Lingual (Invisible) Braces: Cost, Pros & Cons

What are Lingual Braces?

Lingual braces are a form of orthodontia that work similarly to metal braces – but instead of the brackets and wires being placed on the front side of the teeth, they are placed on the inner side of the teeth, facing the tongue.

Lingual braces – also known as invisible braces – function in the same way as traditional metal braces: brackets are affixed to the teeth for the length of treatment, connected by a thin, flexible wire. The orthodontist adjusts the wire and brackets to slowly move your teeth into place.

However, placing the brackets behind the teeth, facing the tongue, makes them much less visible than traditional metal braces, with less disruption to your smile. This makes them an appealing option for many braces wearers, although, as discussed below, they may not be an ideal orthodontic design for all patients.

How Are Lingual Braces Applied?

Lingual or invisible braces require brackets fixed to the teeth using bonding glue, all connected by a flexible metal archwire.

Lingual braces use a customized braces appliance uniquely designed for your teeth, which is prepared in a lab by a company that makes lingual braces.

When you come to the orthodontist for treatment with lingual braces, the orthodontist will take impressions of your teeth, using either putty molds or digital imaging.

They use these impressions to design the customized brackets used in lingual braces. The impressions are sent to a lab, which creates the brackets. It usually takes about 4-6 weeks to make and send back the brackets to your orthodontist.

You will then go to the office for bonding. During bonding, just like with traditional metal braces, the orthodontist and/or assistants will affix the brackets to your teeth using a special glue and then attach the archwire.

However, lingual braces are more difficult to place than traditional metal braces, because they are placed behind the teeth, facing the tongue. For this reason, the orthodontist’s team places all the brackets at the same time using the customized, pre-made bracket design, instead of affixing one at a time as with traditional braces. It may take a bit longer to apply lingual braces due to this design.

Once the lingual braces are applied, you will wear them throughout your treatment, typically 12-36 months. They are nearly invisible to others, offering effective treatment without disrupting your smile.

How Much Do Lingual Braces Cost?

Lingual braces tend to cost more than traditional metal braces, typically around $10,000 to $13,000. They are expensive due to the materials, time to treat, and lab costs to fabricate those brackets.

While some patients are drawn to lingual braces because of the discreet, subtle appearance on the inner side of the teeth, facing the tongue, others may be concerned about the higher costs. Lingual braces are more expensive for several reasons:

  • Require specialized training that not all orthodontists have 
  • Are custom-molded to your teeth using higher-cost materials
  • Less popular treatment means lower patient volume
  • May take longer than traditional braces

In addition, lingual braces may be less likely to be covered by dental insurance, although coverage depends on the insurance policy. It is possible to get a portion of your lingual braces covered by insurance; talk to your provider about potential coverage.

The cost associated with lingual braces reflects all of the above factors: while you are paying more for lingual braces, you are also getting a uniquely customized treatment with a more discreet appearance. The cost range includes all materials, orthodontic visits, and follow-up care, although retainers may be extra.

Lingual Braces vs Traditional Metal Braces

While they use similar technology, lingual braces differ from traditional metal braces most noticeably in their discreet positioning: on the backside of the teeth, facing the tongue, rather than outside. This style offers a less observable treatment that is nearly invisible to others. In addition, the brackets are smaller for lingual braces, which many patients find more comfortable.

Less noticeable orthodontia is a major reason certain patients prefer lingual or invisible braces to metal braces. However, there are some drawbacks. Lingual braces are more expensive than traditional metal braces, due to their completely customized design, more complex application on your teeth, and a longer treatment period.

In addition, not all orthodontists treat patients with lingual braces, so you may have to look further afield for a provider near you that uses lingual braces.

Due to their design, lingual braces may not work for all orthodontic conditions: for instance, this may not be an effective treatment for deep overbites. While they are effective for treatment, they still may take longer, due to the more delicate process and materials used. Your visits to the orthodontist may take longer as the brackets are harder for the orthodontist to reach.

Some patients find that lingual braces are harder to clean: this is because they are placed in a harder-to-reach part of your mouth, making it more difficult to brush and floss. Since regular oral hygiene is an important part of your orthodontic care, it’s important to consider whether you will be able to fully clean your teeth with lingual braces.

Finally, the contact with your tongue while wearing lingual or invisible braces may cause speech impediments such as a lisp, or inflammation or irritation of your tongue.

Pros & Cons

Pros of Lingual Braces

  • Discreet, nearly invisible appearance with brackets behind the teeth, facing the tongue
  • Carefully customized to your specific condition and mouth
  • Able to treat many diverse orthodontic conditions
  • Brackets are smaller

Cons of Lingual Braces

  • May cost more due to treatment design and materials
  • May cause lisp due to contact with the tongue
  • Can be harder to clean teeth
  • Can’t fully treat every dental condition
  • May take longer than traditional braces and require longer office visits
  • Can be uncomfortable and cause pain to the tongue or cheeks

What Conditions Do Lingual Braces Treat?

Lingual braces can treat a wide variety of dental conditions. The customized, discreet design on the inner side of the teeth is effective for achieving straight teeth and beautiful smiles even with significant dental malocclusion.

Lingual braces work especially well for correcting dental crowding, crossbites, and underbites. These particular bites all respond well to the orthodontic method used in lingual braces, and studies have found that orthodontists are generally able to achieve the desired results using this treatment method.

Lingual or invisible braces may be less effective for treating deep overbites because this particular bite can put pressure on the brackets, cause them to come loose or break off on the inside of the teeth.

Who Should Get Lingual Braces?

Lingual braces are an excellent treatment option for anyone interested in straightening their teeth without others being able to see their orthodontia.

With the braces behind the teeth, facing the tongue, they are nearly invisible to the outside world, which is an especially appealing benefit of lingual braces for older teens and working adults. If you are looking to avoid the “metal-mouth” look of traditional metal braces, lingual or invisible braces might be just right for you.

However, there are significant drawbacks to lingual braces: they tend to cost more than metal braces and may take longer to treat your condition. It is also harder to clean your teeth with the brackets on the inside of your mouth.

In addition, many orthodontists do not offer this treatment, so you may have to go farther out of your neighborhood to find lingual braces treatment. These are all important factors to consider when you are choosing a braces treatment.

If you are getting lingual braces, be prepared for some discomfort in your cheeks and tongue (this guide to braces pain can help), as well as the possibility of impacted speech. However, you can also look forward to subtle treatment that looks less noticeable than other forms of metal braces.