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You already know that you should have health insurance to protect yourself and your family in the event that you are accidentally injured or develop a chronic illness.
But should your teeth be given the same level of protection? Some employers offer dental insurance as an add-on to their health insurance plans, and you can also purchase independent dental insurance packages if your employer does not offer coverage. Depending on your individual circumstances, you might be better off paying out-of-pocket for your dental costs.
We’ve created a quick guide to help you decide if you should invest in dental insurance, as well as some additional information that you’ll need to know about what dental insurance typically does and does not cover.
Overview: What is Dental Insurance?
As its name suggests, dental insurance is a preventive measure you can take to protect yourself against the high costs of unexpected and routine dental procedures. Dental insurance is different from your standard medical insurance, though many medical insurance packages include “dental benefits” that cover a portion of the costs of routine treatments like cleanings after you have reached your deductible.
Dental insurance packages, on the other hand, typically only cover you up to a certain amount; most dental insurance plans offer annual coverage of $1,000 to $1,500 after you have reached your deductible. The best dental insurance packages may not charge a deductible, but will instead charge a monthly premium. When you sign up for your plan, you may be presented with an offer for “100-80-50” coverage. This means that they’ll cover:
- 100% of the costs of preventive and routine care, such as cleanings
- 80% of the costs of basic procedures, such as crowns and fillings, and
- 50% of the costs of invasive procedures, including root canals and braces necessary to correct an overbite or underbite
Dental insurance does not usually cover cosmetic procedures, like elective orthodontic treatments or whitening treatments, or elective oral surgeries. The biggest benefit of dental insurance is that it encourages you to keep up-to-date with your preventive treatments, which can save you more money later on.
When Dental Insurance May Be Worth It
Scenario 1: You Have a Family History of Genetic Dental Issues
Dental issues aren’t solely due to overconsumption of sugar; they often also have strong hereditary influences.
If your parents or grandparents dealt with a large number of cavities, root canals or other oral issues, chances are, you’ll need to spend more on your dental care over time. In this case, dental insurance may be beneficial because you are more likely to incur frequent dental bills and require more regular treatments.
Scenario 2: You Need an Incentive to Keep Up with Cleanings and Preventive Care
Are you the type of person who has trouble keeping up-to-date with your preventive dental care? Dental insurance typically covers two annual cleanings, the recommended number by the American Dental Association.
Dental insurance can offer you a “use it or lose it” incentive to make it to your dental office for your necessary cleanings and treatments. If you have dependents for whom you provide insurance, dental insurance can also offer you an incentive to save money over time by keeping children on a cleaning schedule.
Scenario 3: You are Self-Employed
If you are self-employed, you do not have an employer providing you with medical and vision insurance or dental benefits. If you don’t have access to these benefits through your corporation, the cost of dental insurance may be more beneficial to you than if you had access to dental benefits through an employer.
When Dental Insurance May Not Be Worth It
Scenario 1: Your Employer Offers Dental Benefits
For most people, employer-offered dental benefits are more than comprehensive enough to cover routine dental treatments and care.
Depending on the specifics of your dental plan, your employer’s dental benefits probably cover between 25% to 80% of the cost of normal treatments like cleanings, root canals, crowns, and fillings. If you do not have special dental needs, these benefits can actually be more beneficial to you when you subtract the cost of premiums and deductibles.
Scenario 2: You Need an Urgent Dental Procedure
Do you have an urgent dental issue and think that signing up for dental insurance will help lessen your burden? Not so fast. Dental insurance enrollments often have a long waiting period, in addition to a delay to when your benefits kick in.
This means that if your motivation for seeking dental insurance is a problem you have right now or an issue that will need to be addressed quickly, you may end up further compromising your oral health by waiting to sign up for insurance.
Scenario 3: Your Dentist Does Not Accept Dental Insurance
Unlike health insurance, dental insurance is not widely recognized or accepted. If you aren’t willing to “shop around” for a new dentist, you’ll want to call your current dental provider to ensure that he or she accepts dental insurance packages before you enroll.
Scenario 4: You Do Not Have Unusual Dental Needs
When you sign up for health insurance, you protect yourself against an unexpected emergency — you are only responsible for paying your deductible, and after this amount has been fulfilled, your insurance provider covers all additional costs.
