Braces for Adults and Teens: Costs, Types and More

Although braces are most often fitted in the teenage years, braces for adults are becoming more common – you just may not realise it as new technology makes them so discreet. If you’re considering having braces fitted yourself or have a teenager who may need orthodontic work, this guide is for you. We’ll tell you all you need to know about different types of braces, how the process works, and how much braces cost.

How do braces work?

braces inside mouth

Braces being used to expand the upper arch

There are several types of braces used in modern orthodontics, and we will cover these in full detail later on. Each one works in a slightly different way, but the main aim of braces for teeth is to correct problems with dental alignment.

There are three main reasons why your orthodontist may recommend you have dental braces fitted:

  • Your teeth are crooked, crowded or protruding and need to be straightened
  • You have gaps between your teeth that need to be closed
  • You have a malocclusion (e.g. overbite or underbite), meaning your upper and lower teeth don’t meet properly and this is affecting your bite

This video animation shows how braces can correct some of these dental problems:

If these problems are left untreated they can lead to:

  • Difficulty eating
  • Difficulty cleaning teeth properly, resulting in further dental problems
  • Increased chance of damage to prominent teeth
  • Headaches from jaw and muscle strain
  • Speech impediments
  • Self-consciousness with the appearance of teeth

Who can have orthodontic braces?

Straightening teeth using braces works best when the teeth and jaw are still growing, but treatment won’t usually begin until most adult teeth have come through. This means the ideal age to start wearing dental braces is around 12 or 13.

adults wearing braces

Many adults are choosing to have orthodontic treatment

However, braces can still be effective at any age. The British Orthodontic Society last year reported that 75% of its members had been fitting more braces for adults, with two-thirds of those adult patients aged between 26 and 40.

And while some adults may have braces fitted for health reasons, in many cases it’s more to do with the cosmetic appearance of their teeth and smile.

“Many adults who have undergone orthodontic treatment report higher levels of self-esteem and their quality of life is often significantly improved,” explains Alison Murray, President of the British Orthodontic Society.

One condition of having braces is that your teeth are in relatively good condition and you maintain good oral hygiene. If your teeth have already been damaged by decay or you have had extensive restorative work such as fillings and crowns, you may not be able to have orthodontic treatment. In this case, you could consider veneers or dental implants to improve the appearance of your teeth.

Different types of braces

Wearing teeth braces as a teen can make you feel self-conscious about your appearance, but worrying about the way you look doesn’t stop when you reach adulthood.

In fact, many adults and teens are put off the idea of wearing braces because of how others may perceive them. This is especially true if they have a professional appearance to maintain at work, or have a big event like a wedding or graduation coming up.

clear and ceramic braces

Less obvious clear braces can be used on just the top jaw

Fortunately, conventional ‘metal mouth’ braces are no longer the only option for those wanting a perfect smile; there are several less conspicuous choices now available on the market such as clear braces and white braces. These can make wearers feel much more confident as less attention is drawn to the fact that they are wearing dental braces.

Below is a summary of the main advantages and disadvantages of braces of different kinds. Following that you will find more detailed information to help you decide which type of dental brace is right for you.

Type of Dental BracesProsCons
Invisalign braces (invisible braces) Almost invisible Removable Easy to clean Not suitable for more severe cases May be more expensive Treatment can take longer than expected Teeth must be brushed and flossed after eating or drinking
Lingual braces (incognito braces) Hidden behind teeth Difficult to clean and adjust Treatment takes longer and is more expensive than traditional braces Can have a greater effect on speech
Ceramic braces (white braces) Tooth-coloured or clear material As effective as metal braces Can stain easily Same discomfort as metal braces A more expensive option
Self-ligating braces (including Damon braces) Less painful than traditional braces Available as clear braces Potentially quicker and cheaper treatment More noticeable if metal brackets used Not suitable for every patient
Traditional metal braces Usually the cheapest option Available on the NHS for eligible patients Can be customised with coloured bands Most noticeable style of braces Certain foods can't be eaten Can be uncomfortable or painful


Invisible braces / Invisalign

Invisalign removable braces are a completely different alternative to conventional metal braces. They consist of clear plastic aligners which fit over your teeth and guide them into their correct position over time.

treatment with clear braces

Invisalign “invisible” braces can barely be seen

Invisalign treatment is most suitable for mild and moderate cases of misaligned teeth; for more severe cases a different style of brace may be required. You’ll need to visit your orthodontist to find out whether your teeth can be treated with invisible braces like Invisalign.

