Updated on April 25, 2024
6 min read

How to Get Free Braces with Medicaid

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Orthodontic treatment, like braces, correct many tooth and jaw alignment issues and can significantly improve your quality of life.

By bringing the teeth and jaws into proper alignment, dental braces make oral hygiene easier and more effective. They can also improve your ability to eat, breathe, and talk.

It’s possible that you’ve put off necessary orthodontic treatment due to a lack of funds or insurance. However, you or your child may be eligible for orthodontic coverage through Medicaid. 

In this article, we’ll talk about:

  • How Medicaid covers braces
  • How to find out if you qualify (and make use of your benefits)
  • Other ways to get free or low-cost orthodontic treatment

Can You Get Free Braces with Medicaid?

Medicaid offers coverage for braces in cases where they’re medically necessary, at least for children and adults under 21. Some states provide coverage for low-income adults over 21 as well.

Remember that to qualify for Medicaid, your income must be below a certain threshold. This threshold differs from state to state.1

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Understanding Medicaid’s Coverage for Braces

Medicaid is a US government program that offers health insurance for low-income families. By federal law, this includes mandatory dental benefits for children (but not adults).2

This doesn’t mean braces will be covered in all cases. Medicaid is also unlikely to pay for orthodontic treatment for adults over 21.

Braces will only be covered by Medicaid if they’re considered medically necessary. The requirements differ from state to state (see the next section). 

In general, though, braces are more likely to be considered necessary in cases of:

If you’re seeking orthodontic treatment for purely cosmetic reasons, Medicaid won’t provide coverage.

Medicaid Coverage for Braces in Different States

Each state has its own Medicaid program. The federal government established Medicaid and provides some of its funding. However, state governments have the most authority over who qualifies for Medicaid and what services are covered.

Each state can set its own definitions for qualifying orthodontic treatment. For example, in Texas, Medicaid covers treatment for “severe, handicapping malocclusion.”3 North Carolina, however, uses a slightly broader term: “functionally impairing malocclusions.”4

In practice, states can decide how to interpret these terms. For example, according to Texas orthodontists, Texas Medicaid will not cover braces in most cases.5,6 And in North Carolina, Medicaid may deny coverage even if an orthodontist considers braces necessary.7

You’ll have to contact a local orthodontist that accepts Medicaid to know whether you or your child are eligible for coverage. Some states also have separate benefits through CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program).

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How Much Do Braces Typically Cost Without Insurance?

Without dental insurance, braces cost an average of about $6,000. However, the price may vary from less than $2,000 on the low end to over $10,000 in the most expensive cases.

The amount you end up paying for braces will depend on various factors, including:

  • Age — Children’s braces typically cost less than adult braces. This is because children’s teeth are easier to shift, and treatment tends not to take as long as it does for adults.
  • Type of braces — Traditional metal braces are the least expensive, whereas ceramic braces and other alternatives can cost thousands more.
  • Treatment length — If you or your child have severe crowding or other teeth alignment issues, treatment will take longer, increasing the total cost.
  • Location — Dental and orthodontic fees are lower in rural areas than in major cities.
  • Your orthodontist’s expertise — Orthodontists with less experience may charge less for treatment. This is why clinics run by dental schools can be an affordable option.

Why are Braces Expensive?

Braces are expensive not because of the cost of materials but because of how much time, effort, skill, and money goes into ensuring they’re placed safely and effectively. 

This includes:  

  • Education and expertise — Orthodontists must be highly trained to have the skills necessary to provide treatment. Becoming an orthodontist takes years of schooling, which costs money and time.
  • Operating costs — Your orthodontist has to pay to manage and maintain their practice. They must comply with regulations and pay local, state, and federal taxes.
  • Treatment time — Over the course of your treatment, you may visit your orthodontist over 20 times. The cost of braces helps to pay for your orthodontist’s time.

Other Ways to Get Free or Affordable Braces

Other options are available if you don’t qualify for Medicaid or are on Medicaid, but they won’t cover braces. For example, your orthodontist may offer a payment plan that allows you to pay for braces in affordable monthly amounts.

Some dental programs and charities may allow you or your child to get free or discounted braces. Dental schools and community health centers may also offer affordable orthodontic treatment.

Smile for a Lifetime and Smiles Change Lives

Smile for a Lifetime and Smiles Change Lives (SCL) are nonprofit organizations that provide nearly free orthodontic treatment for children.

You can apply with either organization to get treatment for your child. Both charities limit their applications to children and adolescents up to 18. They also require that your child have good dental hygiene and that you have an income below a certain level.

In addition, you’ll have to pay an application fee ($20 for Smiles for a Lifetime or $30 for SCL) plus a final payment ($480 or $650) once a participating orthodontist is located.

You can learn more about Smile for a Lifetime and Smiles Change Lives on their websites.

Dental Schools and Community Health Centers

Other options for low-cost orthodontic care include dental schools and community health centers.

Many dental schools feature clinics staffed by graduate students. Under supervision, these students may provide orthodontic treatment with braces or Invisalign at about two-thirds the cost of a typical private practice.8

Community health centers (CHCs) are federally funded nonprofit healthcare providers. There are nearly 1,400 CHCs throughout all 50 states. Many CHCs offer low-cost dental services; some provide orthodontic procedures like braces.

Search for dental schools and community health centers near you. Check their websites to find out what you need to do to apply for treatment, or contact them via phone or email.

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If you qualify for Medicaid in your state, you may be able to get free braces for yourself or your child. However, the braces have to be considered medically necessary.

In addition, states vary in how strict they are in offering coverage. It’s possible that your state Medicaid office will deny coverage even if your orthodontist considers braces to be necessary. This is especially likely if you’re an adult over 21.

If Medicaid doesn’t cover your orthodontic treatment, there are other ways to get free or reduced-cost braces. These include payment plans, charities, dental schools, and community health centers.

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Last updated on April 25, 2024
8 Sources Cited
Last updated on April 25, 2024
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).
  1. Medicaid Eligibility Income Chart by State.” MedicaidPlanningAssistance.org, American Council on Aging, 2023.
  2. Dental Care.” Medicaid.gov.
  3. Dental Providers.” Texas Department of Health and Human Services.
  4. Dental and Orthodontic.” North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
  5. Does Medicaid Cover Braces in McAllen, Texas?” A Perfect Smile Orthodontics, 2016.
  6. Does Medicaid cover braces?” Mack & Hansen Orthodontics, 2018.
  7. Frequently Asked Questions.” Salem Smiles Orthodontics.
  8. Graduate Clinics.” University of Texas School of Dentistry.
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