Wouldn’t it be great if you could qualify for free dental braces – especially if you can’t afford them but need to straighten your crooked teeth?

Finding an orthodontist that works pro bono or a program that covers 100% of your costs will prove elusive because every option we have surfaced requires some level of patient investment.

However, finding multiple sources of financial assistance is very realistic, which could whittle down your out-of-pocket costs down close to zero – if lucky.

There is no silver bullet or free resource for every set of crooked teeth. But do not lose hope. Find the help you need by matching programs to your unique situation.

Financial Assistance for Orthodontics

Qualifying for financial assistance with dental braces costs should prove to be attainable because reducing a portion of your expenses is more realistic, and far more people fit the conditions.

Dental Financing

Many patients meet the eligibility criteria for dental financing programs that help spread orthodontic treatment costs out over time. Instead of inclusion in a marginalized group, finance companies look for decent credit scores and sufficient income to support the obligation.

Looking for orthodontists offering payment plans is another form of assistance. However, taking out a loan in advance puts cash in your checking account and enables you to shop around for the provider with the best reputation, and most enticing deals on treatments.

Self-Help

Almost everyone can measure up to self-help by choosing a local orthodontist with the most affordable services for patients without insurance. It pays to shop around to compare pricing and bargain with the provider.

Consultation

Most local orthodontists should provide a free consultation because they want to keep their offices filled with a steady stream of patients. This seemingly generous offer gets you in the door.

During the initial appointment, the provider will evaluate your teeth, bite, and jaw alignment and then recommend a treatment plan with a price estimate.

Say thank you very much, but I want a second opinion. Then, walk out the door, and head to your next free consultation.

Bargaining

Negotiating price with your local orthodontist is the final step in your self-help process. Remember, providers need customers and compete fiercely via advertising, coupon sites, etc. 

Compare each element in the various treatment plans and ask for a better deal on every component. Then, pick the overall winner.

  • Down payment
  • Choice of appliances
    • Metal
    • Ceramic
    • Lingual
    • Invisalign
  • Installation
  • Adjustments
  • Removals
  • Retainers

Tax Deductions

Orthodontia expenses are tax-deductible, and smart parents have three options to leverage the tax code for financial help in paying for braces. Choose the alternative that maximizes your savings based on your eligibility and access.

  1. Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA): Work like financing without a credit check when you begin treatment at the beginning of the FSA plan year
  2. Health Savings Account (HSA): Also uses pre-tax dollars for eligible costs, but the spending does not count towards the deductible
  3. Schedule A Medical Expense Deductions: Yields savings once total qualifying expenses exceed 10% of Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)

Government Grants

Direct government grants for braces do not exist. The federal government awards grants to universities, state agencies, and non-profit organizations – but not to individuals with personal needs.

However, patients may be able to identify grant dollars 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 dental care funding.

The Grant.gov website is your starting point.

Charitable Organizations

Non-profit organizations sometimes provide help paying for dental braces. They may receive government grant money (rare) or rely on donors’ generosity (more common). Therefore, they often lack the resources and scope to help every family with a need.

At least three non-profit organizations provide “free” orthodontia treatment – after payment of a modest application fee and family investment ranging from $200 to $650.

  1. Smiles Change Lives 
  2. Smile for a Lifetime
  3. Donated Orthodontic Services

Applicants must meet similar eligibility criteria at each of these organizations, including many of these possible requirements.

  • Be 7 – 18 years of age
  • Good oral hygiene and no unfilled cavities
  • Moderate to severe need for orthodontia
  • Family income below poverty guidelines
  • Pay two non-refundable fees
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Volunteer community service
  • C average or above GPA

Free Braces through Medicaid

Getting free braces with Medicaid will prove tricky because the federal government rules permit copayments, coinsurance, deductibles, and other similar charges on most covered benefits.[1] However, the public program might pay for a substantial percentage of expenses for specific groups.

