Average braces costs in 2020 with and without insurance.

Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Todd Ehrler

DDS, MS

Table of Contents

  1. Why Need Braces?
  2. Braces & Cost
  3. Location & Cost
  4. Insurance Coverage
  5. Health Care Competition
  6. Funding Options
  7. References

When you think about braces, do you also think about dollar signs? It's natural to worry over the cost. Few families plan ahead for this dental expense, and most feel certain that insurance won't help to cover the cost.

On average, braces cost about $5,000 without insurance. But your costs may rise and fall due to your oral health, the type of braces you need, the length of your treatment plan, and where you live.

There are also alternatives to traditional braces that can reduce the overall cost of your bill. Aligners may be able to straighten your teeth for a fraction of the cost of braces.

Why do people need braces?

Braces pull your teeth into proper position. Orthodontists apply the gear, and they tighten it periodically until the teeth are tugged into the right spot.

The same type of braces could be used to treat many different oral issues. But sometimes, doctors must add to their basic braces plan, and those revisions can come with added costs.

Your orthodontist might recommend braces to treat:

Crossbite
When your upper teeth fit nicely inside your lower teeth, this is a crossbite, the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) says. Your doctor might add headgear or a jaw expander to your treatment plan to adjust your jaw's position.
Diastema
This is the technical term for a gap between your teeth. Some are tiny and hard to see, and others are large and right in the center of your smile.
Malocclusion
Your molars should line up perfectly, so the points of one fit inside the grooves of the other. When they're not perfectly matched, you might bite your lip or tongue. Malocclusion like this is often passed down from parents to children, the U.S. National Library of Medicine says. You might need a jaw expander to create more space for your teeth, or your doctor might remove teeth as part of your treatment plan.
Overbite (also known as "deep bite")
When your mouth is shut and your molars touch, the front teeth hang far over the lower. AAO says a small lower jaw is a common cause, but you can also face this issue if you're missing a lower tooth. Headgear might be required to fix the problem.
Underbite
If you have a pug or a boxer puppy at home, you're familiar with an underbite. The lower teeth peep out from beneath the uppers when the jaw is closed. Colgate says this issue is typically present at birth. Headgear and jaw expanders might be part of your treatment plan.

Type of braces and your bill.

Braces once came in one basic shape (rough) and one standard color (silver). A lot has changed.

As more adults are choosing to wear braces, and as social media sites encourage all of us to share our smiles with the world, patients demand more control. Companies have responded by creating a plethora of braces options.

Be aware that some of these alt braces types are more expensive than their traditional counterparts. But some of the alternatives could save you money.

Your orthodontist may choose to improve your smile with:

Metal Braces
These are glued onto your teeth, and they're connected with thin, metal wires.
Ceramic Braces
These are also glued onto your teeth, but they're made of a white substance that blends into your natural tooth color. They're not quite so eye-catching, and for some patients, that's critical.
Lingual Braces
These devices are glued to the back of your teeth, so no one will see them when you smile. They can affect your speech.
Aligners
These plastic trays pop on and off your teeth with ease. While it's critical to wear them often, you could remove them for important photos or conversations. These tools are best for minor to moderate corrections. Usually, an orthodontist will take impressions in their office, and you’ll visit them every couple months for checkups.
Doctor-Monitored At-Home Aligners
These invisible aligners are based on the same idea behind traditional aligners, but they use different technology that allows for shorter treatment times and lower prices. You’ll do an impression kit at home, an orthodontist will design your treatment plan, and you’ll be mailed the aligners.
The Nemours Foundation says most children need basic, metal braces. But appearance-conscious kids and adults might choose more discreet products to ensure they look good while their teeth are straightened.
Expect to pay about $5,000 for braces, but know that your price can go up (or down) based on your oral health, your location, your insurance coverage, and more.

Location plays a role in your cost.

Orthodontist fees vary from coast to coast. Orthodontists can't control some costs, including office rentals. In some communities, high demand can translate into a larger patient pool and a higher fee.

