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What colors and styles do braces come in?

Ready for a kinder, gentler set of braces?

Another stigma that followed braces right into the new century was that they hurt. A lot. Wide metal bands and tighteners left kids feeling like their teeth were trapped in a vise. But today's orthodontic treatments have taken many of the tears out of the dental equation, thanks to improvements in the braces themselves and the techniques used to apply them.

"The significant advances are that the brackets are smaller and stronger," said Chidsey. "That means dental hygiene is easier for our patients."

Chidsey and others note that the quality and size of the wires used, and technology employed during bracket placement (such as adhesives that bond the bracket directly to each tooth), are continuously evolving and improving.

"The technology is constantly changing," she said. "The treatments are much easier on the patient than they used to be."

All those advancements come with a price, however. Braces, while gentler on a patient's teeth, are still painful when it comes to many family budgets. Costs, not surprisingly, can vary considerably, but patients can plan on a final price tag of roughly $4,000 to $6,000 for a normal two-year treatment. Not many people have dental insurance policies that will cover the entire bill. In fact, many insurance policies carry a "lifetime cap" on orthodontic work that rarely covers the full amount.

On the plus side of the cost-benefit analysis, however, many orthodontists recognize the financial burden that dental work brings, and they will often work with patients and their families to find a sensible solution. Many offer payment plans to help take the sting out of the initial financial hit. Dr. Riccio's office, for example, sets the ceiling of the total treatment cost at the beginning of the two-year treatment period, and that price is guaranteed -- even if the patient requires additional work.

So now you're probably wondering: What's the patient's responsibility?