Are lingual braces available through the NHS?

NHS funding for orthodontic treatment can be somewhat confusing. Currently, it’s generally available to under 18s who need straighter teeth to improve their dental health.

This is usually determined by a dentist or orthodontist, using a British index known as the Index of Orthodontic Treatment Need (IOTN). This standard set of measurements has been designed to identify the patients that would benefit the most from braces.

Occasionally NHS orthodontic treatment is available to adults, especially those that require jaw surgery, but it is usually provided on a case-by-case basis and only if there is a medical need for treatment.

If you do qualify for NHS treatment, both your braces and your first set of retainers will be paid for entirely by the NHS. As you can imagine, the funding available for each patient is finite and typically covers treatment with fixed metal braces, followed by removable retainers and 12 months of aftercare.

Unfortunately, so-called invisible or discreet braces such as lingual braces and clear aligners aren’t an option for NHS patients. This is because there isn’t enough NHS funding to cover the cost of these treatments, which are considerably more expensive than metal braces.

If you would like to choose your brace, you have the option to pay for your treatment privately – regardless of whether you qualify for NHS treatment. Not only would you be able to opt for a discreet appliance such as lingual braces, but you would also benefit from the other advantages of private orthodontic treatment.

Benefits of private orthodontic treatment

No assessments

A consultation is needed before any kind of orthodontic treatment. In the case of private care, though, this won’t involve an IOTN assessment. Whether you have severely crowded teeth or just one ‘problem’ tooth – the choice to have treatment is yours (providing your dental health is up to scratch).

Shorter waiting lists

Patients who qualify for NHS treatment may need to join a waiting list before they can have their brace fitted. This is because of limited NHS funding, which restricts the number of patients your orthodontist can treat each year. If you opt for private treatment there’s unlikely to be a waiting list and you should be able to start your treatment straight away.

Fixed retainers

Teeth have a tendency to move without the help of retainers following braces. NHS treatment includes removable retainers, which hold teeth in position using clear, thin gumshields that are usually worn at night. They are effective, but they should be worn indefinitely and need replacing periodically.

Unfortunately, not everyone replaces their retainers when they break or go missing and their teeth can quickly begin to drift or ‘relapse’. Surprisingly, it doesn’t usually take long for teeth to move far enough for braces to be needed again.

Conveniently, private treatment typically includes the option of fixed retainers (if you’re clinically suitable), which are permanently attached behind your teeth. They’re very discreet and working 24 hours a day to keep your front teeth straight. They do require a little TLC and occasional maintenance, but for the most part you should forget that they’re there. Many orthodontists will recommend both fixed and removable retainers for the best possible protection against orthodontic relapse.

For more information on orthodontic treatment and lingual braces, find your local BLOS member.