The thought of a perfect smile entices many Americans. If you that includes you, the cost of braces is probably pretty important to you. (After all, it’s probably why you ended up on this page.)
Once you know how much they cost, your next question will probably be:
How can I save money on braces?
We’ll help you with all of that. In this braces cost guide, we’ll teach you everything you need to know. This includes a detailed look at how different types of braces are priced as well as the best info online about how to reduce the total cost.
But first, let’s start with a quick warning.
Don’t Try This at Home!
The Internet is a wonderful thing. Just be careful.
“YouTube culture” can have its drawbacks. Teeth straightening how to videos have lead to a dangerous trend. This is a terrible DIY project. You could do serious damage to your mouth (warning: graphic images).
Orthodontic treatment should always be performed by a professional. We would advocate a safe, reliable in-home treatment if there was one. But there simply isn’t one we can put our name on yet.
Orthodontists undergo specialized training beyond that of a dentist because bite realignment is such delicate work. This is part of what pushes the price up. Like they say, “you get what you pay for”.
The cost of braces is high, especially for a procedure that is non-essential. Yet in modern American culture, straight teeth seem like an expectation.
According to some estimates, 80% of teenagers in the U.S. undergo some form of orthodontic treatment. In fact, it’s become fairly common to see adults wearing braces.
Whether you’re shopping for your children or yourself, you’ll want to consider the total cost of braces before jumping in.
The True Costs of Braces
Braces are recommended to patients who have or show the potential for various issues.
Most of these issues seem cosmetic—crooked teeth, overcrowding, overbite, underbite, etc. And many times, they are. However, these same issues can sometimes contribute to gum disease, decay, tooth pain, headaches, and other more serious problems.
Braces can also increase tooth functionality, making chewing easier and more effective.
For many, the price is well worth it.
Keep in mind that there are a few costs that aren’t monetary. Namely: Time and Inconvenience. Braces can be a pain, literally and figuratively. Plus, the average treatment time ranges from 1 to 2 years, but there are outliers on both sides.
Your experience may be extremely short. Or, you may have to deal with braces for several years. Just like the financial cost, it comes down to a variety of factors, such as the complexity of your realignment, where you live, and the orthodontist you choose.
The simplest way to break it down is based on which type of braces you need.
Traditional Braces Cost
These are the braces most people are familiar with.
Conventional metal braces usually cost $3,000-7,500 total. But this figure could be considerably higher depending on your particular case. Traditional braces are usually the least expensive option, and the only one for extensive treatment.
The treatment consists of metal brackets fastened directly to your teeth that are then connect by an archwire and held in place by elastic bands. These wires are tightened over time to bring teeth to their desired location.
We’ve included both the cost of conventional braces themselves as well as potential associated costs such as X-rays and retainers. You will end up paying the total over time as braces usually require both maintenance and aftercare.
Ceramic Braces Cost
Ceramic braces are more discreet than conventional ones.
Ceramic braces usually cost $3,500-8,000 total. Basically, ceramic braces are slightly more expensive than traditional ones. The main reason is because the average treatment time is a little bit longer.
Unlike metal, ceramic brackets are clear or tooth-colored. The archwire that connects them is also colored to blend in. All-in-all, the process is very similar to traditional braces. Just note that they are considered less comfortable.
Ceramic brackets themselves do cost a bit more than metal ones, but the main issue is fragility. They are more prone to break, which prolongs treatment and can also require repairs. If you live in a smaller market, availability can also push price up.
Invisible Braces Cost
“Invisible” braces are an even more popular option for those looking for a discreet fix.
Invisible braces treatment, or “Invisalign”, usually costs $3,500-8,500 total. Though comparatively new, these retainer trays have been around long enough that they can now compete fairly well with traditional braces in terms of price. It does still take more time though.
Unlike the other options on this list, there are no semi-permanent brackets or wires. Instead, Invisalign treatment uses custom-fit trays to move your teeth gradually. These aligners are both transparent and removable.
For many, these extra costs are slight and well worth it. However, this option may not be suited for every misalignment or bite issue.
For a more in-depth look the cost of Invisalign treatment…
Lingual Braces Cost
Lingual braces are a different form of “invisible” braces.
They are essentially traditional braces attached to the back of teeth instead of the front. (The side of your teeth facing your tongue is called the lingual surface.) The result is much less obvious to the casual onlooker.
Lingual braces usually cost $5,000-13,000 total, and in some cases can be much higher. The price reflects both the advanced technology and technical skill required; there are fewer brands making them and fewer orthodontists offering them.
In addition, lingual braces are a bit harder to get used to than the other types. You may experience soreness or have difficulty talking and eating. You’re also probably looking at an extended treatment period.
Some people opt to get lingual braces on their upper teeth and traditional on their bottom teeth. It really just comes down to what you’re comfortable with and what is available in your area.
Breakdown of Associated Costs
As you see, the total costs of treatment vary widely.
Most of that has to do with aforementioned factors. But some of it also has to do with how individual orthdontists break down their fees.
A good understanding of the costs associated with braces will help you compare prices, anticipate charges down the road, and even negotiate (more on that later).
Some orthodontists charge $100-200 for the initial consultation. You might be able to avoid this by finding a less popular orthodontist.
Your orthodontist may charge separately for X-rays at a cost of $25-250. You might be able to get X-rays cheaper via your dentist or urgent care and bring them with you.
Whatever method you choose, you’ll likely require a removable retainer after initial treatment. Post-treatment retainers can cost $150-1000.
The only way to really be sure that you are paying a fair price for your perfect smile is to compare overall prices and fee breakdowns of different orthodontists in your area.
