The Average Cost of Braces and How to Save

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, the provider and the type of braces used.

Overall, the industry average is $5,900 for braces and $6,500 for clear aligners, according to Jeff Adams, chief executive officer of Risas Dental and Braces, which has locations in four states.

That’s in line with what the American Dental Association found in its 2020 Survey of Dental Fees, the latest available version of the organization’s biennial report. The average cost for adult braces was around $5,500, according to the survey. The 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 also notes that there are differences in price based on geographic region.

“Where you are matters a lot,” says Dr. Marina Gonchar, a board-certified orthodontist and owner of Skin to Smile in Morristown, New Jersey. For instance, based on her experience, the Upper East Side of New York City is home to some of the most expensive orthodontic care.

The type of braces also plays a significant role in pricing, with metal braces being most affordable while lingual braces, which are placed behind the teeth, costing more.

According to Gonchar, typical costs for orthodontic treatment fall into the following ranges:

— Metal (traditional) braces: $4,000 – $7,500.

— Ceramic braces: $4,500 – $8,000.

— Lingual braces: $6,000 – $10,000.

— Clear aligners (such as Invisalign brand): $3,000 – $9,000.

Clear aligners have lab fees that aren’t assessed with braces, and the variation in price reflects how long treatment is needed. Minor corrections may be treated in as little as six months with aligners, Gonchar says, while more complicated cases may take two years.

Lingual braces are more expensive because they require significantly more “chair time,” according to Gonchar. It takes longer to apply and adjust these specialty braces, and not every orthodontist offers them.

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. However, orthodontic professionals say people should be cautious about how they try to save money.

“Sometimes you get what you pay for,” says Dr. Bruce Tasios, an orthodontist with Tasios Orthodontics in Toronto.

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.

“I would never go with the first practice I saw,” Gonchar advises. Even if you are comfortable with the first doctor you meet, it’s a good idea to get other estimates. If you find a lower price elsewhere, you can also go back to the original doctor and ask if they will match the price. “You’d be surprised,” Gonchar says, adding that many practices are willing to offer discounts.

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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. For instance, Risas Dental and Braces offers a 20% discount to patients when they pay in full, according to Adams.

Ask in advance if discounts 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 $7,300 in tax-deductible contributions in 2022 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 often 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. It’s common for practices to offer interest-free financing that spreads payments across two years, Tasios says.

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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 that 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.

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.

“Good dental health is important before, during and after ortho treatment,” Adams says.

If you are using clear aligners, which can easily be removed, keeping them on throughout the day is crucial to shortening treatment time. “People tend to wear clear aligners longer because compliance is never perfect,” Gonchar says.

Types of Braces

Your overall cost will depend on the type of braces you select. Teeth are typically straightened using one of two methods: aligners made of clear plastic or braces that use brackets and wire. Braces generally fall into one of the the following categories: metal, clear/ceramic and lingual.

“Basically, all braces can give you similar results,” Tasios says. The braces you use may depend on personal preference and what type is offered by your clinician.

Metal

Traditional braces are made with metal brackets and wires. They may be adjusted every four to six weeks to move teeth into proper alignment.

Clear/Ceramic

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. Tasios prefers to use these braces with his clients because he says they create a wider smile and better smile arc.

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Lingual

These braces are placed behind teeth so they aren’t visible to others. As the most expensive type of braces, they aren’t used as often as other options.

Gonchar notes that these braces can be uncomfortable for the first six weeks or month as people get used to the sensation of feeling the braces against their tongue.

Aligners

Aligners are also an option, and these use a series of plastic molds to move teeth into place. The clear, thin trays can be taken out for meals but otherwise must be worn for 20 or more hours a day to work properly.

Aligners can be obtained through an orthodontist, dentist or purchased from companies such as SmileDirectClub. While mail order services offer a significant discount, many dental professionals urge caution.

“I’ve had plenty of patients who have paid the $2,000 (for mail-order aligners), and they come into the office and say they didn’t work,” Gonchar says.

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. Therefore, they may be best when only minor treatment is needed.

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.

While clear aligners can be used with children, braces can be a better choice for young patients who may lack the self-discipline to keep aligners on throughout the day. “A benefit of braces is that they are on 24/7,” Tasios says. “There’s no need to worry about them.”

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.

Results can depend upon the skill of a clinician, so Tasios recommends patients compare before and after photos to see what results are typical of a particular provider.

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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The Average Cost of Braces and How to Save originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 06/07/22: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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