Medicaid coverage for orthodontia is a complex topic that can boil down to two critical qualifying reasons.

  1. Adult and Children: medically necessary treatment that prevents, diagnoses, or treats an injury, disease, or symptoms
  2. Kids under age 18: handicapping malocclusion based on an 18-point system used to index the need for treatment

Low-Income

Low-income families are the most likely group to qualify for the mostly free braces from Medicaid because the eligibility rules for inclusion in the program hinge on earnings relative to the federal poverty level.

Each state determines the cutoff for low-income families.

  • Children: at least 133% of the Federal Poverty Level (PFL) in all states
  • Adults: at or below 133% of PFL in expansion states

Therefore, low-income families might get help with a large portion of their orthodontic expenses for medically necessary treatment or when children have a handicapping malocclusion.

Pregnant Women

Pregnant women are likely to be eligible for partially free dental braces via Medicaid because the income requirements expand for expectant women. Plus, your unborn baby counts as a household member, raising the earnings limits even further.

Women should start the process early in their pregnancy to maximize any claims because the expanded coverage often ends 60 days after birth. You could have benefits that last only 11 months for treatment that could span years.

Fortunately, most of the orthodontia costs occur during the initial assessment and installation of the appliances to your teeth. Then, the pregnancy coverage could end before the less expensive later phases of treatment.

  • Periodic adjustments
  • Removal of the appliances
  • Fitting of the retainer

CHIP Grants

CHIP grants could provide mostly free braces for families that earn too much money to qualify for regular Medicaid. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) mandatory dental benefits include services that sometimes include straightening teeth.

Use this official CHIP coverage statement as a guide to assess whether your child might qualify for benefits.[2]

“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.”

How to Get Free Braces

As you can see, getting free braces is an unrealistic expectation because every charity and government program profiled thus far requires some form of payment. Therefore, setting your sights on financial assistance is a more reasonable approach.

You can improve your chances of finding help by looking at intersection points that vary for adults, students, and kids.

Adults

Adults looking for free braces or financial help with their expenses should incorporate any of the above topics that relate to them. For example, low-income grownups could explore government welfare benefits, while those earning more might consider the self-help and tax deduction sections.

Meanwhile, select adults have other avenues worth exploring.

  • Active duty military personnel can enroll in the TRICARE dental plan, which includes benefits for orthodontia
  • Military veterans can also participate in the voluntary TRICARE plan to reduce their out-of-pocket expenses

Children

Parents seeking free braces for their kids have the best chance of finding robust financial assistance – but nothing at zero cost to the family. For example, the self-help and tax deduction sections might significantly benefit families with multiple teenagers needing to straighten their teeth.

Besides, other programs target help specifically to kids.

  • Medicaid and CHIP cover children with a handicapping malocclusion
  • Charities target discounted orthodontia to children under 18
  • Foster youth have unique pathways to public coverage
  • Military dependents have access to voluntary TRICARE coverage
  • Purple Heart Smiles provides complementary care to the offspring of purple heart recipients

Students

College students attending classes at a campus with an Orthodontia school have a significant advantage in scoring mostly free braces. First, they enjoy all options noted already. Then, undergraduates can tap into a local clinic where future orthodontists learn their craft.

Practice makes perfect, and beginner orthodontists need to start somewhere. Students pursuing other college majors make for convenient guinea pigs as they plan to stick around for four years, which allows for the completion of all treatment phases.

The American Association of Orthodontists publishes a directory of accredited residency programs. Just be aware that each clinic may charge fees to volunteer patients.

Final Thoughts

Free dental braces would be fantastic to find but is not a realistic expectation. A variety of programs do exist that provide financial assistance. However, even low-income families face some level of costs when Medicaid covers orthodontia for their children.

Therefore, use every arrow in your quiver to drive expenses lower.

Footnoted Sources:

[1] Medicaid Out-of-Pocket Expenses

[2] Department of Health and Human Services