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The Complete Guide to Metal Braces: How Much They Cost, Pros & Cons, and More

Written by: Dr. Laura Edwards, Orthodontist
Medically reviewed by: Dr. Oleg Drut, Orthodontist and Diamond Braces CCO
Date: April 8, 2021

What Are Metal Braces?

Metal braces are orthodontic appliances made with high grade stainless-steel brackets, each held together with nontoxic dental cement and a metal arch wire. This wire follows the curvature of your jaw and is stabilized by a bracket that wraps around the back molar. The arch wire and brackets work in tandem with rubber ligature elastic bands (usually interwoven into the brackets) to gradually straighten the teeth into place.

A wide variety of orthodontic treatments exist for patients who want to straighten their smile, but traditional metal braces are easily the most abundant.

To keep your metal braces in good condition, be sure to only eat foods that are braces-friendly, routinely brush and floss, and be sure to keep up with continuous follow up appointments.

What Do Metal Braces Do?

As is the case with any type of braces, metal braces are meant to tackle various forms of misalignments (or malocclusions) in your teeth and mitigate the additional oral health problems they can lead to. Sometimes the desire that attracts patients to wearing braces is just purely cosmetic and simply wanting a better-looking smile.

That said, misaligned teeth can branch into a whole host of other problems, including chewing issues, breathing issues, insomnia, infections, chronic dental pain, and excess plaque buildup. Even a malocclusion that’s only aesthetically displeasing shouldn’t be taken lightly — insecurity about your smile can lead to self-confidence issues and contribute to broader mental health issues like anxiety and depression.  In addition, mild misalignments can cause gum disease, and gum disease can lead to greater systemic issues, such as high blood pressure, heart conditions, some types of cancers, and diabetes.

So be sure to take care of your smile — after all, happiness and healthiness go hand in hand.

Learn more about the conditions that braces can help treat.

How Much Do Metal Braces Cost?

Metal braces typically cost anywhere between $3,700-$7,000 on average for a comprehensive orthodontic treatment for upper and lower arches, including retainers. That said, costs can vary based on:

  • The severity of your case
  • The practice where you seek treatment
  • Your insurance
  • Experience of your orthodontist 

The full cost of metal braces will generally be less than other orthodontic options, and often includes pre-treatment screenings, x-ray imaging, follow-up office visits, and any necessary adjustments and emergency care. It should also include retainers and post retention follow ups.

How Much Do Metal Braces Cost with Insurance?

If you have dental insurance, you might be able to cover some (or all) of the cost of your treatment through your plan. If you aren’t satisfied with the discounts offered through your provider, or can’t afford a traditional provider, employment-based savings accounts are other means to reduce costs.

State-subsidized providers like CHIP and Medicaid may cover the full cost of metal braces for qualifying children and adolescents. However, adult patients will likely not have any coverage under these plans due to age limitations and will have to pay fully out of pocket.

As of 2021, the average cost of traditional metal braces through private, non-subsidized insurance is $3,407. That said, upper and lower retainers could additionally cost up to 900 dollars. Across the typical maximum treatment time (24 months), that entails paying around $142 a month or more.

How Long Do I Have to Wear Braces?

As alluded to above, it typically takes up to two years to complete orthodontic treatment with traditional metal braces. However, it isn’t uncommon to begin noticing minor changes in your teeth following the first month of treatment (4 to 6 weeks).

Factors that can affect that length of time include bone density, the age of the patient, and the severity of the diagnosis, but you should generally expect your treatment length to not be much longer or shorter than these timespans.

As for how fast metal braces work compared to ceramic braces and clear braces, it’s somewhat of a mixed bag. Though Invisalign and braces typically finish around the same time, certain variables will affect treatment speed in any case, like:

  • Provider experience and expertise (most importantly) 
  • Severity of diagnosis 
  • Patient compliance

Invisalign and braces are just tools in the hands of the operator. If you are not a pilot, you will not be able to fly a plane, even if the plane is working perfectly fine. Likewise, if you’re not careful with your orthodontic appliances, do not expect optimal care results.

Pros & Cons of Metal Braces

There are many potential advantages to metal braces that could appeal to an orthodontic patient. Conversely, there are many potential disadvantages that might not make metal braces so appealing to a prospective orthodontic patient. To help you decide either way, here is an overview of the possible advantages and disadvantages to be expected with metal braces.

Metal Braces: Pros

  • Metal braces are better at handling extreme misalignments and overcrowding than alternative orthodontic procedures.
  • Metal braces are typically the most cost-effective form of orthodontic treatment on the market.
  • The brackets and elastics can be colored and customized, which may be appealing to younger patients.
  • Since metal braces are fixed into place, there is less risk of them being lost or contaminated.

Metal Braces: Cons

  • Metal braces are more visible than ceramic braces and clear braces, which could negatively impact the patient’s self-esteem.
  • Patients wearing metal braces will have avoid certain foods that can potentially damage the arch wire.
  • While great innovations have been made to reduce discomfort, it’s not uncommon to experience pain and soreness through the first week of wearing metal braces, and a little tightness after each adjustment.
  • Patients who have a tight schedule may have a difficult time keeping up with monthly follow-up appointments.
  • Metal braces cannot be removed or adjusted at your leisure — all of that must be done by an experienced dentist. Wearing them 24/7 potentially entails 24/7 complications with brushing your teeth, flossing between your teeth, and eating certain foods.
  • Metal braces require more frequent brushing and maintenance.

Metal Braces vs. Invisalign – Which Option is Better?

On average, the full cost of Invisalign clear aligner therapy runs between $2,400 and over $10,000 in out-of-pocket expenses, depending on the type of case. Invisalign is generally more expensive due to the expensive lab production costs.

These expenses must be payable to Invisalign for creating these aligners, which will be based off 3D impressions of your teeth. But no matter which type of orthodontic treatment you’re interested in, we strongly encourage you to evaluate these price differences carefully before moving forward with any treatment.

As for which option is “better” – it all comes down to your specific case. One appliance may be a better option for you versus another for someone else. It’s important to talk to your orthodontist to make the best decision for your needs.