Dentistry
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Updated on January 6, 2023
9 min read

Dental Braces: Types, Treatment Plan, Costs & Care

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What are Dental Braces?

Braces are orthodontic devices that straighten crooked and misaligned teeth with a system of metal brackets and wires.

When people think of orthodontics, braces are typically the first thing to come to mind. Dental braces are used for aesthetic and functional reasons, not only to correct a patient’s smile but also to realign their jaw.

Braces are available for people of all ages, although children between 10 and 14 are the most common age group to undergo treatment.

5 Types of Braces

There are many different types and over a hundred brands of braces to choose from.

For adults, there are more aesthetic options available for those who don’t want visible metal braces. For example, clear ceramic braces mirror the size and shape of metal braces but are actually made of porcelain.

Four common types of dental braces include:

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1. Traditional Metal Braces

Traditional metal braces are the most effective and affordable orthodontic treatment option.

They fix overcrowding, align the teeth, and reposition the jaw. An orthodontist easily moves the teeth in small increments during routine check-ups. For children and teens, traditional braces are the most popular option. Options for adults are also available if they do not mind visible metal brackets.

Traditional metal braces may cost between $3,000 and $7,000.

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2. Clear Braces

Clear braces, also called ceramic or invisible braces, are the same size and shape as traditional braces and serve the same purpose.

The main difference between the two types is that ceramic braces have tooth-colored brackets, which means they blend in with natural teeth and are less noticeable. The rubber bands and elastic components of clear braces are also see-through or white. Invisible braces are ideal for teens and adults.

You can expect to pay a little more for clear or ceramic braces. They may cost between $4,000 and $8,000.

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3. Lingual Braces

Lingual braces are a lesser-known alternative to traditional metal braces. The main difference is that the brackets and wires are placed on the backs of the teeth, allowing them to be effectively invisible to others.

Aside from being placed behind the teeth rather than in front of them, lingual braces use the same hardware and methods as traditional “outside” braces.

Lingual braces are more challenging to place, so they’re on the high end when comparing expenses. Expect a price between $8,000 and $10,000.

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4. Self-Ligating Braces

Self-ligating braces are like traditional metal braces, with one key difference: instead of using elastic or metal ties (ligatures), the brackets keep the wires in place on their own.

Traditional braces will generally have their ligatures changed at each adjustment visit. Self-ligating brackets act as their own ligatures, so they can be adjusted without replacing anything.

These specially designed brackets can be either active (putting pressure on the wires) or passive (simply sliding in place). Either way, they can make visits to the orthodontist shorter. They may also make oral cleaning easier and cause less discomfort than traditional braces.

The cost of self-ligating braces is comparable to that of traditional braces, but they can be slightly more expensive. Expect to see a price in the range of $3,000 to $8,000.

5. Clear Aligners

Clear aligners, such as Invisalign, are another popular “invisible” orthodontic treatment option. They are minimally invasive and removable.

They may cost the same as traditional metal braces, but sometimes cost much less, especially in the case of at-home aligners. Patients must wear each custom aligner for up to three weeks.

With clear aligners, teeth move a fraction of a millimeter at a time and require fewer in-office visits. Aligners are a popular option for teens and adults, especially if their teeth alignment issues are less severe.

Clear aligners vary widely in cost depending on the brand, quality, and treatment model (in-office vs. at-home). Direct-to-consumer aligners for at-home treatment may cost less than $1,500, while more expensive aligners (especially in-office) may cost as much as braces ($3,000 or more).

Average Costs and Insurance Coverage

The following are general price ranges for the options we’ve discussed in this article:

  • Traditional metal braces — $3,000 - $7,000
  • Ceramic braces — $4,000 - $8,000
  • Lingual braces — $8,000 - $10,000
  • Self-ligating braces — $3,000 - $8,000
  • Clear aligners — $1,500 to $8,000

Dental insurance that includes orthodontic benefits may reduce the average cost of braces by as much as 50%. Dental insurance for braces is required for children in some states. For adults, however, insurance might not cover much of the cost.

Policies vary between individuals and insurers, so check with your provider to be sure how much coverage you’re offered.

Factors Affecting Braces Cost

Several things can factor into the overall cost of braces treatment:

Type of Braces

As we’ve already noted, the cost of braces treatment can vary widely depending on type. More advanced technology, greater comfort and convenience, and more extensive care will all be more expensive.

This is why ceramic and lingual braces cost more than traditional metal braces and can make self-ligating braces a bit costlier too. Clear aligners also vary significantly in price because many brands offer different levels of quality and care.

