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Best dental insurance 2020: Top plans for individuals and families

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The best dental insurance plan will not only save you money but can also give you peace of mind, knowing that you will be covered when it's needed. Your teeth and smile rely on regular dental visits and with the support of a dental insurance plan you can make sure your pearly whites stay that way - bright and beautiful.

Of course, should the worst happen, and you need serious oral surgery, it will pay to have an insurance plan in place. This can mean huge savings on in-network dentists that, in some cases, mean you can use your regular dentist and still save money.

There are lots of factors to consider before you dive into the dental insurance options out there, of which there are many. First up, what kind of care do you need? Are you just looking to cover your preventive dental trips for things like cleaning and exams? That could mean a nice affordable option. Or are you looking for cover for your kids' orthodontics, or perhaps your dentures? Then it might pay for a more comprehensive type of cover.

Each dental insurer offers varying benefits to suit the many needs of each person. The key is to find the best one for you and you're about to do that using this guide that offers only the very best dental insurance companies for you to pick from.

1. Delta Dental: Best overall

Delta Dental

(Image credit: Delta Dental)

Delta Dental

Best overall dental care

Coverage options: PPO and DHMO | Plans available: Six | Snapshot: In-network savings over 20 percent

Wide plan variety
Free x-rays
Excellent app support
State by state variations on availability

Delta Dental is our top pick as the best dental insurance out there right now. This isn't simply because it's the largest insurer, covering all 50 states, but also thanks to a variety of six plan options. These span PPO and DHMO and include full mouth x-rays every two years with app and website support which help to make customization easy and genuinely useful.

There is a state by state variation on availability but with over 78 million people using Delta, it's doing something right. Cover not only works for individuals but also extends to families and can be attained through many workplaces. From low copays to a wealth of information on the Delta website, there is lots to like about this top notch dental insurer.

2. Guardian Direct: Best for solid financial support

Guardian Life

(Image credit: Guardian Life)

Guardian Direct

Best for solid financial support

Coverage options: PPO and DHMO | Plans available: Three | Snapshot: In-network savings up to 35 percent

Good range of plans
Affordable pricing
Lots of in-network dentists
ACA-subsidized plans are only available in 20 states

For a wide range of options you're well covered by Guardian direct. This dental insurer is part of the mighty Guardian Life, meaning a solid financial base of support for you. Plans are tailored for each state with the website allowing you to search by area to find one of the 100,000 dentists available in-network for both PPO and DHMO plans. Pricing is excellent with plans starting for as little as $16 per month with discounts of up to 35 percent on treatments and greta copay options for any larger work.

3. Physicians Mutual: Best for location availability

Physicians Mutual

(Image credit: Physicians Mutual)

Physicians Mutual

Best for location availability

Coverage options: PPO | Plans available: Three | Snapshot: In-network savings up to 50 percent

Wide US coverage
Simple, clean pricing 
Lots of procedures covered
No app

Physicians Mutual is a century old super reliable insurer that spans a whopping 450,000 locations across the US and covers you for more than 350 procedures. This insurer also offers excellent rates on its PPO plans that start as low as $24 per month. There are three payment plans available with no annual or lifetime maximum on cash benefits as well as no deductible to worry about. With savings up to 50 percent, this is a great way to get a broad range of coverage at a low price.

4. MetLife: Best family cover

MetLife Insurance

(Image credit: MetLife)

MetLife

Best for family cover

Coverage options: PPO | Plans available: Three | Snapshot: In-network savings up to 45 percent

Great group options
Excellent for retirees
Over 400 procedures covered
Orthodontics included
Only two plans

MetLife is the best dental insurance provider for those that want cover for the entire family. The PPO and DHMO options are limited to two plans but with lots of preventative care totally free, there is little need for any over complication here. Included orthodontics make it ideal for families while low copays help it appeal to anyone hoping to make a saving. With up to 45 percent to be saved this is one of the better options out there, spanning over 400 procedures and a network of 90,000 dentists.

