Why you should (almost) never pay for braces 'out of pocket'.

Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Todd Ehrler

DDS, MS

Table of Contents

  1. High Costs
  2. Insurance Coverage
  3. Alternative Options
  4. 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 due to:

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.
Repairs
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?

The Affordable Care Act doesn't require companies to offer dental insurance for adults. Some companies choose to do so, and others offer plans with special riders for orthodontia. But even then, these plans rarely cover the entire cost of braces.

Dental insurance plans often cover cleanings, x-rays, extractions, and other essential forms of oral care. But they may consider a better smile a cosmetic concern, and if they do, they may not chip in to cover any part of the cost.

You can opt for a rider that helps to pay for braces. But experts say orthodontic insurance plans work a little differently than standard insurance plans. Most come with a lifetime maximum benefit clause. It's a bit like a payment ceiling. Once you've spent the entire amount, the company won't pay out one dime more.

Consider two plans from Delta Dental. Plan A covers treatment planning, limited treatment, and retainers. Plan B covers pre-treatment, x-rays, extractions, comprehensive treatment, and retainers.

Even with comprehensive coverage, you can expect bills to cover:

Deductible
Many insurance policies require that you pay into the account before the company begins to pitch in.
Copayments
A portion of the bill may always be yours to cover.
Premiums
You must pay for the policy to use your benefits.

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 clay, 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.


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