Average Monthly Premium Ranges
Estimated Average Yearly Savings
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Dental Insurance Review
The Best Dental Insurance of 2019
After considering the best 10 dental insurance providers, Delta Dental earned our pick for the best dental insurance overall. This provider provides excellent value and flexibility of plans, and allows you to manage claims via a computer or mobile device. While plans and pricing vary by state and individual needs, Delta Dental offers significant savings on average versus going it alone with preventative care, which is why it's your best option for dental insurance.
What Does Dental Insurance Cover?
Most full coverage dental insurance plans will cover two preventive maintenance visits per year without requiring a deductible payment. Most 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. We looked at root canals specifically and found that the majority of dental plans will cover about half the cost, which may not seem like a lot, but paying half is better than paying upfront for an $800 root canal. However, keep in mind that most insurance policies, depending on your plan, top out at about $1000 to $1500 per year. Using conservative estimates that might be one or two root canals. If you need extensive work done you might have to pay the remaining amount out of pocket.
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.) Dental groups that offer dental discount plans will let you use your benefits right away, but they only provide a discount and not full coverage. Full coverage plans will however cover your initial evaluation so you can start planning your dental procedures.
How We Evaluated Dental Insurance
We’ve been reviewing dental insurance companies since 2015. For our reviews, we thoroughly researched well-known dental insurance companies and the plans they offer to get a good idea of how their prices and services compare. However, it’s impossible for us to tell you exactly how much you’ll pay in premiums or what services your plan will include. Dental insurance premiums vary from person to person, depending on factors like the ages of those covered, the type of plan you select and the area where you live, among other considerations. The information we provide can give you a general idea of what the insurance providers’ plans offer and how much they cost. However, to get hard numbers on a particular policy, you need to contact the provider directly.
We gathered quotes for plans in many parts of the United States so we could calculate average premiums. We did this by choosing zip codes from large metropolitan areas as well as smaller communities that have populations of approximately 150,000. In our research, we checked premiums for one-, two- and three-person households. We did not look at discount plans and instead checked the lowest and highest premiums quoted to us by the dental insurance companies we evaluated.
Why Trust Us
Since the prices dental insurance companies charge and the services they cover vary so much, we can't list exact dental plan premiums or coverage. However, we looked at a variety of plans that are available in many parts of the United States. As part of our research, we looked at the average annual costs for preventive care in many ZIP codes in the U.S. and compared them to possible yearly premium costs. This is one way to estimate whether it generally costs less to pay an insurance premium than pay for preventive care out of pocket. There are other costs associated with dental insurance, such as copays, that could influence whether it’s beneficial for you to buy a plan. While not exact, the numbers we provide can give you a sense of what you can expect overall.
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 to most common procedures. Discount plans usually only cost about $10 per month per person, and benefits can be used immediately.
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.
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 persons.
"Gold" or "Premium" Plans
Premiums for these plans will cost more but often may include a higher yearly payout rate, such as $1500 rather than $1200. The plans may also allow more cleanings per year, such as one every four months rather than one per six months.
Other options to ask about include add-on plans for things like assisting with children orthodontics or adult implants.
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.
How to Compare Dental Plans
Insurance contracts of any kind can be complicated, and if you overlook some detail in the fine print, you could end up paying more out of pocket than you expected. Your current dentist can be an ally in choosing the right dental plan.
If you are looking for a new dental insurance plan but want to stay with your current dentist, it’s smart to check insurance companies’ websites to see if he or she is part of any particular networks. Still, these websites aren’t all-inclusive sources, since some insurers update provider information infrequently. You can often get up-to-date, accurate information about the insurance your dentist accepts by calling their office.
You need to read the contract for any plan you intend to select so you know what the insurance covers and what you need to pay for. Here again, your dentist’s office is likely familiar with what particular insurance plans cover and can give you essential information that can help you make a decision.
