So your orthodontist has told you that your child needs braces or some type of orthodontics. Your next question is probably, "How much do braces cost?" The cost for comprehensive orthodontic treatment ranges from about $4500 to $6500 depending on case complexity, patient age, type of braces, and geographic location. Fortunately for you, orthodontic care is one of the few expenses that have not been rising relative to inflation for the last couple decades. Despite that, the cost is not negligible.
Factors that may increase orthodontic cost are complex cases, adult cases, cosmetic braces, cases involving a lengthy treatment time, or treatments in large metropolitan areas. Simple child or adolescent cases, silver metal braces, short treatment times, or treatments in rural areas are usually associated with lower fees. The cost of Invisalign treatment may be slightly higher or lower and depends not only on the above factors, but on whether a dentist or orthodontist will be doing your Invisalign treatment.
It is important to realize that orthodontic treatment is an investment that will last a lifetime. The benefits by far outweigh the costs. The increased self-confidence, benefits of improved access to clean your teeth, and better function of a proper bite are some of the main benefits of having straight teeth.
The good news is that most offices will work with you to make it affordable and accommodate your needs with flexible payment plans. Orthodontists are dental professionals who care about increasing access to care across the board with or without the help of insurance. Everyone deserves a beautiful smile!
There are various components that go into calculating the final fee. Though fees may not always be broken down by category, there is usually a fee for diagnostic records, treatment and retention. In many cases, consultation appointments will be free.
During the initial consultation, the orthodontist will clinically examine the patient’s mouth and will be able to give you a general idea of what will likely be the course of treatment and the time and approximate cost involved. However, to determine the exact details, diagnostic records are necessary. Even without full records, the orthodontist should still be able to answer many questions during your first visit to the orthodontist such as timing and duration of treatment, any special appliances that may be needed, and insurance and payment plans.
Just like a physician needs to conduct a physical exam prior to any procedure, the orthodontist needs a set of diagnostic records to properly diagnose your case and develop a treatment plan. Records include a set of photographs (teeth and face), a set of study models (impressions/molds of patient’s teeth), panoramic x-ray showing the teeth present, developing, the health of the teeth and supporting bone, and also a cephalometric x-ray (a side x-ray of the head) that allows your orthodontist to assess your orthodontic problems and determine the best course of treatment.
There is generally a cost associated with the diagnostic records to cover the materials expense and the doctor’s time to diagnose the results. In most cases this fee is charged separately from your treatment, as it does not obligate you to start treatment. The records will allow the doctor to better estimate the time and difficulty of the case and thus determine the fee, which will be presented after reviewing the records.
Some doctors have time allotted in their schedule to review the records and perform the necessary measurements while the patient is in the office and you can initiate treatment right away. Other doctors prefer to have more time to diagnose and will ask you to schedule an additional consultation appointment to allow them to review the records and the results will be presented to you at that time.
After the records are reviewed by the orthodontist, he/she may want to discuss the treatment plan with you in more detail. Some orthodontists schedule a separate consultation appointment whereas others will conduct a telephone consultation.
The fee for your orthodontic treatment is based on the difficulty of the case and the amount of time it will take to accomplish the desired result. As mentioned above, the fee for records is usually separate from the main treatment fee. Some orthodontic offices choose to have their fee all-inclusive. What does that mean? Your braces, your appointments, appliances used during treatment, progress x-rays and photographs, a set of retainers after your treatment is finished, and usually a couple of years of follow-up visits to monitor your result are included.
Other orthodontic offices choose to unbundle their fee. There will be a fee for straightening the teeth and there will be a separate fee for the retention period that includes your retainers and follow-up visits. This method is usually preferred in areas of higher mobility as patients often move and transfer to another orthodontist.
In such cases, it is easier on you from the financial aspect because if you were completely paid in full and you need to transfer, the new orthodontist will generally charge you a fee to cover their time and expenses on top of what you have already paid to your initial doctor. If your fee was only covering your treatment and the portion left for retention has not been charged yet, you may face the same total cost when combining these two fees together from two different offices
Retention means that your braces have been removed and now it is time to maintain the hard earned result! Retainers will hold your teeth in the correct position and allow your teeth to stabilize. Your orthodontist will give you instructions and inform you how often your retainers are to be worn and when to come back to have those checked. You will be coming to see your orthodontist less and less often for a few years after the braces are removed. Eventually you will “graduate” and it will be your responsibility to call the office if you feel the need to see the orthodontist again. The fee for retainers and retainer-check appointments up to a certain time are often bundled in with the overall fee.
Dr. Yue is a Board Certified Orthodontist practicing in Chicago, Illinois. Read more about Dr. Yue.