5. United Healthcare: Best for preventive cover

United Healthcare

(Image credit: United Healthcare)

United Healthcare

Best for preventive cover

Coverage options: PPO | Plans available: Four | Snapshot: In-network savings up to 85 percent

Over 85,000 dental offices
No age restrictions
Four plans
No endodontics cover

United Heathcare, aka Golden Rule Insurance Company, offers dental insurance with the backing of over 65 years' experience and a solid A+ financial rating from Standard & Poor. Online browsing of plans makes checking pricing simple so you know what you're getting. This includes most preventative care for free, meaning exams, x-rays and cleaning won't be a worry for the future. Four PPO plans are available with pricing starting at around the $20 mark but that should get you up to 85 percent savings at in-network dentists.

6. Humana: Best for quality

Humana logo

(Image credit: Humana)

Humana

Best for quality of service and care

Coverage options: PPO, DMHO and vouchers | Plans available: Six | Snapshot: In-network savings up to 45 percent

Six plans available
Nationwide coverage
App and online support
Enrolment fee

Humana dental insurance has a lot going for it as one of the larger US providers that covers all 50 states with PPO, DHMO and voucher plan options spanning six in total. These represent savings of up to 45 percent when using in-network dentists, of which there are a huge 270,000, making this one of the biggest. Specialist plans for veterans can offer big savings while voucher options mean you don't have to commit to full insurance if you don't want to.

As well as looking at the best dental insurance plans, we've also reviewed and rated the best health insurance companies in the US. On top of this, you might be interested in our round-up of the best Medicare Part D plans and best vision insurance companies

We also explore the types of dental insurance available, along with the best electric toothbrushes and best teeth whiteners.

Things to consider when buying dental insurance

No matter which type of plan you choose, we recommend that you carefully review your contract so you know exactly what your insurance will cover. Additionally, in most cases, your dentist's office will be familiar with what your insurance may or may not cover. 

Since many dental offices will require you to pay the estimated uncovered balance upfront, you will need to make sure you know what that is in advance so you can plan your budget. If you cannot cover the remaining balance you may want to ask if your dentist provides financing.

If you are changing insurance and want to continue with your current dentist, you can visit the websites of insurance companies you are thinking about signing up with and search to see if your dentist accepts the new type of insurance. However, sometimes these search results aren't updated or only show offices seeking new patients, so you'll want to verify by calling your dental office.

Prior to receiving quotes, we consulted with three dentists to get their perspective on dental insurance providers. However, since they often have to negotiate prices with insurance providers, we have decided to keep them anonymous to protect those interactions. That said, each of the dentists said the same thing – you should be wary of choosing the cheapest provider in your area because they are typically the worst when it comes to approving procedures or reimbursements. And while it didn’t affect our evaluations, each dentist named Delta Dental and MetLife as the most reliable and easiest to work with on their end.

The dentists recommended you start by assessing your current dental health. What work do you expect you’ll need in the next two to three years? For example, if you haven’t been to a dentist in a long time, you should consider a comprehensive coverage plan. Do you have children who may need braces? Do you need implants? Most insurance plans don’t cover these procedures until you’ve been on the plan for at least 12 months, so it’s worth taking the time to evaluate your oral health, even if it means getting a checkup with a dentist prior to deciding on a plan. Your dentist can help you project what kind of work you may need.

Once you’ve figured out what kind of dental work you and your family need, finding the best plan depends on three factors: age, location and budget. As such, I got quotes for individuals under 50 and over 50, middle-aged couples and families of four. For location I got quotes from the biggest metropolitan areas of various U.S. regions. Then I averaged the premiums and compared the results. I also evaluated the options and the available coverage in each area.

It’s important to note this evaluation is anecdotal. The quotes I received are still likely to vary from the quotes you receive owing to your unique circumstance.

What does dental insurance cover?

Most full coverage dental insurance plans will cover two preventive maintenance visits per year without requiring a deductible payment; however, most will require a $50 deductible per person, per year to help cover costs beyond your preventive exams. If you need work done, most plans will cover a part of the costs. 