Many dentists ask you to pay estimated costs that aren’t covered by insurance before they perform any dental work, and the office’s billing specialist can tell you what those costs are. Armed with that information, you can plan dental procedures in a way that doesn’t drain your bank account. You can also ask whether your dentist permits payment plans if the upfront cost is steep.
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 want to have done. You can estimate how much your dental expenses might be either by talking with your dentist, or by researching costs online. You can use the estimates to help you decide whether you should pay out of pocket or plan your dental expenses based on your insurance coverage. Two resources for looking up procedure costs are The Fair Health Consumer Organization and the Guardian Insurance website. Estimated costs are sorted by zip code and will show a low and high rate so you can see a range of what a procedure may cost in your area.
Other factors can affect your yearly dental expenses as well. Unfortunately, senior premiums are usually more and youth orthodontics may also cost more. Smokers are usually quoted higher premiums as well. Monthly premium rates 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 a cost savings. However, premiums vary greatly, not only by the type of plan, but by location and age. So you'll want to obtain a few quotes for 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 extra or higher premiums than they do clients 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 a section in the online publication InsuranceQnA.com.
“The reason why smokers are charged higher dental insurance premiums is because 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 states in an article on its website 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.”
Can I Have More Than One Dental Insurance Plan?
It’s certainly possible, according to an article on the American Dental Association’s website. It is common for an individual to have his or her own insurance through an employer and to also be covered by a spouse’s plan. Sometimes, people opt to pay for a secondary plan.
So who pays?
What happens is a process called “coordination of benefits’’ (COB), which works out which company pays all or most of the costs. “When both plans have a COB clause, the plan in which the patient is enrolled as an employee or as the main policy holder is considered the primary plan. The plan in which the patient is enrolled as a dependent would be secondary,” according to the ADA.
Typically, the secondary plan doesn’t pay anything until the primary plan pays the dentist. It’s common for a secondary plan to kick in to pay any remaining amount later, but only after the second insurance company gets an explanation of benefits attended to by the first plan.
Start Early & Save on Dental Costs
One way you can save on your child’s dental costs – and ensure they have an attractive, healthy smile – is to have a dentist coat their teeth with a sealant. This plastic or plastic-like coating helps prevent cavities and can keep tiny cavities from expanding. Not only can it spare your child from having cavities drilled and filled, but it also saves money in the long run.
In an article on its website, the American Dental Association (ADA) says sealants have been found to cut the risk of decay in molars by 80 percent. Citing a 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control, the ADA states that school-age children who don’t get sealants have almost three times as many cavities as children with sealants. Some adults can also benefit from sealants.
The process is easy. The dentist starts by cleaning and drying the teeth, then applies a gel to help them hold the sealant. After rinsing off the gel, they then apply the sealant and harden it with a special light. Sealants are clear and not visible on teeth, and they can last as long as several years.
All the insurance companies we reviewed cover some of the cost of sealants, although coverage varies by provider and policy. In the policies we looked at, the maximum age to qualify for sealant coverage ranges from 14 to 19 years old.
The Importance of Good Dental Health
It’s important to take care of your teeth and gums, not only to preserve your smile and ability to chew but also to enjoy good health in general. On its website, the Mayo Clinic states that oral health may contribute to diseases such as endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart, as well as other cardiovascular diseases, including clogged arteries and stroke. For pregnant women, poor dental health has been linked to premature birth and low birthweight.
Besides brushing and flossing, the Mayo Clinic’s experts recommend eating a healthful diet, replacing your toothbrush every three to four months, staying away from tobacco, and making sure you get regular dental checkups and cleanings. Ultimately, the organization states, “Taking care of your oral health is an investment in your overall health.”
Aside from better physical health, having access to good dental care can make an enormous difference for unemployed people seeking jobs, according to a 2013 NBC News report by senior writer JoNel Aleccia.
People who have dental problems, such as missing, discolored, broken or very crooked teeth, have significant problems when job-hunting, according to dentist Susan Hyde, also a population scientist at the University of California at San Francisco.
