Buying dental insurance is similar to buying health insurance — and just as confusing. You may be able to buy it through your employer, in which case you should choose the option that makes the most sense for you and your family. If you can’t buy dental insurance through an employer, you can buy it on your own. Learn more about where you can find dental coverage and what to look for.
What is Dental Insurance?
Dental insurance is a type of insurance coverage that works a lot like health insurance. It helps to cover dental expenses, including cleanings, fillings, extractions, bridges, crowns and dentures. You'll pay a monthly premium in exchange for coverage. As with many types of insurance plans, there is often a deductible, an annual maximum, coinsurance and coverage exclusions.
Do You Need Dental Insurance?
Whether you need dental insurance depends on your financial situation, the dental needs of you and your family and the coverage you have access to. To see whether it’s worthwhile, it helps to know how it works.
How Dental Insurance Works
With dental insurance, you pay a monthly premium (or have it deducted from your paychecks) in exchange for the coverage.
Like health insurance, dental insurance has coinsurance, which is a percentage you pay for a covered service. Routine cleanings are often covered at 100%, so you don’t have to pay anything out of pocket. More in-depth procedures may be covered at 80% or even 50%, which means you pay for half of the procedure.
Dental insurance also typically has an annual coverage limit. For example, a dental plan might have a coverage limit of $1,500. That means it will pay up to $1,500 in benefits annually. Any dental expenses beyond that limit are your responsibility.
Dental coverage also varies. Not all plans cover orthodontics (braces) or dental implants. Dental plans usually don’t cover cosmetic procedures like whitening your teeth.
Ultimately, whether you need dental insurance depends on how likely you are to use it, and whether it covers the services and procedures you need.
Where To Buy Dental Insurance
Here, you essentially have 3 options:
- Through your employer
- Through the health insurance Marketplace
- Privately directly from a company
Let's take a deeper look at these 3 options:
Many people are able to purchase dental insurance through an employer. Not all employers offer dental insurance, however, and if they do, you may only be able to enroll at certain times of the year or if you’ve had a significant life change like marriage or having a baby.
If you don’t have access to dental insurance through an employer, you can buy it on your own. One easy place to buy coverage is your state’s Health Insurance Marketplace. You can buy dental insurance if you’re also buying a health insurance plan through the marketplace.
Like buying coverage through an employer, you can only buy health and dental insurance through the marketplace at certain times. Open enrollment is typically once per year, and you can also enroll if you lose health insurance coverage or if you experience a life event.
You can also buy dental insurance at any time through dental insurance companies. While this might sound time consuming, you can also use sites like DentalInsurance.com to get quotes from multiple dental insurance providers at once.
What to Consider When Buying Dental Insurance Coverage
There’s a lot to consider when you’re buying dental insurance. While it might be tempting to just look at the monthly premium, it’s best to dig into the details of the plans you’re considering. Here’s what to look for:
Which Type of Dental Plans is Best For You?
The type of dental plan can affect which dentists you can visit and how claims work. Dental preferred provider plans (DPPOs) have a provider network, which is a group of dental professionals who have contracted with the insurance plan. You can see dentists outside the network, but you pay more if you do.
A dental health maintenance organization (DHMO) also has a network, and you choose a primary care dentist within that network. You typically won’t be covered if you see a dentist outside the network.
Also known as fee-for-service plans, dental indemnity plans allow you to see any dentist you want. These plans tend to be pricier than DPPOs and DHMOs.
Dental discount plans aren’t insurance plans. Instead, you pay an annual fee for the membership and present your card to participating dentists. You get a discount upfront without having to file any claims.
How Much is the Deductible?
Dental plans usually have a deductible, which is the amount you pay for covered services before your plan starts paying. The higher your deductible is, the lower your premium will be.
How High is the Annual Maximum?
As noted above, dental plans generally have an annual maximum. The higher the maximum is, the higher your monthly premium will be.
What are the Coverage Levels in a Plan?
Dental insurance plans tend to categorize the services you receive into 3 categories:
- Preventive: This includes cleanings, X-rays and sealant.
- Basic: This group includes fillings, simple extractions and root canals.
- Major: This category includes crowns, bridges and dentures.
Many dental plans are 100/80/50. That means preventive care is covered 100%. Basic care is covered 80%, which means you pay 20%. Major care is covered at 50%, which means you pay half. All coverage is subject to the annual maximum.
Plans vary when it comes to how they categorize dental care, so review the terms of your plan carefully.
Is There a Waiting Period?
Most dental plans also have waiting periods. Preventive care is usually covered right away, but you may need to wait 6 months to 1 year or more before having basic or major care. Dental insurance companies have waiting periods so people will purchase dental insurance well before they need a significant amount of dental care. If you’re buying dental insurance because you need a basic or major service, be prepared to wait or pay out-of-pocket.
Are There Coverage Exclusions?
Review any potential policy exclusions carefully. In general, policies won’t cover cosmetic procedures like whitening and veneers, but there may be other exclusions like braces depending on the policy.
Benzinga’s Best Dental Insurance Carriers
Finding the right dental coverage can be overwhelming. Here are the carriers Benzinga recommends to help you with your search.
Choosing a Dental Plan
To choose the best dental insurance plan, compare at least 2 or 3 plans. Look at the levels of coverage, whether there’s a network and the waiting period. If you have a family member with specific dental needs, like a teenager who will need braces, look for that coverage as well. Choose a plan that fits your budget while providing you with the coverage you need. As always, come back to Benzinga for more insurance information in the future.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I purchase dental insurance on my own directly from a provider?
You can purchase dental insurance on your own. You can visit the websites of dental insurance companies directly and apply. You can also use sites like DentalInsurance.com to get quotes. If you’d like professional assistance, consider talking to an insurance broker. Insurance brokers can get quotes from multiple companies and assist you with finding coverage that meets your needs.
Is it worth paying for dental insurance?
For many, it’s worth getting dental insurance. Even though it has coverage maximums, every bit of coverage helps, especially if you’re getting more complicated and expensive dental procedures.
If you’re younger and don’t have dental issues, you might not need dental insurance. You may find paying out of pocket or seeking care from a local dental school is cheaper. If you have a family, you may find dental insurance useful. And, of course, do what you can to keep your teeth healthy, including brushing, flossing and getting regular checkups.
Dental Insurance Methodology
To determine the best dental insurance providers, we pored through all United States carriers. We winnowed the list by only including companies that have a wide coverage area and product offering. To further break down the list to the true best dental insurance providers, we gave weight to carriers that offer discounts, are available in all states and have multiple payment plan options.
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