Invisalign Teen is a special type of aligner brace designed with features specifically to help teenagers get the most out of wearing them. This includes an indicator to show your dentist whether you’ve been wearing them enough!

If you choose Invisalign braces, your orthodontist will scan your mouth to create a 3D image of your teeth which will then be used to plan your treatment. Your invisible braces should be ready about a month after this initial consultation.

The treatment consists of a series of aligners which change roughly every two weeks to gradually shift your teeth. You’ll need to go for a checkup every four to six weeks to see how your treatment with these removable braces is progressing.

The average Invisalign treatment takes 12-18 months, but it can be shorter or longer depending on the degree of correction required. After that, you may be advised to wear a retainer every night to stop your teeth moving back to their previous position.

Invisalign braces are completely removable which means you can clean and floss your teeth as normal, decreasing the chances of tooth decay and gum disease while you’re wearing braces.

However, they still need to be worn for 20-22 hours a day. Those 2-4 brace-free hours are for eating, drinking and cleaning, as the aligners are supposed to be removed to eat and drink anything except water. A positive side-effect of this reported by some users is improved eating habits with less snacking.

For more information on invisible braces, you can read our complete guide on the subject.

braces behind teeth

Lingual braces are hidden behind the teeth

Lingual braces

Another option for people who want to straighten their teeth inconspicuously is lingual braces. Although not technically invisible, these braces go behind the teeth, facing inwards, so are hardly noticeable from the outside.

These are also known as hidden braces or Incognito braces (which is actually a brand name). Hidden braces are usually fixed to the inner surface of the teeth using the same fittings as traditional metal braces. Fittings can also be moulded to the shape of each tooth individually, but this increases the cost significantly.

These braces are still visible when the mouth is open wide, but it is not immediately obvious that the person is wearing braces.

Despite this obvious benefit of lingual braces, there are several drawbacks which make them a less popular choice.

Firstly, they are difficult to clean as they can’t be seen clearly and are in a place you’re not used to cleaning thoroughly. This positioning also means that adjustments at checkups take longer.

Secondly, incognito braces can cause more severe speech defects than those that sit on the outside of the teeth. Most brace wearers experience some changes to their speech when their braces are fitted, but with lingual braces this can be more pronounced or take longer to correct.

Finally, treatment with incognito braces typically costs more than with traditional braces.

Ceramic braces

woman smiling with braces

Braces can be coloured to be barely visible

The brackets for ceramic braces are made from a material that’s either clear or the same colour and texture as teeth, making them less obvious than metal braces. Furthermore, the wire used to connect the brackets can also be tooth-coloured.

Because these braces work in the same way as traditional braces, they are just as effective. This does also mean that they carry the same potential for discomfort.

The main downside of white braces is that the elastic bands used on them can stain easily if not cleaned properly. Because of the material used, they are more expensive than metal braces too.

For many people, ceramic braces provide a good balance between cost, speed and appearance. Transparent brace brackets are not noticeable from a distance and are less distracting than metal braces close-up. They also offer faster treatment than invisible braces like Invisalign.

Self-ligating braces

In terms of outward appearance, self-ligating braces are much the same as conventional braces in that they use a bracket and wire system. However, the technology used in these more modern braces means that no elastic bands or metal ties are required to keep the archwire in place.

braces straightening teeth

Self-ligating braces gradually tighten themselves

Some brands, such as Damon braces, are available as clear braces with transparent brackets for patients who are more image-conscious.

The self-tightening system used in Damon braces combined with advanced technology heat-activated wires mean that the process of aligning teeth is relatively gentle. With traditional braces, patients usually experience pain or discomfort after each adjustment, but self-ligating braces are constantly adjusting at a much more steady pace.

The lack of rubber bands in this style of brace means they are more hygienic. In addition, the brackets are designed to hold onto less food than the traditional style.

Self-ligating braces can also offer faster treatments than other styles because they are more efficient at moving teeth. This, along with the fact that they require fewer checkups with your dentist, makes them one of the more affordable braces for teeth.

There are limitations to the kinds of orthodontics that can be performed with these braces, however, so they may not be an option for certain patients.