The report said that in the U.S., most people make "instant judgments" based on appearance, and that includes the way an individual's smile and teeth look.
“If you want to portray someone as being wicked, they have missing front teeth. If they’re ignorant, they have buck teeth,” Hyde said. “Even from a very early age, we associate how one presents their oral health with all kinds of biases that reflect some of the social biases that we have.”
Those views can prevent potential employers from recognizing potential assets, said Lindsey Robinson, a dentist and current president of the California Dental Association. “If they have a job that requires them to interact socially with the public, it’s almost impossible for them to get that job,” she said.
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 before you buy a dental insurance plan, be sure to look at the documentation regarding the waiting period connected with it.
How Can I Reduce My Dental Care Costs?
A smart start is to visit the dentist since preventive care – such as routine checkups and cleanings – can help avoid more expensive procedures in the future. Lacie Glover writing in NerdWallet cites Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics that show between 40 and 60 percent of American don’t make dental appointments as frequently as they should – and for 42 percent, a key reason is cost.
Glover lists several ways to trim dental expenses, including investigating the cost of dental insurance strategically. If your oral health is generally good, you could weigh the cost of two simple annual cleanings against the cost of insurance to see what makes the most financial sense.
However, if it’s been a long time since you’ve been to the dentist or you are experiencing pain, you’ll probably need more than basic procedures, and that’s where dental insurance can help. And you can sign up for it at any time in a year, rather than only during a specific open enrollment period, which is the case with health insurance. If you opt to not buy dental insurance, Glover cites other options, such as a dental savings plan, health savings account or flexible spending account. You might also look into getting care at dental schools or working with your dentist to arrange payment options.
Money Is Tight – Should You Skip Dental Insurance?
If your budget is tight, you might be rethinking paying for dental insurance. It’s true that some people can get by without insurance coverage and that going without can save a substantial amount of money. Whether it’s worth forgoing coverage depends on how much you are willing to gamble that you won’t need costly procedures during a given year.
It is possible to come out ahead by not paying for dental insurance – assuming all you need is basic work, according to an article on the online financial website Investopedia. For example, if you simply need exams, X-rays and cleanings in a year, you’ll probably pay about $400 out of pocket. According to the website’s calculations, most insurance premiums add up to approximately $600 a year.
However, things get dicey if you need more complex – and therefore more expensive – work done. If you need a crown, root canal or some fillings on top of your semi-annual cleanings, the cost could add up fast, even with insurance. That’s because many dental insurance plans have rather low annual maximums, possibly as low as $1,000, according to Investopedia. Once you rack up more than $1,000 in bills, you’re on the hook for the rest.
Still, dental plan proponents note that going without dental treatments can end up costing you vastly more money in the end because tooth and gum problems typically don’t get better on their own. However, many dental insurance plans have waiting periods before you can use them. And if you don’t have insurance and need dental work, you can possibly negotiate a payment plan or lower price with your dentist.
No matter how you look at it, the answer to this question isn’t a simple one.
Why Is Dental Care Considered a Luxury?
Health insurance is a big deal in the United States. Many worry more about losing health insurance than a paycheck if they lose a job, and the very phrase can spark discussions, arguments and shared anecdotes at the dinner table.
What’s often lost is talk of dental insurance, a frequently overlooked aspect of good health that gets treated as just an extra benefit.
Shanna McGettrick, a dentist, addressed this question on Quora in 2017, observing that dental care is regarded as a luxury because people are “ignorant” about how important dental care is to overall health. She partly faults the healthcare system for this, adding that health care providers tend to treat “systems and body parts instead of a whole person.”
McGettrick also faults dental insurance for not keeping pace with the cost of dental care. In addition, she says she also “partially blames the profession of dentistry for not getting loud and obnoxious enough to wake people up” to the fact that dentists are regarded as “technicians” rather than “health care providers” – a perception she says needs to change.
