If you are an adult with crooked teeth, you probably have some questions about adult braces: How much do braces cost for adults? Are there any free braces programs for adults? Due to the cost of braces, are the before and after results worth it?
For those who suffer from misaligned teeth, it's only natural to want to correct the problem. Not only do straighter teeth improve your appearance; they also aid your oral hygiene. Although the teenage years are the ideal time to straighten teeth, braces for adults are becoming more commonplace as people make the decision later in life.
With all kinds of different technologies now on the market, adult braces are more effective and discreet than ever. But working out which is the right type for you can be overwhelming.
If you're considering having your teeth straightened or you have a teenager who may need orthodontic work, this guide is for you. We'll cover the following points:
- Brace types
- Different brands
- Braces costs for adults
- Cheap braces for adults without insurance
- Braces for low-income adults
- How braces work
We'll also talk about the average cost of braces for adults with and without insurance and options for affordable braces for low-income adults.
Table of contents
- 1 How do braces work?
- 2 Different types of braces
- 3 How much do braces cost for adults in the US?
- 4 Finding an orthodontist
- 5 Can you straighten teeth without braces?
- 6 Braces: before and after
- 7 What's it like wearing braces for adults?
- 8 How do I know if I need orthodontic work?
- 9 Conclusion
- 10 FAQs
How do braces work?
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 various reasons why your dentist or orthodontist may recommend that 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
- Your teeth are misaligned because of a birth defect, e.g. a cleft palate or cleft lip
This video animation demonstrates the correction of some of these dental problems and answers the question: How do braces work?
You may find that the cost of braces is worth it, because 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
What is orthodontia, and who can have it?
Teeth straightening 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 usually around 10–14 years old.
However, braces can still be effective at any age. The American Association of Orthodontics (AAO) has plenty of information on their website for adults who may be considering braces. AAO orthodontists treated over 1.5 million adults in 2016.
And while some adults may have them fitted for health reasons, in many cases it's more to do with the esthetic appearance of their teeth and smile. Straighter teeth can lead to better self-esteem at work and at home.
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, you have gum disease, or you have had extensive restorative work such as crowns, you may not be able to have all types of 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, (unless you subscribe to the fake braces trend), but worrying about the way you look doesn't stop when you reach adulthood. If anything, you become more aware of how you look. The last thing you want is the ‘train track' look which makes it so obvious that you're straightening your teeth.
In fact, many adults and teens dislike 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. Adults might also worry they'll look immature if they wear braces.
Fortunately, conventional ‘metal mouth' braces are no longer the only option for those wanting a perfect smile. Modern ceramic materials can be made to match your natural tooth color, while invisible braces like Invisalign and Candid are almost impossible to detect. This draws much less attention to the fact that you have braces on your teeth.
Below is a summary of the main advantages and disadvantages of dental braces of different kinds. Following that, you will find more detailed information to help you decide which type is right for you.
Invisible braces for adults
Removable teeth braces are a completely different alternative to conventional metal braces. They use a series of clear plastic aligners that fit over your teeth and guide them into their correct position over time. The official term for this method of braces teeth straightening is ‘clear aligners', however, you'll most often hear them referred to as ‘invisible' or ‘removable' braces.
The average invisible braces treatment takes 12-18 months, but it can be shorter or longer depending on the degree of correction required. If you only need mild straightening then it may be as quick as three months with some brands. After that, you will be advised to wear a retainer every night to stop your teeth from moving back to their previous position.
Invisible 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 them. Unlike with fixed braces, there is no need to worry about emergency appointments to fix broken wires.
However, they still need to be worn for 20–22 hours a day. Those two to four 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 that has been reported by some users is improved eating habits with less snacking.
In short, invisible braces offer efficient and convenient braces teeth straightening that's very hard for other people to notice. This makes them the best type of braces for many adults and teens. You can read more details in our complete guide to invisible braces.
Invisible aligner braces can be divided into two categories: in-office and at-home. Both types have their advantages and disadvantages. For instance, in-office invisible braces can be used for severely crooked teeth, while at-home braces should only be used for mild to moderate cases of malocclusion. At-home braces, on the other hand, are much cheaper than in-office braces, and also way more convenient.
In-office invisible braces
In-office invisible braces are those which require regular visits with your dentist or orthodontist to complete treatment.