Traditional metal braces

braces components

The brackets and elastic bands used in traditional braces

Even plain old metal fixed braces have come a long way from the ‘train tracks’ you may have experienced at school – they have become lighter, smaller and less noticeable as technology has improved.

High-grade stainless steel brackets are attached to each tooth and a flexible metal wire is threaded through each one. Small rubber bands or metal ties are used to secure the wire. By tightening the wire in different places, orthodontists can manoeuver teeth into the desired position. Sometimes they use larger rubber bands to connect different teeth and pull them in certain directions.

Occasionally some kind of headgear may have to be worn at night to aid treatment with fixed braces.

Having these braces fitted takes 1-2 hours. The process itself shouldn’t hurt but it’s normal for teeth to feel sore after getting new braces, and after each adjustment.

braces with coloured elastics

Coloured elastics add an element of fun

Treatment using conventional braces usually takes 18-24 months. During this time you’ll be at increased risk of tooth decay so it’s important to take good care of your teeth and clean your braces carefully.

For teens (and even some adults!) one bonus with this style of brace is you can choose the colour of elastic band used on each of the brackets. Coloured braces at least allow you to make a style statement while your teeth are being fixed.

How much do braces cost in the UK?

The cost of braces for adults in the UK is one of the things that prevents many people from seeking treatment. There is no such thing as ‘cheap braces’ (and if you find them you should be extremely wary of the person or company offering them).

Adult braces cost anywhere from £1,500 to £5,000 or more, depending on the kind of brace and length of treatment required. You’re not only paying for the materials used to create the braces; you must also factor in the time it takes for your orthodontist to fit them and adjust them at each checkup.

Here you can see roughly how much different types of braces cost for adults with private orthodontic treatment in the UK. Prices can be much higher if particularly complex work is required.

Braces TypeApproximate Price of Braces
Invisalign braces £1,800 - £5,500
Lingual (incognito) braces £1,500 - £10,000
Ceramic braces £2,000 - £3,500
Self-ligating (Damon) braces £1,500 - £4,500
Traditional metal braces £1,500 - £3,000

Since white ceramic braces and clear braces cost more than metal fittings, a common solution is to use ceramic or clear brackets for the top front teeth, which are most visible, and to use cheaper braces on the remaining teeth which usually remain out of sight.

Finding an orthodontist

dentist's surgery

Finding the right dentist can be tricky

Prices for braces will vary across different regions of the country and from one dentist to another, so it’s worth shopping around to get an idea of costs. An orthodontist won’t be able to provide a final quote until he or she has examined your teeth during a consultation, which may itself incur a fee. Some dentists offer finance plans to make braces more affordable.

Be sure to check exactly what is included in your quotation and what you’ll have to pay for separately. Consider things like retainers, mouthguards, and ongoing checkups after your braces are removed.

Also remember that you’ll need to travel to your dentist for regular checkups, so it’s best to find one located near your home or office.

NHS braces for adults and teens

Orthodontic treatment is free on the NHS for people up to age 18 who have a clear need for treatment. If you or your children are approaching this age and might need braces, it’s well worth investigating NHS braces now to avoid paying for private orthodontic work later on.

Here is one teenager’s account of getting braces on the NHS, along with some tips for living with braces:

Adults over 18 are not usually eligible for NHS braces, but exceptions are made in severe cases which require orthodontic treatment to avoid serious health problems later in life. You’ll need to visit your dentist to find out whether you may be eligible for braces on the NHS as an adult.

Adults who are eligible for braces on the NHS will need to pay the band 3 treatment fee, which is currently £244.30. This is significantly cheaper than paying for braces privately.

Bear in mind that the only braces offered by the NHS are metal ones. Many adults prefer to pay for private treatment where they can choose from a wider range of braces that aren’t as noticeable, such as clear braces or invisible braces.

If you have private health insurance, it’s worth checking whether orthodontic work is included. However, it’s unusual for basic dental insurance plans to cover the cost of braces for teeth.

Can you straighten teeth without braces?

It’s possible to straighten teeth without having metal glued to them – which is what most people consider braces to be.

acrylic retainers

Retainer braces can be removed for convenience

The Invisalign transparent brace (described above) is one way to do this.

It may also be possible to use a dental retainer to correct minor problems with overcrowded teeth. Retainers can be fixed or removable; the latter is formed from metal wire and an acrylic plate that is shaped to fit your mouth.