There are few procedures that most insurance companies will not cover or only provide a discount for. Most individual dental insurance plans do not cover what might be considered cosmetic procedures, such as tooth-colored fillings on molar or bicuspid teeth, dental implants or adult cosmetic orthodontics. 

The majority of dental companies will also limit how often certain appliances can be replaced and, in most cases, will not replace lost items. The limitations are published in the disclosures and contracts for the plan, many of which you can peruse online. 

Keep in mind that a new dental insurance plan is not going to cover an emergency you are experiencing right now; most have a waiting period of six to 12 months for major work. However, some will waive the waiting period if you recently had dental insurance.

What kind of dental plans are available?

Most dental insurance companies will offer a variety of plans in your area. You can find plans ranging from affordable discount plans to what might be considered "gold-level" plans. Here are a few types of plans you may choose from:

Dental Discount Plans
These are not full-coverage plans but do provide discounts for most common procedures. Discount plans usually only cost about $10 per month per person, and benefits can be used immediately.

Preventive-Only Plans
These low-premium plans may be suitable for those who do not usually need dental work done. These plans will help you cover preventive exams and cleanings. To learn more about why preventive care is important, see What Is Plaque.

Standard Individual Plans
This is likely the most popular plan type for individuals since it will cover most of the costs of preventive exams. Most will cover two exams, cleanings and x-rays per year and will partially cover additional work. There may or may not be a small exam copay.

Family Plans
These plans are similar to standard individual plans. However, many insurance companies will offer the benefit of a family deductible. While most dental plans require a $50 deductible per person, many will have a maximum family deductible of $150, which could be beneficial to those who need to insure more than three people.

"Gold" or "Premium" Plans
Premiums for these plans will cost more but often may include a higher yearly payout rate. The plans may also allow more cleanings per year, such as one every four months rather than one every six months.

Other options to ask about include add-on plans for things like assisting with children orthodontics or adult implants.

How to estimate dental expenses

Estimating your possible dental costs may help you decide whether dental insurance would be financially beneficial. Dental insurance companies will show you a quote online so you can easily see what your premiums might be. You may want to compare your estimated yearly premiums to the cost of a year of procedures. You can estimate how much your dental expenses might be either by talking with your dentist or by researching costs online. 

Other factors can affect your yearly dental expenses as well. Unfortunately, senior premiums are usually more. Youth orthodontics may also cost more. Smokers are usually quoted higher premiums as well. Monthly premium rates can also vary greatly by region and area. We found that within the same insurance company rates may vary by as much as 30 percent depending on the zip code.

While some financial planners suggest dental insurance may not be worth paying for, we did the math to discover that it is usually worth it, provided you attend all of your allowable preventive exams and cleanings. We also learned that if you need any type of work, such as a root canal or filling, you will definitely notice cost savings. 

However, as previously mentioned, premiums vary greatly by the type of plan, your location and your age. So you'll want to obtain a few quotes from insurance companies that provide coverage in your area. You'll also want to verify that your dentist accepts your chosen insurance before you sign up with a new provider.

Why do smokers pay more for dental insurance?

Most dental insurance companies charge smokers higher premiums than they do those who don’t use tobacco. This is because insurance companies assume more financial risk when they cover a smoker.

In general, someone is considered a smoker if he or she has smoked in the past year. Some insurance companies extend that criterion back as far as five years, according to InsuranceQnA.com.

“The reason why smokers are charged higher dental insurance premiums is that those who smoke are more prone to diseases of the gums and teeth,” the article says. “In fact, smoking is considered one of the main reasons for tooth loss.”

The Oral Health Foundation argues that individuals who smoke tend to produce more bacterial plaque in their mouths than normal, which can ultimately cause gum disease. “The gums are affected because smoking causes a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream, so the infected gums don't heal. Smoking causes people to have more dental plaque and causes gum disease to get worse more quickly than in non-smokers.”