Normally your treatment will begin with a consultation, and then, if deemed a candidate for invisible braces, your dentist will make molds or take digital scans of your teeth. These will then be sent to a laboratory where they will plan your treatment and make your aligners. Once your aligners are made, you will visit your dentist again to receive them, and then periodically over the course of treatment, your dentist will make adjustments as needed.
Since invisible braces require in-person professional involvement, they are quite a bit more expensive than at-home braces. In fact, they can cost up to 75% more!
Two of the most popular names in the invisible braces game are Invisalign and ClearCorrect. The main difference between these two brands is the material used and the cost, depending on the type of treatment you choose. They can treat around 90% of orthodontic problems, including jaw misalignment and severely crooked teeth.
One perk of Invisalign is that it has quite a few options, such as Invisalign Teen—a special type of aligner designed with features specifically for helping teenagers get the most out of wearing them. This includes an indicator to show your dentist or orthodontist whether you've been wearing them enough! It's also an alternative to uncomfortable twin block braces if your jaw needs to move forward.
At-home clear aligner braces
At-home clear aligners look, feel and work the same as the in-office brands mentioned above. But that is where the similarities end. At-home clear aligners differ from in-office brands because:
- They are much less expensive than in-office brands—in fact, they cost around $2,000.
- Treatment can be carried out completely remotely, by taking teeth impressions at home.
- Some brands also have physical locations you can visit for a 3D teeth scan.
- Treatment can be as quick as 3 months.
- Patients must be at least 16 and have all of their permanent teeth.
- They are only suitable for mild and moderate teeth movement.
Brands of at-home aligner include Candid, ALIGNERCO, Byte, Smilelove, Smile Direct Club and SnapCorrect. These are all convenient, nearly invisible, and more affordable than other invisible braces brands. But with so many options out there, it can be hard to choose between them.
Keep in mind that not all at-home aligner brands are the same. Some only offer remote treatment, while some have physical locations which you can visit for an initial consultation and scan. Additionally, some brands work only with orthodontists, while others work with general dentists and orthodontists. Some brands, like Byte and ALIGNERCO even offer nighttime-only options. We recommend you read our guide to the best invisible braces to compare all these options in more detail.
For now, we can say that ALIGNERCO, Byte and Candid all stand out because they work exclusively with orthodontists, who are experts in teeth movement. Wouldn't you rather have a specialist monitoring your progress, especially if you're not going to have in-person checkups? Plus, these brands are all known for their excellent customer service.
Are you eligible?
If this is something you're interested in, the first step is to check whether you're a good candidate for home aligner treatment. Take two minutes to fill in a few details below and you'll get your results instantly, plus you can compare offers from some of the best brands on the market.
Another option for people who want to straighten their teeth inconspicuously is lingual braces. Although not technically invisible, the fittings go behind the teeth, facing inwards, so they're hardly noticeable from the outside.
These are also known as ‘hidden' or ‘Incognito' braces, (which is actually a brand name). The brackets fixed to the inner surface of the teeth can be standard fittings, but they can also be molded to the shape of each tooth individually. The latter option is, understandably, much more expensive.
These adult braces are still visible when the mouth is open wide, but it is not immediately obvious that the person is wearing them.
Despite this obvious benefit of lingual braces, there are several drawbacks that 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, hidden 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 appliance is fitted, but with lingual braces, this can be more pronounced or take longer to correct. They are also more uncomfortable than some other systems as the brackets and wires are closest to the tongue.
Finally, the treatment typically costs more than traditional styles.
The brackets for ceramic braces are made from a material that's either clear or the same color and texture as teeth, making them less obvious than their metal counterpart. Furthermore, the wire used to connect the brackets can also be tooth-colored.
Because these 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. The material used also makes them more expensive than metal.
For many people, ceramic adult braces provide a good balance between cost, speed, and appearance. Transparent brace brackets are not noticeable from a distance and are less distracting close-up. Treatment speeds can be comparable with clear aligner systems such as Smile Direct Club and Invisalign.
In terms of outward appearance, self-ligating braces are much the same as conventional styles in that they use a bracket and wire system. However, the modern technology used means that no elastic bands or metal ties are required to keep the straightening archwire in place.
Some brands, such as Damon, have a clear option 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 brackets, 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 braces means they are more hygienic, too. The brackets are designed to hold onto less food than the traditional style.
Self-ligating appliances can also offer faster treatments than traditional metal braces because they are more efficient at moving teeth. This, along with the fact that they require fewer checkups with your orthodontist, makes them one of the more affordable braces for low-income adults.
