Every year, millions of Americans undergo orthodontic care to straighten their teeth. Whether they’re seeking a cosmetic enhancement or improving oral health, one thing is certain: Treatment is expensive.
How Much Braces Cost
There is not one standard price for braces, and the cost can depend on factors such as geography and the provider used, according to Dr. Howard Fine, director of orthodontics at Touro College of Dental Medicine in Hawthorne, New York. He estimates people should expect to pay a minimum of $5,000 for braces.
According to the American Dental Association’s 2020 Survey of Dental Fees, the average cost for adult braces is around $6,000. That number is based on fees that are self-reported by professionals and isn’t an endorsement of suggested reimbursement fees by the ADA. The 2020 Survey of Dental Fees, which is available for purchase, also notes there are differences in price based on geographic region.
Another significant factor in the price is the type of braces used. Metal braces are usually most affordable while lingual braces, which are placed behind the teeth, usually cost at least 30% more, Fine says.
According to Oral-B, the average cost for braces breaks down as follows:
— Metal (traditional) braces: $3,000 – $7,000.
— Ceramic braces: $4,000 – $8,000.
— Lingual braces: $8,000 – $10,000.
— Invisalign (clear aligners): $4,000 – $7,400.
Just as there is no standard price, there is no standard time frame for how long someone needs to wear braces. Treatment can last from one to three years on average, with adults often needing to wear braces longer than children. Each additional year can increase costs significantly, and a person who wears braces for two years may have double the expense of someone whose treatment can be completed in 12 months.
How to Save on the Cost of Braces
Managing the high cost of orthodontic treatment can be done in a number of different ways, from shopping for the best price to maximizing tax-exempt savings accounts. Try these strategies to keep finances in check when trying to achieve better oral health.
— Get a second opinion.
— Buy dental insurance.
— Ask for a discount.
— Use tax-exempt savings accounts.
— Enroll in no-interest financing.
— Seek services from a dental school.
— Apply for financial assistance.
— Take proper care of your braces.
Get a Second Opinion
It’s smart to get quotes from several orthodontists since fees vary by private practice. Many orthodontists provide free consultations, which means there shouldn’t be a cost to getting a second opinion.
Some dentists offer braces as well, but there are reasons to use an orthodontist, says Dr. Ken Dillehay, president of the American Association of Orthodontists. “Orthodontists have the training, experience and treatment options to make sure you get your best smile,” he says. All orthodontists are dentists, but they have spent an additional two to three years in a specialized residency program to become experts in orthodontics.
Buy Dental Insurance
Some dental insurance plans cover orthodontic treatment and may pay up to a specific amount for braces. Most policies only cover patients who are 18 or younger, and plans usually contain a yearly or lifetime maximum that only covers a portion of the total cost. It’s important to review your plan’s terms to understand if there is a waiting period before benefits begin and whether your orthodontist is a covered provider.
Ask for a Discount
Orthodontists may offer a discount if payment is made in full at the start of service, or they may have reduced rates for multiple children in the same family. Ask in advance if these options are available, and check with several orthodontists since each practice will have its own policies.
Use Tax-Exempt Savings Accounts
If you have a qualified high-deductible health insurance plan, you can open a health savings account and deposit up to $7,200 in tax-deductible contributions in 2021 if you have family coverage. That money can then be used tax-free on qualified medical and dental expenses including braces. Contributions to a health savings account never expire and can be invested, making this a good way to save in advance for future orthodontic costs. However, even if you don’t plan in advance, you save by avoiding taxes on the money you use to pay for braces.
Those who aren’t eligible for a health savings account may be able to open a flexible spending account through their workplace. These accounts also allow people to make medical and dental payments using tax-free dollars, but money in a flexible spending account typically must be used within a year or it is forfeited to your employer.
Enroll in No-Interest Financing
Many orthodontists offer flexible payment plans and are willing to work around their patient’s budget. These provide parents the opportunity to spread out payments over several months to a couple of years with no interest.
Seek Services From a Dental School
Anyone living near a dental school that offers an orthodontic program may benefit from discounted services performed by students in training. The fees may be almost half the amount charged by private practices, says J. Martin Palomo, professor and orthodontic residency director at the School of Dental Medicine at Case Western Reserve University.
