A Brief History of Braces-Are Americans Stuck in the Dark Ages?

Braces, in one form or another, have been around since 400-500 BC. According to the AAO (American Association of Orthodontists), archaeologists have discovered mummified ancients with crude metal bands wrapped around individual teeth1.

In the hundreds of years since those first braces, there have been some enhancements both to the braces themselves and to who has access to them. In the years B.C. and long after, dental care was reserved for aristocrats. And the first “orthodontists” used catgut rather than metal bands to slowly tighten and move misaligned teeth into place. Much later, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, orthodontists traded in catgut for wood, brass, copper and even silver and gold. While they were large and cumbersome, braces began to look more like what we see today. And, for the most part, anyone with access to a dentist and with the money to pay for them could get them. Still, braces were a luxury for the elite, because a relative few had enough expendable income to pay for them.

By the 1950s in America, orthodontists were using stainless steel braces laced together with tiny rubber bands (that all-to-often slipped or snapped off and flew out of an adolescent’s mouth into an embarrassing spot). Teenage embarrassments aside, dental plans covered much, of the cost. And suddenly, straight teeth were available to virtually every youngster with an overbite in America.

In the late 1980s, Dental HMOs (Dental plans that levy heavy restrictions on what they call “cosmetic” dentistry) took root in America. And while orthodontics made amazing strides with ceramics and “invisible” braces, fewer Americans were able to pay the price to get them (approximately $5,000 for two years). It seemed as though the evolution of braces and who had access to them had come full circle. Only the wealthy aristocracy could have them once again.

Fast forward to today, and the evolution has become a revolution! In the 1990s, something called “Consumer Driven Dental Plans” emerged to fill the gaps left by HMOs. Consumer driven dental plans (or dental discount programs, as they are often called) give the ordinary working American the means to purchase braces for their children AND themselves at truly affordable rates. On average, a patient supported by a consumer driven dental plan receives a dental discount of 56% — which means they pay less than half the standard rate. And payments can be made over time, making braces accessible to virtually anyone who needs them.

Who knows what the future holds in orthodonture. But let’s hope consumer driven dental plans are there to make it affordable.