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.
Published or updated January 24, 2011.