Aside from that, lowering the price of orthodontic treatment requires some work.
Lowering the Cost of Braces
Braces are generally considered a luxury expense by both insurance and governmental health programs. You’re one of the lucky ones if you are able to get any real help from either.
But it’s not impossible. Plus, we have some other programs and clever tips that can help as well.
Will Medicare or Medicaid Help with My Braces?
The short answer:
You can skip this section if the braces you seek are not medically necessary.
Medicare is a federal program for those age 65 and up. Medicare almost never pays for dental procedures, unless they are considered an emergency. And even then, usually only for associated costs like hospital rooms. Medicare will never help pay for braces.
Medicaid, on the other hand, just might. Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that generally expands and contracts benefits based on your state’s current budgetary concerns.
Children may also receive help through CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) which operates both together with and independently from Medicaid.
There are really only two ways to find out whether your state will help you pay for braces for you or your child. The first is to connect with the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services. The second is to question local orthodontists about your state’s options.
More likely than not, the government isn’t going to help with braces.
Does Dental Insurance Cover Braces?
Dental insurance that covers braces is a pretty new thing, but is becoming more common.
You’ll need to ask your provider whether they have plans that cover braces or not. You may decide that you should select a plan specifically for that purpose. You’ll also need an orthodontist who will accept it.
Traditional plans carry an annual limit of $1,000-1,500, but you may be able to find some dental specialized plans that will cover up to $3,500. You should always be a little suspicious of new insurance products. If you buy coverage, make sure it justifies the premiums.
Whatever you find, you’re almost guaranteed to have some out of pocket costs as well.
Dental Discount Plans
Dental discount plans are probably the best option to help reduce the cost of orthodontic work.
You can save 10-60% on orthodontic procedures, including braces. These plans are different from insurance. They are more similar to memberships like Costco or Sam’s Club in that you pay a monthly or yearly fee for unlimited discounted pricing.
Unlike dental insurance plans, they have no limit. In essence, the more expensive your procedure, the more you will save. Dental providers also have to pay fees to accept your insurance; with these plans, they don’t.
We recommend dental discount memberships to everyone, not just those in the market for braces.
Discounted Braces From Dental Schools
Clinics at orthodontic schools may be able to help, depending on details of your required procedure.
Yes, this means you are essentially a guinea pig for dental professionals in training. Obviously, the work will be supervised by a professional. But as often is the case, the increased risk leads to reduced price.
You can also find postgraduate schools that specialize in orthodontics. The discounts at these schools will be less, but the quality of work is likely to be better. This is a good option for those who are risk-averse or require extensive treatment.
Be aware that getting any dental work done through a school means that you’ll have to fit into their schedule, not the other way around. There may also be a waiting list to contend with.
The wait, the extra calls, and the longer drive may end up saving you a significant amount of money though.
Getting Braces Overseas
More and more people in developed nations are travelling abroad for dental procedures, including braces.
According to MEDIGO, you can have traditional braces installed from about $300 in Spain or $100 in Thailand. Obviously, you’ll need to factor in the costs and inconveniences associated with the travel but this is often a net gain.
However, you may run into an issue with the ongoing care and maintenance required with braces. Braces generally require a visit to the orthodontist every six to eight weeks. Some treatment paths require them as frequently as every two weeks.
Travelling overseas for every appointment could get really expensive. Plus, stateside orthodontists often charge more to work on braces installed by someone else (or may refuse altogether). Discount plans may also deny savings for pre existing braces.
Before going overseas for braces, you’ll want to talk to local dentists, your dental insurance, and your discount plan provider. Then, do the math and make a decision.
Other Ways to Reduce the Cost of Braces
Beyond these methods, there are still a few more things you can do to make braces more affordable.
- Shop around. Talking to local orthodontists will help you understanding how each structures their fees, which is valuable insight. You can often find hidden gems on the third page of Google or in the Yellow Pages (ie. experienced orthodontists who haven’t caught up to modern marketing)
- Consider the market you live in. More than likely, you have multiple orthodontists within a few hours of you. It is wise to test pricing in different areas. Orthodontists in affluent suburbs are likely to charge more than those on a more blue collar side of town.
- Once you’ve done your research, you can leverage your knowledge to play local orthodontists against each other. Margins for dental professionals are usually high, so they will often come down to capture a few thousand dollars worth of business. (“Okay, I’ll throw out the abc and xyz fee for you.”)
- Pay cash. Orthodontists will often offer large discounts if you offer to pay cash instead of credit. They have to pay a fee to accept credit, but not for cash. Just be sure you ask for one, because they probably aren’t going to suggest it themselves.
- Follow your orthodontist’s instructions. One of the main ways that people end up with higher costs than necessary is negligence. Repairs cost money. And if you’re given one, make sure to use your retainer or you will need it longer. Or worse yet, you’ll need braces all over again.
- Get braces early. Braces are so common in teenagers partly because this is generally considered the best time to do it. The mouth is more malleable when it is still developing. This means earlier procedures are generally easier, more effective, and less expensive.
- Look for clinical trials. Though not necessarily as common as other clinical trials, you might just get lucky. Visit gov and perform a quick search to see if anything comes up. You may even end up with access to a new, cutting-edge orthodontic treatment.
As you see, there is a lot to consider when shopping for braces. But with this information in hand, you’re well on your way to making braces as affordable as possible.
The only thing left to do now is to put it to use. Take your time on the research and don’t be afraid to mix and match solutions to save as much as you can.
Remember, knowledge, effort, and a little creativity are your greatest allies in battle against high dental prices.