Your Complete Guide to Adult Braces: Costs, Types and More

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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.

Clear braces for adults
The average cost of braces for adults can be great, but the benefits are worth it

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
  • Braces 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.

How do braces work?

types of braces
Results of dental braces for adults, before and after arch expanding

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 dentist or orthodontist may recommend that you have dental braces fitted:

This video animation demonstrates the correction of some of these dental problems and answers the question: How do braces work?

Here is a great video on How 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.

adult braces
Are you eligible for braces for adults?

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, 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.

Types of braces
Brace types like metal and ceramic have different costs

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 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/Invisalign brace types

Invisalign removable teeth braces are a completely different alternative to conventional metal braces. They use a series of clear plastic aligners which 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.

Invisalign Teen teeth braces is 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.

invisible braces for adults
Invisible braces for adults  are barely noticeable

Another popular brand of invisible braces is made by SmileDirectClub. These at-home braces are nearly invisible, convenient and more affordable than other invisible braces brands. You can take their free Smile Assessment below to find out if you’re an eligible candidate.

Invisalign and invisible braces for adults

If you choose invisible braces, your dentist or orthodontist will scan your mouth to create a 3D image of your teeth. This will then be used to plan your treatment. Your tailor-made aligners should be ready within a month of this initial consultation.

Invisible braces for adults over 40 and 50
Clear braces for adults have many benefits

The treatment consists of a series of aligners which you change for another set every one to two weeks to gradually shift your teeth. You’ll need to go for a checkup every six weeks to see how your treatment is progressing. Unlike other treatments, there is no need to worry about emergency appointments to fix broken wires.

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 from 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 them.

However, they still need to be worn for 20–22 hours a day. Those two–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, Invisalign braces offer efficient and convenient braces teeth straightening that’s very hard for other people to notice. Although they cost more than traditional metal braces, their invisibility factor makes them the best type of braces for many adults and teens.

For more information on this teeth straightening method check out our complete guide to invisible braces.

Lingual braces

invisible braces for adults
Invisible braces may be the best braces for adults

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.

Ceramic braces

best braces for adults
These ceramic braces for adults cost more but are more subtle

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 Invisalign.

Self-ligating braces

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.

braces for adults cost
Brace types include self-ligating braces; affordable braces for adults

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

metal braces for adults
Metal braces for adults cost less

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–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.

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. There is no such thing as really cheap braces for adults (and if you find advertisements for cheap braces, you should be extremely wary of the person or company offering them).

Adult braces cost
So just how much are braces for adults?

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. 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.

Type of Appliance Approximate Price
Invisible $3,500–$8,500
Lingual (incognito) $5,000–$13,000
Ceramic $3,000–$10,000
Self-ligating (Damon) $2,500–$8,000
Traditional metal $2,500–$7,500

 

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 like Invisalign clear aligners offer the best balance between appearance, cost, and efficiency. You might even find they are cheaper than some of the other solutions you’re considering.

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.

To cover the remaining cost of your braces, you might consider a medical loan or credit card. A personal loan for braces lets you pay for your treatment straight away and then spread the cost into regular payments.

Alternatively, your dentist might offer an in-house payment plan to help you spread the cost of your treatment. They might also offer a savings plan, which you can search for on Dentalplans.com. Dentalplans.com is an online marketplace where you can search for insurance and savings plans, based on the care you may need and the amount you can spend. 

You can read more about all the different finance options for dentistry here.

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.

Finding an orthodontist

What is orthodontia?
Find the right dentist to give your teeth braces

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.

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.

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. Invisible braces are a very popular alternative to fixed braces. 

teeth retainer cost
Brace types also include retainers

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 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 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.

Our complete guide to teeth straightening has more information about the alternatives to braces.

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.

10 cases before and after braces at The Orthodontic Centre

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 bracesAfter 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.

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 their new appliance and find ways to adjust.

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:

Braces are a lot more barbaric – and awesome – than you might think. But they actually just copy the process that the rest of your bones naturally undergo! Andrea, an MIT Sloan Fellow, explains.

Learn more about the related research that's happening at MIT: https://www.pinterest.com/mitk12videos/how-do-braces-work/
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Special thanks:
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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.

Eating restrictions

While there are some foods you may avoid simply for comfort, there are others that are prohibited altogether if you have a fixed appliance.

how much does it cost for braces
Crunchy foods like apples can damage brackets and wires

Invisalign 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. If you’re concerned about the appearance of your teeth, mention it to your regular dentist at your next checkup. He or she will be able to refer you to an orthodontist if needed. Alternatively, you can book an appointment directly with an orthodontist of your choice.

Conclusion

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.

invisible braces for adults
Is the cost of braces worth it for you?

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.
  • Invisalign braces arguably provide the most comfortable, affordable, and efficient straightening solution if you don’t want it to be obvious you’re wearing braces.

FAQs

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. 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.

How much do metal braces cost?

Metal braces cost on average $2,500–$7,500 without insurance.

What are the difference brace types?

If you are looking for braces for adults, you can choose from invisible, lingual, ceramic, self-ligating and traditional metal braces. 

Your Complete Guide to Adult Braces: Costs, Types and More
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Contributors:
Dr. Koch
maxpaulth@gmail.com on Website
Dr. Koch is a board-certified orthodontist committed to keeping himself current with the latest in orthodontic treatment and technology at Koch Orthodontics at Lawrenceville and Loganville, GA. In his quest to provide the best possible care to patients, he actively participates in progressive study clubs and frequently blogs about orthodontic innovations and latest treatment modalities like Invisalign and self-ligating braces. Dr. Koch’s informative posts are a great resource for prospective patients needing a better idea of what orthodontic treatments are really like.
Sources

AAO: Adults’ guide to orthodontics. Consulted 31 July, 2019.

AAO: Do I need treatment? Consulted 31 July, 2019

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