Probably one of the most commonly asked orthodontic questions on the internet is ‘how much do braces cost?’ so in this post, I’m taking a look at the direct and indirect cost of getting braces.
Most dental and orthodontic practices with an up to date website, have a ‘fees’ or ‘costs’ page which lists their services and indicative costs for treatment. These are usually divided by type of brace so you will see costs for traditional braces, clear braces, lingual braces, and aligners. The practice will also likely detail costs for assessments and record taking as well as retainers and any ancillary services such as whitening or hygiene appointments.
What you are likely to see immediately before the figure is that frustrating word ‘from…’. So, for example, Invisalign from £1500, lingual braces from £4000 which isn’t always helpful as this could mean your treatment may be several thousand pounds more expensive and out of your reach. It’s easy to see why practices include the word ‘from’ as each case is different and without a proper diagnostic consultation looking at the severity of your case, they may not wish to commit to a figure which is unrealistic and unprofitable.
There are many costs which need to be covered by patient fees including an apportionment of the costs required to run the practice such as heating, lighting, rent and staff costs to name a few. Then there are the direct costs associated with your treatment including the brackets, wires, appliances, elastics, materials and disposable items. The more complex the case, the greater number of visits will be required so you can see how it is difficult for a practice to accurately detail costs on their website. That said, many practices do appear to charge similar fees so it’s reasonable to assume that, in many cases, the costs are averaged out with some patients being more profitable than others.
Before getting braces, you will need to attend for a diagnostic appointment which will include a consultation with the orthodontist for treatment planning, some record taking such as a digital scan or impressions, measurements, X-Rays, and photographs. This appointment will usually last for around an hour and can be anything from free to around £400. Some practices discount this fee off your treatment cost if you decide to go ahead with treatment so this is something to think about when looking at the overall cost of treatment. A number of busy practices, charge a small refundable fee for booking an assessment or diagnostic appointment which is refunded to you afterward. This helps to reduce the number of people who do not attend appointments enabling the practice to maximise the time available.
Traditional and clear brackets
The lowest cost entry point for orthodontics is using traditional metal brackets. There are many good reasons for seriously considering this option which I have covered in other posts, not just the financial savings you are likely to make. Fees start around £2500 and extend up to about £3500. For clear brackets, you can add around £350 – £500 to the cost as these brackets are more expensive to buy. Treatment with traditional and clear brackets is virtually the same which is why there is little difference in the cost.
Lingual braces are placed on the inside surface of the teeth and are often custom made for each patient. These brackets are expensive to produce and time-consuming to fit and adjust. Some practices use pre-made lingual brackets which reduces the cost but these can be larger and less comfortable than custom made brackets. Lingual brace wearers require slightly longer appointment slots and often custom-made archwires to produce the required tooth movements. This complexity of treatment and additional lab costs is reflected in the overall cost of lingual braces with fees realistically starting around £4500 but more likely in the £6000 to £8000 range.
Aligner treatment is becoming very popular and there are many different companies now producing aligners other than Invisalign. This increased competition has resulted in some reduction in fees across the country. It is worth noting that aligner companies all offer different products in their range so if you see a fantastic offer, be aware this might be for a limited number of aligners which will just straighten your front teeth. Aligners typically start around £1500 but more realistically between £3000 and £4500 for a full course of treatment.
I’ve written about this topic before but if you are going to invest the time and effort in getting your teeth straightened, you will need to seriously consider retention. Retainers are either fixed or removable and are often included in the cost of treatment. If you see a special offer for reduced price treatment, check that retainers are included as this is one way some practices reduce the headline cost of their treatment. Fixed or bonded retainers usually cost between £250 and £600 with removable retainers around £200. Many people opt for both retainers for very sensible reasons so check if both are covered in the overall treatment cost quoted as often you will be offered a removable retainer with a bonded retainer as an optional extra.
It’s easy to think that the total cost of orthodontic treatment is the fee quoted by the practice but you need to give some thought to other costs too. You will be attending a large number of appointments during your treatment so taking time off work may be necessary unless your practice offers evening and weekend appointments. This may be an additional cost due to loss of income that you may need to factor in. Travel to and from your appointments also needs to be considered as not everyone has an orthodontic practice just around the corner. Oral hygiene is something you need to consider so think about budgeting for additional dental products such as an electric toothbrush (from £50 to £300), inter-dental brushes, floss, and a water or air flosser (from £50 to £150). You will even find your toothbrush deteriorating more rapidly with braces so more of these will be required too! It is difficult keeping your teeth scrupulously clean with fixed brackets so additional dental hygiene appointments may be necessary too (typically around £70-£90 per appointment).
Spreading the cost
Many practices offer finance plans where you pay an amount up-front then monthly installments until the balance is paid off. This works well for many people with zero or low-cost interest payments. It may also be possible to negotiate a payment plan directly with the practice where you pay certain amounts at different points during your treatment.
Comparing like for like
When conducting your research and visiting practices, it is important that you consider the costs on a like for like basis. Look at all the costs from initial consultation through to retention. Do you get your diagnostic assessment discounted from the treatment fee if you go ahead and are retainers included in the cost and if so, which type? What are the treatment outcomes, are they just treating the front visible teeth or the underlying problem? It’s easy to get confused in the complexities of orthodontic treatment which is why it is so important to fully understand what you are buying to make sure the low-cost option isn’t the limited outcome option.
Some questions to ask your orthodontist
- What type of brace will give me the best results? What would you recommend and why?
- Are other costs during treatment likely to be incurred?
- If my treatment takes longer than forecast, will there be additional charges?
- How much will it cost to get a second, spare set of retainers?
- If I break my brace, will there be an additional cost for repairs?
- Can I pay by installments?
Some questions to ask yourself
- What am I hoping to achieve at the end of my treatment? – Keep this in mind!
- Will waiting another six months (or longer) enable me to have the treatment I want rather than compromise?
- Do I know enough about the options and likely outcomes before committing to a course of treatment?
- Am I completely happy in my choice of practice or have I been swayed by good marketing or a special offer?
- Have I allocated enough money to give me the outcome I desire?
- How confident do I feel that the practice will keep treating me to give me the outcome I desire rather than finishing my treatment before I’m happy
- Do I fully understand the difference in receiving orthodontic treatment from a specialist orthodontist rather than a dentist offering orthodontics
In the course of writing this blog, I’ve heard from many people with stories about their treatment. Some have started a course of treatment and then found they were being treated to a price rather than an outcome with pressure applied to finish treatment before they were happy with the outcome. Others have been seduced by offers or products which turned out to be not suitable sometimes requiring re-treatment with another practice. The majority have been very happy with their treatment and have found their practices kind and accommodating and only too happy to be completely upfront about the costs involved. My own experience has been incredible. My treatment took a lot longer than forecast and my orthodontist continued treating me until we were both happy with the outcome. There were no additional fees incurred during treatment and, as a practice, they went way beyond the agreed schedule to ensure I received an exceptional service.
Orthodontic treatment is expensive for a good reason. It takes time and skill to create a stable result that not only functions well but looks great too. There is no simple answer to ‘how much do braces cost?’ It depends on so many factors but if you do your research, understand the options and budget for the outcome you desire, you can’t go far wrong.
Image © unsplash.com / thought catalogue