Healthy body

Braces and orthodontics


RyanKing999 / Thinkstock

Braces are in high demand, with more than 220,000 children and adults in England, Scotland and Wales starting orthodontic treatment in 2017.

Here are the answers to some common questions about this type of dental treatment.

Why have braces?

The purpose of orthodontic treatment is to make the best of your teeth.

This includes straightening your teeth so you're able to care for your teeth and gums more easily, and improving your bite so you can eat more comfortably. And your smile will benefit, too.

Treatment almost always involves using braces to straighten crooked, crowded or protruding teeth, close gaps between teeth, and correct the bite so the top and bottom teeth meet when the mouth is closed.

Treatment usually lasts from 18 months to 2 years, and visits to the orthodontist are needed every 6 to 8 weeks.

How common is orthodontic treatment?

According to NHS Dental Services, 203,681 people started NHS-funded orthodontic treatment in England and Wales in 2017-18.

Most were under 18 years of age and eligible for free NHS treatment.

In Scotland, where the funding system is different, just over 22,000 children and adults had NHS-funded orthodontic treatment.

Are braces available on the NHS?

Orthodontic treatment is only available at no cost on the NHS for young people under the age of 18.

NHS orthodontic treatment isn’t usually available for adults, but may be approved on a case-by-case basis if needed for health reasons. Your dentist can give you more information.

What's the best age to have braces?

The ideal age to have braces is usually around 12 or 13, while a child is still growing. A very small number of children may benefit from having treatment earlier.

How do I get braces fitted?

To get braces fitted, you need to be referred to an orthodontist by your dentist.

You can look at the specialist list held by the General Dental Council to check your orthodontist's qualifications.

By law, only registered specialists can call themselves a specialist orthodontist.

What are braces like?

There are many different types of brace. Some are fixed and stay in all the time. These are the standard brace for NHS treatment in under-18s.

NHS braces are made of metal, but clear ceramic braces, which are less visible, are also available privately.

Removable aligners are also available privately. These are taken out at mealtimes or to clean them, but are otherwise worn all the time.

Read more about different types of braces.

How successful are braces?

Orthodontics treatment usually works very well, but you need to stick with it for it to be successful.

Braces can trap food and cause more plaque to build up than usual, so you'll need to take extra care with cleaning your teeth.

You also need to watch what you eat – for example, avoid sugary foods and drinks.

You should continue to see your regular dentist while having orthodontic treatment.

The British Orthodontic Society (BOS) has more information about how to keep your teeth and gums healthy (PDF, 140kb).

What if my child is refused NHS braces?

If you think your child is being refused NHS treatment unfairly or the waiting list for treatment is unreasonably long, contact your NHS Local Office in England, your Local Health Board in Wales, or NHS Scotland.

Can I have private treatment?

Private treatment is widely available. More adults than ever now want treatment.

A survey of BOS members found that of those who replied, around 80% said they'd seen increased demand from adults wanting orthodontic treatment.

Fees for orthodontic treatment are usually around £2,500, but can be much higher depending on location, brace type and a person's specific needs.

The opportunity for improvement in an adult may be more limited, and jaw surgery is occasionally required.

One advantage of private treatment is you have a wider choice of braces, including clear or invisible ones.

Page last reviewed: 25/11/2015
Next review due: 25/11/2018