There are limitations to the kinds of orthodontic cases that can be treated with these braces, however, so they may not be an option for certain patients.
Traditional metal braces
Even plain old metal fixed braces have come a long way from the ‘train tracks' you or your parents 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 also use larger rubber bands or chains to connect different teeth (from top to bottom) and pull them in certain directions.
Occasionally some kind of headgear may have to be worn at night to aid treatment.
Having these braces fitted takes one to two hours. The process itself shouldn't hurt, but it's normal for teeth to feel sore after the initial fitting and after each adjustment. Some patients may need to wear spacers before braces, in order to make room for the molar rings that will anchor the braces in place.
Treatment using a conventional fixed appliance 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 braces is you can choose the color of elastic band used on each of the brackets. Colored braces at least allow you to make a style statement while your teeth are being fixed.
How much do braces cost for adults in the US?
So, How much are braces? The average cost of braces for adults (or teenagers) is one of the things that prevents many people from seeking treatment, and Medicaid usually doesn't cover them—or orthodontics in general. Braces costs for adults can vary greatly depending on the type you want and whether your insurance covers them. The cheapest option is at-home solutions, but at around $2,000 they still aren't exactly cheap.
Why are braces so expensive?
If you don't have insurance, adult braces cost a lot of money. You'll have a hard time finding truly cheap braces for adults for a few reasons. You're not only paying for the materials used to create the appliance; you must also factor in the time it takes for your orthodontist to fit it and adjust it at each checkup.
And with mail-order options, you may not be seeing an orthodontist in person, but a dentist or orthodontist will be supervising your case remotely—remote supervision helps lower the cost, but they can still be considered pricey to many.
So, your braces price will depend on the style you choose and the length of treatment required, but usually adult braces cost thousands of dollars.
Here, you can see roughly how much braces costs, based on the different types of braces for adults with private orthodontic treatment in the US. These braces prices assume that both the upper and lower teeth are treated. A higher cost of braces may apply if particularly complex work is required.
Since clear and white ceramic adult 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), then have metal on the remaining teeth which usually remain out of sight.
However, if you really don't want it to be obvious that you're wearing braces, invisible braces are probably the best solution. Invisalign is a well-known brand, but certainly not the cheapest type of braces. If you're worried about cost then check out these Invisalign alternatives which cost from just $1,145!
Does Medicaid cover the cost of braces for adults?
In some states, you may be eligible for braces coverage through Medicaid. Check out our article here to learn more about if you can get Medicaid braces for adults. It can also guide you in your search for programs that may offer free braces for low-income adults.
Covering your adult braces costs
If you have private health insurance, it's worth checking whether you have dental insurance for adult braces. Some insurers cover orthodontia for children insured on a family policy but not for adults. Even so, there is likely to be a maximum payout for this treatment, so you'll still have to pay a significant amount out-of-pocket.
You can read more about dental insurance and all of the different finance options for dentistry here.
Finding an orthodontist
First and foremost when looking for braces for adults near you, it is important to check if the dentists or orthodontists in your area are experienced, well qualified, and have opening hours that suit you. Asking the right questions is important. Asking family and friends for a recommendation is also a good idea.
Braces prices will vary across different regions 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 they have examined your teeth during a consultation, which may itself incur a small fee. You can call 844-207-7106 to get in touch with orthodontists near you and compare prices.
Be sure to check exactly what is included in your quotation and what you'll have to pay for separately. Consider things like tooth extractions, retainers, mouthguards, and ongoing checkups after your braces are removed. You should also check to see if any nonprofit organizations near you have a program for free braces for adults.
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. And if you live in a remote area with no convenient options nearby, mail-order braces might be worth considering instead.
Can you straighten teeth without braces?
In most cases, it's possible to straighten teeth without having metal glued to them, which is what most people consider braces to be. For example, invisible braces are a very popular alternative to fixed braces.
It may also be possible to use a dental retainer to correct minor problems such as overcrowded teeth. Retainers can be fixed or removable; the latter includes Hawley retainers, which are formed from metal wire and an acrylic plate that is shaped to fit your mouth. Another type of removable retainers are clear Essix retainers which are a more discreet option.
Removable retainers are a good option for people who want to preserve their newly-straightened smile without having fixed wires bonded to the back of their teeth. Removable retainers which need to be worn during the day can easily be taken out for special occasions and to eat. On the downside, they're easily lost and expensive to replace so a fixed metal retainer may be easier to manage. If you do have a removable retainer, it's important to keep them clean. You can read all about how to clean your retainer in our guide here.
