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Braces and Orthodontics: Costs and Benefits

This article was written by in Health. 12 comments.


Through most of my four years of high school, I had braces on my teeth. The braces helped to correct an overbite, and I wore them longer than most kids my age most likely because I wasn’t consistently wearing the head gear during the night as prescribed. It’s hard for me to weigh the cost versus the benefits because my parents paid. My guess is the cost was between $2,000 and $5,000 for me, and probably a similar amount for my younger brother, who also wore braces for a few years. I can speak to the benefits: I’m quite happy my teeth are straight and healthy today, and if they weren’t, at this point I would have visited an orthodontist on my own.

The option to take advantage of orthodontics to fix an overbite or crooked teeth is mostly a privileged problem. For families living paycheck-to-paycheck, major work like this, often seen as cosmetic only, is an unaffordable luxury.

Families living with an income that puts them below 200% of the poverty line can qualify for free braces through a non-profit organization called Smiles Change Lives. Participating orthodontists will see patients who qualify through this program for free, but the application costs $25, and if accepted, there is a $500 fee. That fee can be partially waived for some families living below the poverty line, but even paying $500 for straight teeth can save thousands of dollars in dentist and medical bills throughout the course of a life.

As an adult, I witnessed an amazing transformation of a former co-worker thanks to orthodontics. When we first met, her teeth were crooked. Although she never appeared self-conscious, I knew from talking to her that she wasn’t happy. Her twin elementary-school-aged children began treatment with braces, and she decided to get braces with them, partly as a sign of solidarity, but mostly because she needed the work more than they did. With colorful elastics relating to a timely holiday or the Philadelphia Eagles, she came to work, now more self-conscious about whether food was hiding among the metal. A little over a year later, her orthodontist removed the braces and her teeth looked great.

The cost of taking care of your teeth is never too high — and when it is unaffordable, don’t stop until you’ve researched every possible way to pay for the services.

Photo: mseckington

Published or updated January 24, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar JT McGee

The server is down at smileschangelives right now :( but I’m sure it’s a great organization!

You make some great points about maintaining the health of your teeth. From what I’ve read, apparently your dental health can be directly attributed to the health of the rest of your body! Crazy.

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avatar tbork84 ♦1,867 (Half-Dollar)

I know the feeling of having braces through most of high school, but my parents were lucky enough that only one of their four children needed braces. You bring up a good point about preventative and corrective work on your mouth is very important. I know many people who pay even more down the road because they didn’t get the proper care when they were younger.

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avatar DonnaFreedman ♦90 (Newbie)

Three of us four kids needed braces; in addition, my sister needed to have four teeth pulled and wound up wearing braces the longest, four years. I got by in about 13 months.
My parents paid for it month to month, and as I recall the payments lasted longer than the treatment. I don’t know if today’s orthodontists could afford to trust that parents will, in fact, keep paying. Although I didn’t like having the braces I was grateful that my parents considered it a priority — I went to school with kids who had extremely crooked teeth and it did color one’s first impression toward them. Apparently the U.S. is one of the few countries in which it’s still OK to stereotype people because of their teeth.
My own daughter needed braces and a “bionator” to bring her lower jaw forward. I was grateful that we could afford it. In fact, I tell people that I paid for them with the money that I won on the game show “Jeopardy!” That’s only kind-of true, since she was pretty much through with the braces when I was on. But I won an amount that more than covered the braces.

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avatar Evan

Can we agree that she should have been more self conscious because of the Eagles colors? Just Kidding. I didnt’ know such a charity existed. I had braces growing up and they actually stained my teeth (probably my fault being a stupid 9 year old)…I know I felt much better when I was able to clean up the nasty stains!

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avatar skylog ♦368 (Nickel)

i, for one, will forever scream the praise of my orthodontist. my teeth were “meh” growing up, crooked on the bottom and i had a tooth coming out from the top that had no room. long story short, i only had braces for one year and four months when i was in 8th and 9th grade. my teeth ever since look great and it made me certain to take even better care of them that i probably would have had i not had the work done.

i am sure it resulted in more confidence for me as a youth, and to this day, i often have people comment on my teeth. i would imagine it often improved what people thought about me, on some level, for whatever that is worth.

more importantly, as others have said, perhaps the greatest benefit is how truly important proper dental health is and how having work done early is often so important for many reasons. in the end, i believe the benefits outweigh the costs. i think the “smiles change lives” organization sounds like a great idea. i was totally unaware they existed.

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avatar skylog ♦368 (Nickel)
avatar eric ♦1,549 (Half-Dollar)

I never got braces as a kid bc my parents couldn’t afford it. Now I realize my teeth need work so I’m budgeting some savings for future dental work. This stuff is pretty pricey!

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avatar tigernicole86 ♦55 (Newbie)

My family could never afford braces either. When I started my first job and actually went to the dentist, he said my teeth were straight but the way my teeth were positioned was obstructing my breathing at night and he could tell. I still couldn’t afford the braces but at my next job I’ll have great insurance once I’ve been there for 31 days! Yay!

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avatar Johnson

Braces are worth it, but I think your estimate on $2-5k for 4 years of braces is way low.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,500 (Platinum)

That was the estimate for the cost twenty years ago — though it could still be off. If that was the average cost and the average kids had braces for one or two years, I’d understand if the real cost was twice as much. I expect today it’s more like $5,000 to $8,000.

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avatar Johnson

Nowadays they’re about $6-8k, and that doesn’t include all the appointments at the orthodontist after they’re installed, plus supplies and other items, plus removing them. If you had them for 4 years today plus head gear, you’d be at $10k, minimum, and probably more.

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avatar faithfueledbennetts ♦264 (Nickel)

I love hearing about organizations like this one! Obviously, braces are not a necessity as much as a want to have. For many families, the decision may come down to what needs to be done rather than options of how money can be spent. I think braces are great for helping with self confidence, but are quite a price to pay. I love that this is not a luxury only available for middle to upper class, but for everyone due to this organization.

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