Removable retainers are a good option for people who want to perfect their smile without having permanently fixed braces. Retainers can easily be taken for special occasions and to eat, but at the same time they’re easily lost and expensive to replace.

For people with more severely misaligned teeth, fixed braces may be the only option.

Braces: before and after

Orthodontics can achieve some pretty amazing transformations. The time lapse video below shows how a variety of patients’ teeth looked before and after braces.

Your teeth after braces will be better aligned so you can eat and take care of them more easily. Braces should also improve the cosmetic appearance of your smile. These ‘before and after braces‘ photos show the transformation that can occur:

Before bracesAfter braces

Orthodontic braces can quite quickly start moving your teeth; the second example above shows teeth just nine weeks after having braces fitted.

But even if your teeth start to look better after just a couple of months, it’s likely your braces will need to stay on for a while longer to get the teeth fixed in their new position.

What’s it like wearing braces as an adult?

In many countries, including the US, the high cost of braces for adults has turned them into a status symbol of sorts. This view is yet to spread to the UK though, so here there is still some stigma attached to wearing braces.

Fortunately, braces for adults are becoming more commonplace as people decide to seek treatment later in life – either because they missed out on braces as a child or because of the amount that braces cost.

It’s still understandable for adults to worry about being treated differently at work, being teased by friends, or being viewed differently by potential partners as a result of wearing braces. This is one of the reasons why removable braces are so popular, as well as clear and white braces.

Removable braces not only make it easier to eat but can be taken out for short periods, for example important meetings, if the wearer is particularly self-conscious.

Many people decide it’s worth putting up with a couple of years of awkwardness in order to achieve a smile they’re confident to show off for the rest of their lives.

On a practical note, some adult brace-wearers report difficulties with speaking and eating at first, but soon become accustomed to wearing braces and find ways to adjust.

Most people get used to wearing braces within a month, and no longer notice them after having them for six months or so.

Do adult braces hurt?

If you get dental braces as an adult you’re asking your body to break down parts of the bone in your jaw that hold your teeth in their current position. Bone is then re-grown around the teeth in their new position, as this video shows:

So yes, it’s normal to feel some discomfort – especially in the days following each visit to the dentist where your brace is adjusted. There’s a chance you may also experience some irritation to your cheek tissue, which can lead to mouth sores.

Here are some tips for dealing with pain from braces:

  • Take over-the-counter painkillers to ease any soreness and aches
  • Eat soft foods such as soup, eggs, pasta, mashed potato and yoghurt if you experience discomfort when biting
  • Use orthodontic wax to cover any brackets or wires that are irritating your mouth
  • If you do develop mouth sores, avoid touching them with your tongue or fingers as this will make them worse
  • Anaesthetic mouth gels can be used to numb painful areas – this can be especially useful at night if you’re having trouble sleeping
  • Rinsing your mouth with warm salt water will help ease oral pain

If you experience severe pain from wearing braces or a wire comes loose and is at risk of causing injury to part of your mouth, you should contact your dentist to make an emergency appointment.

Eating restrictions

While there are some foods you may avoid for comfort while wearing braces, there are others that are prohibited altogether.

avoid apples if you have braces

No eating apples while wearing braces

Invisalign braces offer most flexibility with eating as they can be completely removed – but remember you must clean your teeth before putting them back in again.

Your orthodontist will tell you which foods to avoid eating with fixed braces. These usually include:

  • Hard foods like nuts and boiled sweets
  • Foods you bite into like apples, raw carrots, crusty bread and corn on the cob
  • Sticky foods like caramel and chewing gum
  • Crunchy foods like popcorn, crisps and ice
  • Chewy foods like gummy sweets, bagels and tough meats

You can also damage your teeth braces just by biting on hard things like your fingernails or the end of a pencil, so you must be mindful of what you put in your mouth.

If your braces get damaged while you’re eating you may not even realise it, and this can prolong your treatment. You may have to pay for parts of your braces to be replaced, too.

How do I know if I need braces?

If you think you’re eligible for NHS braces you’ll need to make an appointment with your dentist who will then refer you to an orthodontist. With private treatment you can skip straight to having a consultation with your chosen orthodontist.

Should you decide you want a certain type of braces for you or your teenager, such as Invisalign braces or Damon braces, you will need to search for orthodontists near you who offer that particular brand.