Braces: before and after
Orthodontics can achieve some pretty amazing transformations. The time-lapse video below shows how a variety of patients' teeth looked with braces before and after treatment.
Your teeth after braces will be better aligned so you can eat and take care of them more easily. Teeth straightening should also improve the esthetic appearance of your smile. These ‘before and after braces' photos show the transformation that can occur:
|Before braces||After braces|
Orthodontic appliances usually get to work quite fast; the second example above shows teeth just nine weeks after the initial fitting.
But even if your teeth start to look better after just a couple of months, it's likely your treatment will need to continue for a while longer to get your teeth moved into their final position.
What's it like wearing braces for adults?
In many countries, including the US, the high cost of braces for adults (even with insurance) has turned them into a status symbol of sorts. Nowadays, it's becoming more common for adults to seek treatment later in life—either because they missed out on it 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 alternatives such as removable aligners and clear braces for adults are so popular.
Invisible braces not only make it easier to eat but can be taken out during short periods, like for important meetings or weddings, if the wearer is particularly self-conscious. And with brands like Byte and Candid using technology to make treatment as quick as 3-6 months, you can see why they are popular for adults considering braces.
On a practical note, some adult brace-wearers report difficulties with speaking and eating at first, but soon become accustomed to their new appliance and find ways to adjust. Many people decide it's worth putting up with a year or two of awkwardness in order to achieve a smile they're confident to show off for the rest of their lives. Most people get used to wearing braces within a month and no longer notice them after six months or so.
Do braces as an adult hurt?
If you get dental braces for adults, 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 or orthodontist when your braces are 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 any pain:
- Take over-the-counter painkillers to ease any soreness and aches
- Eat soft foods such as soup, eggs, pasta, mashed potato, and yogurt 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
- Anesthetic 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 or orthodontist to make an emergency appointment.
While there are some foods you may avoid simply for comfort, there are others that are prohibited altogether if you have a fixed appliance.
Invisible braces offer the 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 candies
- Foods you bite into like apples, raw carrots, crusty bread, and corn
- Sticky foods like caramel and chewing gum
- Crunchy foods like popcorn, potato chips, and ice
- Chewy foods like gummy candies, bagels, and tough meats
You can also cause damage 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 realize it, and this can prolong your treatment. You may have to pay for certain parts to be replaced, too. These are both good reasons to follow the instructions from your dentist!
How do I know if I need orthodontic work?
You may have concerns about your smile but aren't sure if you need treatment. Sometimes, a slightly crooked smile has to do mostly with aesthetics, and if that's the case, you could be a good candidate for at-home aligners. You can check your eligibility here.
Sometimes, however, in cases of severe malocclusion, it's important to get your teeth straightened for health reasons as well, in which case, it would be advisable to consult your dentist and get in-office treatment.
It's never too late to take the first step towards a more confident smile. You just need to decide which type of braces will suit you best. This probably comes down to a balance between braces price, comfort, appearance, and results.
In summary, we can say that:
- Most teens and adults would prefer to avoid the ‘train track' metal braces look.
- Ceramic braces are less obvious than metal but only from a distance, and can be just as uncomfortable.
- Lingual braces have the ‘invisibility' factor but a high price tag.
- Invisible braces arguably provide the most comfortable, affordable, and efficient straightening solution if you don't want it to be obvious you're wearing braces.
How much do braces cost for adults?
The cost of adult braces varies a lot based on types of braces and if you have insurance or not. In-office teeth braces costs range anywhere from $2,500–$13,000. Adult braces prices will most likely be higher than braces prices for children, since teeth braces prices for children are often covered by insurance.
If your main concern is price, consider teledentistry treatment with at-home aligners. The maximum cost is $2,400, and some brands are even cheaper. Remember, you can fill in your details here to check your eligibility and access special offers.
How much do metal braces cost?
Metal braces cost on average $2,500–$7,500 without insurance.
What are the different brace types?
If you are looking for braces for adults, you can choose from invisible, lingual, ceramic, self-ligating and traditional metal braces.
Can I get braces for top teeth only and what's the price?
Yes, if it's just your top teeth that you want to straighten then you may be able to get upper braces only. But your orthodontist will need to check that this won't affect the bite on your lower teeth. Similarly, some people get braces for just their bottom teeth. The cost for top teeth braces may be around 60% of a full set.