Can I get braces?

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D-M dental clinic clarifies orthodontic treatment policies, procedures

Many patients ask if braces are covered by the Air Force. Unfortunately, the Air Force Dental Corps isn’t staffed nor funded to routinely provide braces or other orthodontic treatment. However, we at the 355th DS dental clinic are fully supportive of military members pursuing orthodontic treatment at their own expense.

There is paperwork members need to complete with the dental clinic prior to treatment. Potential patients should also be aware that braces may be covered for active-duty members with jaw malformations such as under-bites (lower front teeth are in front of upper front teeth when biting), open bites (upper and lower front teeth are far apart when biting), or to aid prosthetic rehabilitation (complex replacement of damaged/missing teeth). In these cases, surgical treatment, in addition to braces, is required.

Members must meet requirements which take into account remaining time on station, retainability of at least two years, and must not be projected to deploy within the timespan of proposed treatment. If you believe you fit in this category, please come see us.

Military members may pursue orthodontic treatment through a civilian provider at their own expense once approved by the dental clinic. Most orthodontists will provide a free consultation which will give you an idea of costs, treatment time, and methods of treatment. However, the member is responsible for all costs and must notify the dental clinic of their intent to pursue treatment.

The dental clinic will do a short exam to clear the member for orthodontic treatment and provide the member with two forms which must be signed by the member and their commander. Orthodontic treatment, including braces or clear aligners such as Invisalign, are considered an elective medical treatment. If an exam and these forms are not documented in your dental record, pursing elective treatment may be outside your line of duty. Therefore, any complications from treatment may not be covered by the military.

There are multiple companies advertising clear aligners via mail such as Smile Direct Club or Clear Correct. These are considered an elective medical procedure just like braces or Invisalign. Members pursuing this type of treatment must also notify the dental clinic and complete the two required forms.

Additionally, anyone seeking clear aligners via mail should be aware that treatment is not overseen by a credentialed orthodontist and there are significant risks involved. The most common risks are loss of gum tissue, usually in the lower front teeth. This lost gum tissue will never grow back and can lead to severe tooth sensitivity, tooth mobility (“wiggly” teeth), or even loss of the teeth.

The Davis-Monthan Air Force Base dental clinic treated six patients in 2018 due to complications from this type of treatment. Two of these patients required surgical intervention involving a graft taken from the roof of the mouth. The other four received non-surgical treatment.

The two required forms for orthodontic treatment are a Memorandum of Understanding and a Commander’s Concurrence form. The forms serve to notify you and your commander of policies related to orthodontics and deployment/PCS.

If you are receiving orthodontic treatment and are selected for deployment, only certain deployed locations can support maintaining the braces. If the deployed location can support, the braces must be “deactivated” by the civilian provider so no undesired tooth movement occurs during deployment. If the deployment is projected for longer than six months, the braces should be removed for the deployment. Additionally, most Air Force installations do not provide orthodontic treatment. Therefore, if a member or family member has begun orthodontic treatment and receives orders to PCS, they will need to coordinate with a local civilian orthodontist to continue treatment at their new location.

In cases where surgical treatment is required and the military is covering the braces, the first step is a consultation with a specific civilian orthodontist in Tucson. For insurance reasons, we must utilize a specific provider. If the orthodontist determines surgery is necessary for treatment, the next step is completion of the Memorandum of Understanding and Commander’s Concurrence forms. Additionally, you will need to take a trip to Nellis AFB, Nevada, to consult with the Oral Surgeon. This trip is at your own expense. Once these are complete, we can request funding for your treatment and, once funded, you can begin treatment. Members approved for treatment should be aware that not all installations can provide orthodontic care, so in the event of PCS, orthodontic treatment may need to be suspended or terminated. Additionally, if you separate, the military will no longer cover treatment. Finally, members should be aware that missed appointments, poor oral hygiene, or non-compliance with treatment can result in termination of treatment.

For more information regarding dental treatment, stop by the D-M AFB dental clinic or call 520-228-2650.