Patients have to look under every rock in order to find financial assistance to make braces more affordable. Orthodontia is not cheap without a dental plan picking up the tab.
There is no silver bullet or free resource for every set of crooked teeth. However, there is hope for some people.
You need a roadmap and an open mind to find the monetary help you need. Invest a few minutes exploring these 13 programs, grouped into 3 sections.
- Private financial assistance options helping the most patients
- Free treatment for adults without dental insurance is rare
- Medicaid only helps low-income families afford medically necessary care
Private Financial Assistance Programs for Braces
The most widely available and reliable sources of financial assistance for braces come from private companies and the tax code. The other public resources offer indirect benefits to families that meet strict income eligibility rules.
However, more patients qualify for financing, discount programs, and tax deductions.
Financing programs can jumpstart the process. This private lending option provides the cash directly to patients. Shop around for an orthodontist with lower prices. Do not lock yourself into one provider just because they offer financing or payment plans.
This is not free money that you never have to repay. Be prepared with the needed documentation to improve your chances of approval.
- Employer name, address, and contact information
- Driver license number
- Bank account and routing numbers
Discount dental plans have no waiting period for braces. Adults without insurance get immediate savings making their treatments at the orthodontist much cheaper. A participating provider in your local area agrees to offer reduced prices on services in exchange for greater patient referrals from the sponsoring company.
Orthodontic insurance with no waiting periods is not a realistic option for making braces cheaper. The issuing companies include exclusions designed to prevent people from opting into the plan only when they need services – and then canceling after the work is complete. Read the legal language carefully before completing an application.
Orthodontia expenses are tax deductible. Smart parents have four options to leverage the tax code for financial help in paying for braces. Choose the option that maximizes your savings.
- Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA): Work like interest-free financing with no credit check when you begin treatment at the beginning of the FSA plan year
- Health Savings Account (HSA): Also uses pre-tax dollars for eligible costs but the spending does not count towards the deductible
- Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA): Uses employer funded dollars for eligible costs
- Schedule A Medical Expense Deductions: Yields savings once total qualifying expenses exceed a percentage of Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)
- 2018: 7.5%
- 2019: 10%
Direct government grants for braces do not exist. The federal government awards grants to universities, state agencies, and non-profit organizations – not to individuals with personal needs.
Patients may be able to identify indirect government grants for orthodontia by following the money trail. Begin with a search for opportunities and awards to see if any local university, agency, or organization received funding for dental care.
Non-profit organizations sometimes provide financial aid for braces. They may receive government grant money (rare) or rely on the generosity of donors (more common). Therefore, they often lack the resources and scope to help every family with a need.
- Smiles Change Lives charges a non-refundable $35 application fee and a non-refundable $600 upfront investment upon approval. Do your homework before signing up.
- Smile for a Lifetime operates 165 local chapters in 45 states. Each chapter raises money with a goal to help six children each year. They rely on donors and local orthodontist to provide free treatment to qualifying families. This limits the number of patients they can help.
Free Braces for Adults Without Dental Insurance
You will find it extremely difficult to find free braces programs for adults without dental insurance unless you fit into one of several narrow categories. Most orthodontists do not giveaway work. They want monetary compensation. There is no application to complete or place to sign up.
The only groups likely to find free services are college students, veterans, people with a medical need, and pregnant women. Even then, the odds are very low.
Free braces with medical insurance are possible when the treatment is medically necessary, the adult has satisfied the plan deductible, and the plan has no other cost-sharing features. In other words, some patients will get financial help with their orthodontia. However, they often still have leftover costs.
- Medically necessary means oral care arising from non-biting accidents, certain diseases, and treatments deemed integral to other services
- The deductible is the amount patients pay out-of-pocket for covered services before plan benefits begin. Most plans contain other cost-sharing features as well.
Free braces for college students are slightly easier to find. It is most realistic when students attend a college or university with an orthodontia school. They spend significant time on the same campus with a group of future orthodontists who need to practice their craft.
Accredited schools of orthodontia often operate free community clinics to provide their attendees with real-life practice. The undergraduates attending the same college or university have an advantage over people living in locations that are more distant.
Do not rely on online resources advertising scholarships for braces. This is actually a scheme designed to get other sites to link to them. Inbound links improve search engine rankings. Each online entity may award a scholarship to one student for tuition and books only.
Free braces for veterans are somewhat easier to find as well. Former service members can sometimes obtain free or low-cost orthodontia via the government and charitable organizations. However, these resources have many limitations.
The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs offers comprehensive dental care to qualifying veterans.
- A one-time course of free care within 180 days of discharge
- Restore oral health and masticatory function for classes I, IIA, IIC, or IV
- Discounted dental programs for purchase
A variety of dentists promotes free braces for veterans. They recognize the shortcomings of the VA support system and offer pro bono services. Their motivation may be to show appreciation for the service to our country, generate positive publicity, or both. Either way, the number of former warriors one practice can help is limited.
Finding free braces when pregnant is also slightly easier because the qualifications and dental care benefits for Medicaid often change. As you can read in the section below, Medicaid pays for medically necessary orthodontia.
Expectant women gain several immediate advantages for help in straightening their teeth.
- Income limits are much higher
- Opt-in any time of year without open enrollment restrictions
- Many states expand dental care benefits for pregnant mothers
Affordable Braces for Low-Income Families
Low-income families have three options for finding affordable braces for their children as well as adults in some instances. The amount of financial help these families might receive depends on the state where they live, their household income relative to the federal poverty level, and one additional factor.
The X-factor is whether the need for straighter teeth is cosmetic or medically necessary.
- Cosmetic orthodontia (85%) is more expensive
- Medically necessary braces (15%) are cheaper
Medicaid can make braces more affordable for low-income families. This is where the state where you live and your household income determine out-of-pocket costs for orthodontia.
The Medicaid qualifying criteria vary by state.
- Household income limits depend on family size
- Each state has unique income limits
- Many states impose resource caps as well
Medicaid does not cover braces for low-income adults. However, each state includes a unique combination of coverage for other dental procedures, which could make orthodontia more affordable. For example, 24 states include oral surgery services for related conditions such as tooth extractions and jaw surgeries.
Medicaid does cover medically necessary braces for low-income children.
The Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) standard ensures that children under the age of 21 receive age-appropriate screening, preventive services, and treatments that correct or ameliorate any identified conditions.
Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) may make braces more affordable for some children. CHIP serves children under the age of 19 in low-income families that do not qualify for Medicaid. Chip mandatory dental benefits include services that sometimes includes straightening teeth.
The Department of Health and Human Services provides us with this statement.
“Orthodontia is required to the extent necessary to prevent disease and promote oral health, [and] restore oral structures to health and function. States are not required to pay for treatment that they determine is not medically necessary, such as services for cosmetic reasons.”
Private Health Insurance
Private health insurance purchased on the exchange can make braces more affordable for low-income families. Households that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid may still qualify for premium and cost-sharing subsidies.
Most importantly, you could find a plan that covers standard (cosmetic) in addition to medically necessary orthodontia treatment.
- Dental coverage is an essential health benefit for children under the age of 18
- Dental coverage is not an essential health benefit for adults
This means that insurance companies must offer dental coverage to parents with children under the age of 18 on a family or parent/child plan. Some of these options may include payments for standard (cosmetic) orthodontia.