Treatment is typically provided by dentists who are orthodontic residents and, in many cases, students have had years of experience in private practice. However, patient openings at dental schools may be limited, depending on the size of the program. For instance, Palomo notes Case Western Reserve University only accepts five students per year in its orthodontic program.
Schools may limit orthodontic services to the program’s existing dental patients. What’s more, visits may last longer and appointment times might not be as convenient as those offered in a private practice. “You’re going to get a significant discount, (but) there will be more time involved,” Fine says.
Apply for Financial Aid
Families suffering financial hardship may be eligible for deeply discounted or free treatment. Programs such as Donated Orthodontic Services, sponsored by the American Association of Orthodontists, offer pro bono care to children of low-income families who lack insurance coverage or who do not qualify for other assistance in their states of residence. Other nonprofit programs like Smiles Change Lives and Smile for a Lifetime Foundation also offer discounted or free braces to kids in need.
Your orthodontist may know of other organizations or programs to help cover the cost of braces. “Always discuss any concerns with fees,” Palomo says. “There’s no need to be embarrassed.”
Take Proper Care of Your Braces
You’ll pay less if you can shorten the amount of time you wear braces. While there is no way to move your teeth into place faster, you can take steps to avoid delays. Wearing rubber bands as directed, avoiding certain foods and maintaining good oral hygiene can ensure treatment progresses as efficiently as possible.
[See: 35 Ways to Save Money.]
Types of Braces
Your overall cost will depend on the type of braces you select. Teeth are typically straightened using one of two methods: braces that use brackets and wire and aligners made of clear plastic. Braces can be further broken down into the following categories: metal, clear/ceramic and lingual.
Traditional braces are made with metal brackets and wires. They may be adjusted every four to six weeks to move teeth into proper alignment.
Using clear plastic or ceramic brackets can make braces less noticeable. However, they can be more expensive than metal braces. Damon Clear, a system using plastic braces, is a common option and has pricing that is comparable to conventional braces.
These braces are placed behind teeth so they aren’t visible to others. As the most expensive type of braces, Fine says they aren’t used as often as other types of braces or aligners.
Aligners are also an option, and these use a series of plastic molds to move teeth into place. “Aligners are clear, thin, plastic-like trays formed to fit an individual’s teeth,” Dillehay says. “Each aligner is worn for one to two weeks and moves teeth a fraction of a millimeter at a time.”
Aligners can be obtained through an orthodontist or purchased from companies such as SmileDirectClub and Candid. While these mail order services offer a significant discount, many dental professionals urge caution.
“It’s not that the DIY (options) won’t work,” Fine says. “They will work.” However, he says they are best for minor treatment. Mail order services can’t provide the type of care that may be required in more complex cases where teeth must be extracted or filed. Plus, by using an orthodontist, “You have the benefit of a trained professional monitoring your case,” Fine adds.
“Very often, we see people who are having braces for the second or third time because they were trying to save money,” Palomo says. He recommends people look for board-certified orthodontists to ensure that whatever straightening treatment they pursue will be completed by someone committed to the highest level of professional standards.
[Read: How to Save Money for Your Kids.]
Braces for Children
For young patients, teeth may be moved in two stages. In the first phase, baby teeth may be removed to make room for permanent teeth, or braces may be used to straighten teeth or correct a problem such as underbite.
Early intervention is one way to save money on braces, and this may involve using palate expanders to create space for teeth just coming in. While early intervention may not eliminate the need for a comprehensive treatment plan later, it could make the straightening process easier and shorter, reducing the overall cost of braces for kids.
Braces for Adults
It’s more difficult to move adult teeth than children’s teeth. Older patients may have brittle bone structures that could be prone to breaking if moved too quickly. That’s one reason orthodontists say people should be careful of any treatment that claims to quickly straighten teeth. Another problem is the tendency of teeth to relapse to their original position if not properly retained after treatment.
“Orthodontic treatment is not a quick fix,” Dillehay says. “It is a complex biological process … because there is more to creating a healthy, beautiful smile than moving the visible portions of your teeth.”
Braces are an investment that can pay off in greater confidence and self-esteem. By understanding how they are priced and using the tips above, you can make this expense more affordable.
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Update 06/28/21: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.