A 2014 Atlantic article draws the same conclusions. “About a third of people in the U.S. don’t visit the dentist every year, and more than 800,000 annual ER visits arise from preventable dental problems,” the article states. This is due in part to dentistry and medicine being regarded as separate and unrelated professions and may stem from historic prejudices since until the 1800s, barbers and hairdressers did basic dental work.
Does Dental Insurance Cover Cosmetic Dental Work?
Not really, according to a 2018 article on the Texas Center for Cosmetic Dentistry website. Nearly all insurance plans handle “restorative” dentistry that is deemed to be medically necessary. Usually, these procedures 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.
However, if you just 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 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 You Are 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 have a greater propensity for gingivitis because of hormonal changes that affect bacteria in gum tissue, cavities from snacking during 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 pre-term birth, low birthweight babies, low birthweight babies born prematurely 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.”
Does Dental Insurance Cover TMJ Treatments?
Coverage for temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) depends on which dental insurance plan you choose and which treatment option or options you select. Costs vary dramatically, and intrusive measures like surgery can be expensive. Many dental insurance plans cap the amount they’ll spend on TMJ treatment because of uncertainties about the causes and correct treatments.
“Because there is no certified specialty for TMJ disorders in either dentistry or medicine, finding the right care can be difficult. Look for a health care provider who understands musculoskeletal disorders (affecting muscle, bone and joints) and who is trained in treating pain conditions. Pain clinics in hospitals and universities are often a good source of advice,” says the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR).
The temporomandibular joint connects your upper and lower jaws, and if there is something seriously amiss, you may be one of the many people who suffer from TMJ. TMJ plagues millions of Americans, possibly as many as 10 million, according to the NIDCR.
TMJ is often comprised of several joint and muscle disorders that cause mild to severe pain, headaches, jaw and neck aches, difficulty opening and closing your mouth, and numerous other unpleasant and frequently painful symptoms. There are indications it is caused by injuries to the jaw, a misaligned bite or arthritis, but experts have not pinpointed specific causes. Stress can exacerbate the condition, and it’s not uncommon for it to be accompanied by teeth grinding during sleep.
There are many treatments, including custom-made mouth guards to prevent teeth grinding, relaxation exercises and medication, teeth realignment, and jaw surgery. It may take years to find a treatment plan that works for you. If you experience TMJ pain, you might need to visit different dentists to learn about the various ways to treat TMJ and investigate what your dental insurance plan will pay for.
Can Medical Insurance Pay for Some Portion of Dental Bills?
It is certainly possible. In fact, in the United States, some dentists are investigating whether certain mouth and jaw procedures should be billed first through medical insurance and then dental insurance if they are genuinely medical matters.
Medical insurance often pays more than dental insurance, which sometimes caps what it will pay, according to a 2018 New York Times article. Dental insurance covers certain expensive procedures at just 50 percent, and some are not covered at all.
The result is that some people end up paying thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses or have to forego treatment because they cannot afford it. Dr. Chris Farrugia, a dentist in Florida, led a two-day course in medical billing to teach dentists and dental staffers how to code procedures for medical insurance, according to The New York Times.
He recommends getting a medical insurer to pay for full head, neck and mouth exams conducted by a dentist on a new patient “since the goal is to assess more than just the teeth,” the article said. “Medical insurers should also cover oral problems attributable to an underlying medical condition, such as diabetes or dry mouth, a common side effect of many medications, Dr. Farrugia said.”
Dentists also check for temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems, look at the lymph nodes, do oral cancer screenings, examine soft tissues in the mouth, and inspect muscles and bones in that area “. . . so that is a comprehensive medical exam,” according to Dr. Rashpal Deol, another dentist quoted in the article.
Kristine Grow, a spokesperson for America’s Health Insurance Plans, said that some dental work can be covered by medical insurance but also said that those insurers are careful to watch for inappropriate or fraudulent billing.