Additional Costs

Another factor in the overall cost of braces is whether or not your dentist includes certain additional charges. For example, your dentist may charge you separately for:

  • Your initial visit
  • X-rays and impressions
  • Retainers, including replacement retainers after you’re done with your first set

Other Factors

The cost of braces can also be affected by:

  • Location — Dentists in dense urban areas have higher rent and overhead costs. They deal with more regulations and have more competition. For these reasons, you can expect to pay more for any dental or orthodontic work in a more populated area.
  • Length of treatment — You can expect to pay more for longer treatment (more office visits, more replacement ligatures, more sets of retainers, and so on).
  • Your age — Orthodontic treatment for adults is generally slightly higher than for children, even with the same treatment length. Dental insurance is also less likely to provide coverage for adult orthodontic treatment.
  • Your overall oral health — If you have additional oral health issues besides teeth misalignment, you may require additional care before, during, and/or after braces. You may also require longer treatment.
  • Wearing your retainer — New sets of retainers can be an additional cost. Furthermore, if you don’t wear your retainer properly after your braces are taken off, your teeth could shift out of alignment again, necessitating another round of braces treatment.
  • Insurance coverage — Different insurance policies have different requirements for coverage.

Ways to Pay for Braces

There are several ways to pay for orthodontic treatment:

Insurance

Dental insurance generally offers partial coverage for braces and other orthodontic treatments. It’s unlikely to provide full coverage, especially if you are an adult.

Some policies, however, don’t cover any orthodontic work. Even ones that do may not cover more discreet and convenient (in other words, expensive) options like lingual braces or clear aligners.

However, a dentist can deem braces medically necessary in certain circumstances. This may allow you to get coverage even if your insurance policy doesn’t normally cover orthodontic work.

Look at your insurance policy to know what is and isn’t covered. Check with your provider if you aren’t sure.

HSA/FSA Funds

You may be able to use tax-free funds from a health savings account (HSA) or flexible savings account (FSA) to cover the cost of braces. Check with your account administrator to be sure.

Discounts

You may be able to get braces at a more affordable rate by going to a dental school. Supervised dental college students can perform many of the same services as a private practice and generally offer them at a significantly lower price.

You may also qualify for discounts based on income. You can check with practices in your area to find out if any of them will offer an income-based sliding pay scale.  

How Do Braces Work?

Orthodontic treatment differs for every patient depending on their needs, jaw and bone structure, and age. There are five main components of braces that connect to realign teeth and create a healthier smile over time, including:

Bracket

The most popular dental braces use brackets, which are small square pieces of metal or ceramic. They are placed in the center of each tooth and are staggered depending on the patient’s needs and how their teeth are aligned.

Archwire

A metal archwire fits through the center of the brackets and applies ongoing pressure to the teeth. The wire gradually shifts teeth into their ideal positions.

Ligature

Ligatures go around each bracket to ensure the archwire stays in its slot. Typically, they’re made of elastic, consisting of little rubber bands that encircle each bracket.

Elastic ligatures also help guide teeth into their correct positions. The elastics come in a variety of sizes and colors and are replaced during every orthodontic adjustment appointment.

There are two common alternatives to standard elastic ligatures:

  • Chain elastics, or power chains, add even more pressure to the teeth and create a tightening force that pulls the teeth together. Typically, power chains are used at the end of treatment.
  • Wire ligatures are made of thin stainless steel. These may be used in place of elastic ligatures when it is difficult to keep the archwire in each bracket.

Note that self-ligating braces don’t require ligatures since the self-ligating brackets keep the archwire secure on their own.

Coil

Coils, also called coil springs, are positioned between two brackets when the teeth are too close together (overlap). Coils separate the teeth and restore a patient’s bite.

Rubber Band

Rubber bands are attached to hooks and connect the top and bottom brackets. They ensure the teeth line up properly and help reposition the jaw. Rubber bands are placed and removed daily by the patient.

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Braces and Headgear

Orthodontic headgear is a term for appliances that can treat various bite problems.

The appliances attach to your face or head with a neck strap. Treatment is usually only necessary if a child has an overbite, underbite, overjet, crossbite, or open bite. Most cases of mild to moderately crooked teeth can be straightened with braces alone.

Headgear can only be used in combination with braces. Braces move teeth, while headgear is capable of influencing jaw growth. Only children are candidates for headgear because their jaws are not fully developed.

Summary

Dental braces are the most common type of orthodontic treatment. While they are often associated with children and teenagers, adults can also get braces.

There are several kinds of braces, which can vary greatly in comfort, convenience, and quality. Because of this variety, as well as other factors such as age, location, and insurance coverage, braces have a wide possible range of costs.

Talk with your dentist or orthodontist about your orthodontic needs and concerns. Research your options and examine your insurance policy to help determine what’s best for your situation.

Last updated on January 6, 2023
8 Sources Cited
Last updated on January 6, 2023
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
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