Why You Should (Almost) Never Pay for Braces 'Out of Pocket'.

Why You Should (Almost) Never Pay for Braces 'Out of Pocket'.
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Table of Contents

  1. Why are Braces so Expensive?
  2. Does Insurance Cover the Cost?
  3. Ways to Save on Braces
  4. Alternative Options
  5. References

Braces are an investment, and chances are, they will cost you thousands of dollars. That's true whether or not you have insurance coverage. 

If your teeth are significantly misaligned, braces offer the best path to a better smile. But if your teeth need a mild or moderate nudge to take up proper positions, braces could offer much more help than you need, and that could mean wasting hard-earned money.

Why are Braces so Expensive?

Adults can expect to pay between $4,800 and $7,135 for braces, experts say. If you need extensive help for many months, you'll pay more than someone who is released from treatment sooner. You'll pay much more for braces than you would for aligners.

Braces are expensive because of these reasons:

Frequent Office Visits
You can't tighten braces at home, and you can't swap out wires without a pro's help. Your doctor incurs expenses for rent, staffing, cleaning, and more, and you pay for some of that every time you head into the office.
Longer Treatment Times
Braces work, but they move teeth very slowly. The longer they stay on your teeth, the more often you visit your orthodontist for help.
Braces are fragile, and they can break if you eat the wrong foods, have an accident, or otherwise don't protect your hardware.

Consumers can add to the cost of braces by choosing unusual brackets or installation methods. For example, if you are concerned about the look of braces, you might ask for porcelain brackets that are the same color as your teeth. Or you might ask your dentist to apply the brackets on the back of your teeth. Both of these choices can add thousands to your overall bill.

Braces can cost $5,000 or more, and it's unusual for insurance companies to pay the entire bill.

Does Insurance Cover the Cost?

Whether or not your insurance will cover the cost of your braces treatment depends on your policy and your orthodontic problem. 

Some dental insurance plans cover orthodontics only for children and adolescents. However, they may provide some coverage for braces if the problem is the result of an accident or trauma, or if it is causing a serious oral health issue.

If you have a dental insurance plan that provides coverage for adult orthodontic care, it may cover some or all of the costs of braces if you have an orthodontic issue that needs to be corrected. Still, they will likely not cover any cosmetic or elective options (like lingual braces or upgraded materials), and visit co-pays will still need to be paid out-of-pocket. 

There may also be annual or lifetime limits on how much your policy will pay toward your braces. Before beginning the process, be sure you understand your coverage and how much you’ll need to pay throughout treatment.

Ways to Save on Braces

If you want braces but don’t have insurance or the money to pay full costs out of pocket, there may still be options.

You may be able to save on braces in these ways:

  • Opt for metal “traditional” braces. More expensive options include ceramic “invisible” braces or lingual braces (which are the most expensive braces treatment and attach to the back of the teeth).
  • Search for discounts. Some practices may offer a discount to those without insurance. Others have discounts for certain populations, like students, military members, first responders, teachers, and others.
  • Find a dental school. A dental school in your area may offer low-cost services, including braces and orthodontic care. You can search for dental schools near you on the website for the American Student Dental Association. 
  • Consider a payment plan. Some orthodontists and dental offices may offer low-fee financing to allow for you to make easy monthly payments.
  • Use your FSA or HSA. If you have a flexible spending account or health spending account, you can use it toward your orthodontic treatment.
  • Look into dental discount plans. A dental discount plan is different than insurance. With a discount plan, you usually pay an annual fee and receive access to exclusive dental discounts. Look into available plans to see if you can find one that will help with your orthodontic needs.
  • Research community resources. Low-cost dental clinics or public health initiatives may offer low-cost orthodontic care in your area. Call your local health department or do some digging online to find out if anything is available near you.

What Else Can You Try?

If you don't have dental insurance, or the plan you have won't help you to pay your bills, even thinking about braces can be intimidating. You may believe you simply can't get a better smile, as you can't find the money in your budget to pay for these tools. 

You do have choices. 

Aligners put consistent pressure on your teeth, and they encourage dental ligaments to stretch and bend. This is the same mechanism that underpins braces, but aligners tend to work a bit quicker. They are also less painful and more subtle. 

Researchers say aligners are effective in treating mild or moderate smile issues. Wear trays as directed, and your teeth will move. 

Aligners also come with a much smaller price point. Aligner companies pair with orthodontists, and they supervise all treatment plans. But telemedicine saves you money. You'll tackle these steps at home:

Dental Impressions
You'll mix putty, fill trays, bite down, and send in the results. You won't need an office visit to complete this work.
Tooth Tightening
You'll get a series of trays when you sign up. You'll swap out one tray for another at home based on your doctor's instructions.
Progress Reporting
You'll snap photos, jot notes, and otherwise communicate remotely with your dental team. You'll skip the in-office visits.

Aligner companies pass these savings on to you. It's not uncommon to pay about $2,000 for complete aligner treatment. That is much less than you would pay for braces.

Few families have thousands of spare dollars to toss at extensive solutions they don't need. Most of us appreciate saving a dollar or two if we can. If your smile needs a mild or moderate adjustment, you could save that money by choosing aligners over braces. Your budget will thank you.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.