Most orthodontists do not work for free, so how can you get braces at no cost? Find a deep-pocket third party that will pick up most of the charges!
Learn how to qualify for free braces programs, recognizing that the eligibility criteria will vary for adults, students, and children.
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 your out-of-pocket costs down close to zero – if lucky.
Free Braces for Kids
The free braces programs for children are more numerous because orthodontists recommend that treatment begins during your teen years while your jawline has more flexibility and responds more readily to the pressure applied to your teeth.
Several dental charities operate almost free braces programs for children dealing with challenging circumstances. They may receive government grant money (rare) or rely on donors’ generosity (more common).
At least three dental charities offer low-cost orthodontia treatment for kids (after paying a modest application fee and family investment ranging from $200 to $650).
Applicants must meet similar eligibility criteria at each organization, 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
Medicaid is the primary free braces initiative for kids living at or below the federal poverty level when it pays most of the charges. The Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT) program requires states to pay for orthodontic services necessary to prevent disease, promote oral health, and restore oral structures to health and function.
Medicaid covers orthodontics for children under 19 under both components.
- The dental insurance element pays to correct handicapping malocclusion as measured by a point system or criteria-based objective benchmark.
- The health insurance element pays to treat congenital disabilities requiring orthodontic correction.
- Cleft Lip and or Cleft Palate
- Crouzon Syndrome/Craniofacial Dysostosis
- Hemifacial Hypertrophy/Congenital Hemifacial Hyperplasia
- Parry-Romberg Syndrome/Progressive Hemifacial Atrophy
- Pierre-Robin Sequence/Complex
- Treacher-Collins Syndrome/Mandibulofacial Dysostosis
CHIP grants could provide mainly free braces when it covers most of the costs 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 to assess whether your child might qualify for benefits.
“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.”
Free Braces Programs for Adults
Adults over 21 quickly discover that free braces programs are more difficult to find because the qualifying criteria are the strictest. It is more affordable to straighten your teeth while a teenager.
Financial assistance for braces for adults might be a more reasonable expectation than a free program that covers all fees. You might find some help lowering costs f you need to straighten your teeth but cannot afford orthodontia.
Grants for braces for adults are scarce as the federal government does not send money directly to individuals. However, people over 21 might be able to afford orthodontia by getting financial assistance with other household expenses.
Free grant money for bills and personal use can cut costs elsewhere, providing indirect help for adults hoping to align their teeth properly.
A Flexible Spending Account (FSA) provides two types of financial assistance to help adults with their orthodontia costs. You do not want to overlook these hidden advantages.
- Monthly payment plans for braces without insurance do not have a credit check when funded through an FSA. Your employer must immediately reimburse all qualifying expenses, even if you have not yet contributed enough money into your account.
- Paying for orthodontic work through your FSA lowers your after-tax costs by reducing your income subject to three different levies.
- Federal income taxes
- FICA payroll taxes
- State income taxes (where applicable)
Health insurance is a free braces program for the tiny minority of middle-income adults who qualify when it covers most costs. Most dental plans will not pay for orthodontic treatment beginning after age 19.
Health insurance covers braces for adults paying the majority of costs when medically necessary: treats an injury or disease that affects the body. For instance, people with these conditions might be eligible.
- Temporomandibular Joint Disorders requiring bite adjustments
- Sleep apnea occurs when crooked teeth restrict or block airflow
- Reposition dislodged teeth after a non-biting accident affecting the jaw
Medicaid is a free braces program for the few low-income adults who qualify. Medicaid is government-sponsored insurance for families living at or below the federal poverty level, with two distinct elements.
- Medicaid adult coverage for dental work varies by state. However, one concept remains constant across the country: it does not pay for braces for people over 21 to correct a handicapping malocclusion.
- Medicaid adult coverage for traditional healthcare is more uniform across the states. However, a person over 21 must have a medically necessary reason.
So, how do you get free braces with Medicaid for adults? File a claim through the health insurance component after documenting a medically necessary reason: treatment of a non-biting accident or disease such as TMJ or sleep apnea.
Medicaid can also be the free braces program for adults while pregnant. Many women do not qualify for these government benefits aimed at low-income families because they earn too much money to qualify.
Medicaid can deny coverage to pregnant women, but this occurs less frequently as the eligibility criteria are more lenient in two critical areas.
- Each state lifts the maximum percentage of qualifying PFL, ranging from 144% in Utah to 380% in Iowa
- Each unborn baby counts as an additional household member, meaning each fetus adds $4,720 to the limit
Medicare is a free braces program for a sliver of disabled adults receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) for more than two years. Medicare is government-sponsored insurance for seniors over 65, people with end-stage renal disease, and individuals with disabilities.
Medicare acts as health insurance but does not pay for dental work or orthodontia unless medically necessary: treats a disease or injury.
However, Medicare dental providers (including orthodontists) are scarce because they have little incentive to accept assignment (take the allowed amount as full payment). Only a handful of disabled adults have a medically necessary reason for orthodontic work.
Free Braces for Students
The free braces programs for students depend on the grade level because the opportunities for third-party payment are more abundant when treatment begins during your teen years (age 19 or earlier).
High School Students
Dental insurance with orthodontic benefits might be the most prominent free braces program for high school students. Various options cover teenagers, meaning that parents have fewer out-of-pocket costs.
- The Medicaid dental insurance component covers braces for high school students from qualifying low-income families (see above) and does not require planning. Medicaid should pick up the majority of costs with no waiting period.
- Supplemental orthodontic insurance covers braces for high school students from middle and upper-income families but requires advance action because you must satisfy a waiting period. However, the need to straighten your teenager’s crooked teeth should not surprise you.
The free braces initiative for college students could be an orthodontic residency program near their campus needing volunteer patients willing to act as Guinea pigs.
Orthodontia residents need to learn their craft, and practice makes perfect. Beginners supervised by faculty handle the initial consultation, installation (banding and bonding), periodic adjustments, removal (debanding), and retainer fitting.
The American Association of Orthodontists publishes a directory of accredited residency programs that might treat college students at no charge. However, modest discounts might be a more reasonable expectation.