Is there a waiting period for dental insurance?

Like many things, the best time to buy dental insurance is when you don’t need it, or at least when you don’t need it urgently. It’s not uncommon for dental insurance companies to have waiting periods before they will cover certain major – and typically the more expensive – procedures. This could come as an ugly surprise if you wait until you’ve got a dental emergency to buy insurance, because you might end up having to pay the entire cost yourself.

An article in the online publication DentalPlans.com notes, “There is usually no waiting period for preventive care. You may have to wait for three to six months for basic procedures, and six months to a year for major procedures.” The article defines preventive care as things like checkups, x-rays, cleanings, etc. Basic care includes filling cavities, simple tooth extractions, etc. And major procedures are root canals, bridges, crowns, etc.

DentalPlans.com recommends that you look at the waiting period connected with various procedures before you buy a dental insurance plan.

Does dental insurance cover cosmetic dental work?

According to a article on the Texas Center for Cosmetic Dentistry website, nearly all insurance plans handle “restorative” dentistry that is deemed to be medically necessary, but they don’t cover cosmetic work. They’ll only cover procedures that  are needed because of decay, disease or accidents. For example, insurance may cover medical interventions used to replace missing teeth or fix a patient’s bite, the article states.

If you want a more beautiful smile and there’s no medical reason for any particular dental work, then it’s unlikely you’ll find a dental insurance company to cover the procedure. Any dental work that simply makes you look better is considered elective.

However, there are gray areas. For example, if you’ve been in an accident that harmed your teeth and you need work done on them, most dentists want the outcome to be aesthetically pleasing as well as medically correct. You could also make a case for cosmetic work if you need crowns or veneers to take care of “diseased, injured, broken or missing teeth.” In addition, insurance may cover gum contouring surgery needed because of infection or injury and orthodontia to fix teeth that have been harmed in an accident.

If you think you have a legitimate reason for cosmetic dentistry, look over your dental insurance plan and check with the company.

Is it safe to see the dentist if I am pregnant?

Skimping on dental care at any stage in life is a bad idea, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). In an article on its website, the ADA says pregnant women face specific oral health challenges during pregnancy that can safely be taken care of by dentists. For example, pregnant women are more likely to develop gingivitis because of hormonal changes that affect bacteria in gum tissue, cavities from snacking due to food cravings, and tooth enamel erosion from morning sickness and vomiting. In addition, they are more prone to developing a pyogenic granuloma, a growth caused by hormonal changes.

Further, the ADA says several studies have indicated that a pregnant mother’s gum problems, such as periodontitis, can have ill effects on her unborn child. “While findings of individual studies have been mixed, an overview of 23 systematic reviews conducted through 2016 concluded that associations exist between periodontitis and preterm birth, low birthweight babies and the development of pre-eclampsia.”

The ADA recommends that moms-to-be take good care of their teeth and mouths at home and discuss oral health with their obstetricians and dentists. “Regular and emergency dental care, including the use of local anesthetics and radiographs, is safe at any stage during pregnancy.”

What if my favorite dentist is out of network?

Dentists can choose to join insurance providers’ preferred networks so patients can get the most out of their insurance benefits. If your favorite dentist isn’t part of your insurance provider’s network, you may end up paying more for your visits.

As with other types of insurance, dental insurance companies prefer you use an in-network dentist and will cover a larger share of the cost than if you visit an out-of-network dentist. As part of their agreement with the insurance company, in-network dentists don’t charge patients more than the costs covered by the insurance plan.

Many dental insurance companies have a list of in-network dentists on their websites. This makes it easy to find a provider your insurance will cover. However, if you choose to see your prefered dentist even though they are out of network, you could end up paying much more out of pocket.

Dental insurance can be expensive so start your search at Assurance and get quotes from multiple dental insurance providers that fit your needs in your area.
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If you're looking for more buying guides, you might be interested in our lists of the best health insurance companies and best Medicare Part D plans. We've also reviewed and rated the best glucose meters and best walk-in tubs