Rotorua student Anna Pilaar spends time in the public eye, playing violin, dancing and teaching music.

Her mum, Elizabeth Pilaar, wanted her 16-year-old to get braces partly to help her confidence.

"It is expensive, but I had dreadful teeth when I was young and I'm 100 per cent grateful my parents spent money on me, because having ugly teeth is a mark against you when you're trying to deal with others."

Mrs Pilaar's 18-year-old son, Michael, had braces, too. The family will spend around $15,000 on orthodontia for both teens.

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"I'm totally convinced it's a good investment for their self-esteem and the way others view them," says Mrs Pilaar.

"Michael is a cellist and pianist . . . and when people are looking at you, nice looking teeth are helpful."

Their orthodontist, Tony Lund, says braces are becoming more popular. He remembers being one of two students out of 200 in his Year 9 class with braces back in the '80s. These days, he says his Rotorua practice is busy with about 250 patients each year, shared among four orthodontists.

"We're becoming more Americanised; we want teeth like we see on TV . . . also, the relative cost has come down substantially."

Dr Lund says his braces cost his parents about $3000. According to the NZ Reserve Bank Inflation Calculator, that's nearly $7900 in today's dollars. Although health officials say braces are mostly cosmetic, Dr Lund says they can also improve oral health.
"We have kids whose bites are so bad, they're biting into gums or palates, or their teeth are so crooked, they can't clean them properly."

He says average cost for braces for his patients is $6500 to $8000. Orthodontists we spoke with offer interest-free instalment plans after an initial deposit of nearly $2000. Treatment is usually advised after all adult teeth are through, from around age 10 to 14.

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Many adults who choose braces spend more for clear or invisible systems such as Invisalign (which can cost between $7500 and $10,500). Invisalign is removable, but must be worn 20 out of 24 hours each day. Average time for wearing braces is 18 months to 24 months.

The Rotorua Daily Post got rough estimates for braces from orthodontists in Rotorua, Tauranga, Hamilton, and Auckland. The lowest price we were quoted was $3600. The highest starting point was $7800.

Marguerite Crooks, an orthodontist and the honorary secretary of the New Zealand Association of Orthodontists (NZAO), says be careful when talking average costs.

"It may be more complicated treatment is necessary. It's extremely variable. The initial assessment is where you get the information," Dr Crooks said.

Some orthodontists offer free assessments, while others charge nearly $200 for an initial consultation. More dentists are starting to offer braces, as well. In the Bay of Plenty, they include The Dentists in Rotorua, Benic Dental and the Tooth Fairy Dental Centre in Te Puke and Tauranga.

While the NZAO has not take a formal stance opposing the practice of orthodontics by general dentists, a spokeswoman says orthodontists spend five years in dental school, plus an extra three years studying orthodontics fulltime.

Dr Crooks says supply companies are interested in selling orthodontic treatments and appliances to dentists, and no law precludes a general dentist from practicing orthodontics. She says the Dental Council of New Zealand is setting up a working group on general dentists doing orthodontic treatment.

"Mainly because of the number of complaints they've had from orthodontic patients and dentists about dentists doing orthodontic treatment."

Rotorua mum Robyn Ogden says she never could have afforded the estimated $7000 cost for her daughter, Shaan Wilson's, braces. Ms Ogden says a teacher at Shaan's school helped her apply to the NZAO's Wish for a Smile programme.

Dr Lund, a participating orthodontist, is treating Shaan at little cost (families are expected to contribute up to $10 per week). Ms Ogden says Shaan got braces at age 18 (she's 20 now) and may need to wear them up to four years.

"She had a deep overbite and very crooked teeth. She was self-conscious . . . in her photos before, she never really smiled. She smiles a lot more now. We're so very grateful for this gift given to my girl."