Traveling for braces isn't reasonable. You must visit your doctor regularly for tightening, checkups, and maintenance. But understanding how your costs can vary can help you prepare to cover your fees.

Does insurance help cover the cost?

Health insurance companies use complex formulas to determine if procedures are mandatory (to preserve health or function) or elective (to improve appearance). Braces often fall into a grey area, and that means some policies won't help you pay your bill.

Research published in Pediatric Dentistry Today suggests that about 85 percent of orthodontic cases are considered aesthetic or optional. But there are exceptions. Your doctor might consider your braces medically necessary due to:

  • Cleft lip or palate.
  • Crouzon syndrome.
  • Hemifacial hypertrophy.
  • Parry-Romberg syndrome.
  • Trauma.

Your doctor works directly with your insurance company. Radiographs, test results, and notes from your appointment all head from your doctor's office to the insurance company. Reviewers notify both you and your doctor if the treatment is accepted as a medically necessary intervention. You'll also get notified if your claim is rejected.

If your braces aren't medically necessary, your insurance company may still step up and help with the bill. Some dental insurance plans offer coverage for orthodontics. In a review of plans, for example, experts found that one company in four offered orthodontic coverage. People with this plan got help with half of the bill through their plans.

But AAO points out that dental plans can come with limitations, including:

Lifetime Caps
These plans identify how much you can spend on your dental health during the lifetime of your insurance policy. Spend more, and you're responsible for the rest of the bill.
Age Limit
Some policies cover braces for kids younger than 18 while offering no relief for adults.
Networks
Orthodontists and insurance companies can form partnerships with agreed-upon pricing. Choose an orthodontist who doesn't participate in this plan, and you could get hit with a bigger fee.

Health care competition and your benefits.

In the world of business, competition drives down price and boosts benefits.

Research from the Health Policy Institute says some states, such as Nevada and Oregon, are wildly competitive. On the flip side, these are the least competitive states:

  • Minnesota
  • Vermont
  • Hawaii
  • New Hampshire
  • Maine
  • Delaware
  • North Dakota
  • California

What funding options can you try?

If you're planning to spend money to improve your smile, you're not alone. Researchers say spending for dental procedures rose 4.6 percent in 2018. Even if your insurance company can't help you, there are plenty of options to try.

Cover your braces bill with:

Your Health Savings Account (HSA)
Put money in this account on a pre-tax basis, and use the funds to cover medical expenses. Braces are eligible for this type of spending. Best of all, the money you place in an HSA may help to lower your tax bill.
Independent Financing
Your doctor may offer low-cost options that help you pay for your braces in installments rather than paying the whole fee at once.
Competition
If you have plenty of orthodontists in the area, shop for a good deal.
Education
Some dental schools offer discounts on treatment, as long as you agree to work with students in training.
You can also choose a cheaper option, like aligners. These work well for minor to moderate teeth adjustments. If you need more extensive work, aligners might not work for you.

References.

How Much Do Braces Cost? CostHelper.com.

What Is a Crossbite? (November 2019). American Association of Orthodontists.

Malocclusion of Teeth. (January 2020). U.S. National Library of Medicine.

What Is a Deep Bite? (January 2019). American Association of Orthodontists.

Types of Underbite Correction and How to Choose. Colgate.

Headgear Instructions. Riordan Orthodontics.

In Orthodontia, Sometimes It's Best to Start Early. (April 2011). Seattle's Child.

Dental Cost Estimator. Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.

Dental Braces. (May 2019). Mayo Clinic.

The Basics of Braces. (March 2016). Nemours.

How Much Do Braces Cost? Oral B.

Cost Matters. Delta Dental Plans Association.

Medical Necessity and Orthodontics. (September 2016). Pediatric Dentistry Today.

Medically Necessary Orthodontic Treatment. (January 2020). UnitedHealthcare.

Affordable Dental Insurance? DentalPlans.com.

Payment and Insurance. American Association of Orthodontists.

How Competitive Are Dental Insurance Markets? (November 2019). Health Policy Institute.

National Health Expenditures 2018 Highlights. (December 2019). Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.


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