES
-Orthodontists’ fees can vary widely from one area to another and from one doctor to the next. Be sure to get several recommendations from your dentist, friends and family.

A PAYMENT PLAN
-Most orthodontists offer monthly payment plans extended over the time of treatment with no interest or other charges. If you intend to use a plan, discuss the terms, like what is the down payment, how much are the monthly payments and for how many months? Many orthodontists are willing to extend the length of payment, reduce the down payment and make other adjustments to help ease the burden. But you need to ask.

-Some orthodontists offer discounts for upfront payments. If you can afford it, this is probably the best option for an uncomplicated treatment plan.

-Use caution with third-party extended payment programs, sometimes through orthodontists’ offices. These programs extend your payments over five to seven years, but you’ll often end up paying hefty interest charges.

INSURANCE COVERAGE/FLEXIBLE SPENDING ACCOUNTS
-If you have dental insurance through work, check the policy or your benefits department to see what orthodontics, if any, are covered. Most policies that offer orthodontic coverage pay only 25 percent, at most 50 percent, according to LeAnn Smith, chief operating officer of Smiles Change Lives. Still, every bit helps.

-Be sure to read the fine print. These plans can be severely limited, especially when it comes to braces. Make sure any discount adds up to more than the annual fee.

-Keep in mind you can also save pretax dollars to help pay for these treatments in a flexible spending account or health savings account, if you have one.

UNEXPECTED EXPENSES
-Keep in mind the orthodontist’s bill may not be the only cost you incur with braces. For adult patients particularly, getting braces may also mean a deep cleaning and the replacement of old fillings before treatment begins. For adults and children, removing teeth is sometimes part of the pretreatment plan.

-In addition, clear, invisible or colored braces often cost more, but for obvious reasons can be more appealing than the less expensive traditional metal braces. Weigh the pros and cons against your budget to determine what’s best for you.

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