However, this is not the case with dental insurance; though preventive cleanings are often covered, there is a limit to the amount of coverage you can expect, even after reaching your deductible. If you are like many Americans, you probably have very few dental health needs, which means that you’ll likely never reach your dental insurance provider’s deductible or reach your insurance’s limit, except in the event of an extreme emergency.
Quick Look: The Best Dental Insurance
- Best Overall for Dental Insurance: Delta Dental
- Best for Claims: UnitedHealthcare
- Most Affordable: Humana
- Best for Kids: Cigna
- Best for Adults: Aflac
The Best Dental Insurance Companies
As with health insurance, many dental insurance providers or discount dental plans aren’t available in all states. Below are some standouts in a crowded field, each with a unique value proposition that benefits consumers.
1. Delta Dental
It’s rare to find a provider that offers coverage in all 50 states. Delta Dental is nearly everywhere in the US, including Puerto Rico and other US territories through its network of affiliated companies. Delta is also the nation’s leading dental insurance provider.
With several customizable dental plans, Delta has a coverage solution for most households. Among its offerings, Delta provides many of the plan types discussed earlier, including DHMO, DPPO, and discount plans. This makes one-stop shopping possible if you’re not sure what type of plan you want to buy.
Delta provides a set out-of-pocket expense for many common procedures, creating more transparency, which can make budgeting for dental expenses easier.
As the largest health insurance provider network, it’s no surprise that UnitedHealth is also a leading provider of dental insurance plans. While among the more affordable options for dental insurance, UnitedHealth does come with some potential drawbacks.
Some services have long waiting periods for coverage eligibility — sometimes up to 6 months. Some preexisting conditions may not be covered.
A range of plans available through UnitedHealth include lower-cost plans with copays for routine visits to more comprehensive plans that cover 100% of preventive care dental visits. Expect a $50 per person deductible, which caps at $150 per family, making UnitedHealth worth a closer look if you have a large family that needs coverage.
Humana is among the better values when shopping for affordable dental insurance coverage.
One standout feature is that Humana offers coverage that increases over time.
This annual increase applies to both maximum coverage limits as well as the percentage paid for certain dental procedures. As with all insurers, be sure to read the fine print before purchasing coverage.
Some of Humana’s plans don’t cover orthodontics, for example, which can be a big consideration for a growing family. Check out Benzinga's guide to orthodontic insurance for more information.
- Best For:Affordable annual premiums
Not every plan is available in every area or to every customer.
If you need coverage for braces — and you don’t live in New York or Washington — Cigna may be a good choice for you. This insurer provides partial coverage for orthodontics as well as 100% of preventive care.
Coverage for fillings may not be as generous as with other providers but big expenses, like root canals, are often covered with a larger percentage than many competitors.
Cigna’s website is easy to use and clearly explains the benefits of the company’s plans. Expect a smaller provider network than you’ll find with some competitors but with over 85,000 participating dentists, it’s likely that you’ll find a Cigna dentist near your home.
If you have healthy teeth and you’re looking for a way to take the sting out of occasional dental needs, Aflac is worth considering. Aflac dental insurance plans are indemnity plans, meaning the insurer will reimburse you for a fixed amount. This depends on the dental services you have performed.
Aflac might be the best fit for single individuals or those who are self-employed and don’t have frequent dental needs. Expect a waiting period for coverage for some procedures, a drawback common to other insurers as well.
Coverage is limited to reimbursements and nothing is covered 100%. Aflac can be among the more affordable options for dental insurance. Choose from three plans: Basic, Standard, or Premier, with the top plan offering the highest percentage reimbursement.
Most dental insurance plans are not a good deal. This is especially true if you have healthy teeth and your employer offers a low deductible plan with dental benefits. Dental insurance coverage has not kept up with the rapidly increasing cost of dental treatments.
For example, a root canal can cost anywhere from $300 to $2,000 depending on where it is located in your mouth. Dental insurance coverage that limits coverage to $1,000 annually will still require you to pay up to $1,000 in differences. While it’s possible that you may save money if you need ongoing dental care, chances are that if you’re in this situation, you will exhaust your dental insurance limit very quickly.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you make the most of your dental insurance?
Use your dental insurance to get cleanings every 6 months. Plus, ask your dentist how many additional services are covered that they can provide.
How often do you renew dental insurance?
You renew dental insurance every year during the open enrollment period, just like health insurance.
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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About Sarah Horvath
Sarah is an expert in the insurance, investing for retirement and cryptocurrency space.