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Dental insurance can be worth it, depending on your needs, the plan you purchase, and your financial situation. Research shows that having dental insurance is associated with better oral health outcomes.1
Most major dental insurance plans have affordable monthly premiums and will be accepted by an extensive network of dentist’s offices. However, dental insurance coverage typically focuses on preventative care and may not cover more extensive dental procedures.
Dental insurance isn’t the only way to offset the costs of dental work for you or your family. It’s crucial to research what it covers, how much it costs, and the alternatives before committing to a plan.
Like health insurance, dental insurance will pay all or part of your bill for covered dental services. What it covers depends on your plan details. You still may have to pay out of pocket for at least a portion for many services.
Here’s a breakdown of the structure of dental insurance and what you’ll pay:
While the low cost of dental insurance premiums may seem attractive, you must assess a plan's components before committing. A low annual maximum means you may only get a few non-preventative services covered before your insurance refuses to pay further.
Dental insurance is affordable for most people. In 2021, U.S. households spent an average of $130.43 annually on dental care insurance.3
A dental insurance plan deductible is typically much lower than a deductible for medical insurance. That means you’ll spend less before your insurance starts to pay for services.
Preventative care is typically covered at 100% without a deductible.
While it differs from plan to plan, most dental insurance covers preventative dental care at 100%. Your insurance typically covers a limited number of these services annually for every plan member.
These covered services include:
Beyond preventative care, most plans cover basic services at 80 to 100%. That means they will pay most or all of the cost for procedures like:
Dental insurance will pay the least for major dental services, within a typical range of 50 to 80%. These services include:
Many dental plans have limited coverage for some procedures, such as cosmetic dentistry, orthodontics, or dental implants.
Cosmetic procedures that dental insurance benefits don’t cover include:
If you need orthodontic services, such as braces for your children, you’ll need to select a plan that offers insurance coverage specifically for these services. Dental insurance plans with orthodontic coverage may cost more than their typical counterparts.
Additionally, some plans may have waiting periods or require pre-authorization for certain types of treatment. That means you can’t access all of your benefits right away.
Dental services can be expensive without insurance. Here’s a quick list of typical services and how much you’ll pay out-of-pocket without insurance:4
|Dental Service||Cost (without insurance)|
|Teeth cleaning||$75 to $200|
|Metal braces||$3,000 to $7,000|
|Simple tooth extraction||$219 to $4,000|
|Wisdom tooth removal (4 impacted teeth)||$1,000 to $3,000|
|Filling||$150 to $450 per tooth|
|Basic dentures||$600 to $3,000|
|Dental crown||$500 to $3,000|
Dental insurance can be a great way to offset dental care costs. Still, it’s not the right choice for everyone.
Evaluating its pros and cons can help you make the appropriate decision.
The advantages of dental insurance include:
The drawbacks of dental insurance include:
Dental insurance is not the best choice for everyone. If you have healthy teeth and don’t need extensive dental work, you may be better off with an alternative.
Additionally, if your dental care costs exceed the annual maximum of most dental insurance plans, you may want to look elsewhere.
However, dental insurance can be a good choice for people who:
Whether you should get dental insurance depends on your needs and circumstances. Research options to understand whether it’s cost-effective for you and your family.
Dental insurance is a common way to pay for dental care. About 59% of U.S. adults hold private dental plans.5
However, alternatives to dental insurance include:
Dental savings plans, or dental discount plans, typically involve paying an annual membership fee in exchange for discounted dental services from participating dentists.
Discount dental plans offer up to 50% savings on many standard dental procedures. Unlike insurance, you can use a dental savings plan for any service, including cosmetic services.
If you have an accredited dental school in your area, you can often receive free or discounted dental services from their students. The dentists-in-training are supervised, so you’ll still receive expert care.
You don’t need insurance to access services at a dental school.
Many dental offices offer in-house payment plans. A payment plan allows you to spread the cost of a service over months.
Your dentist may or may not charge interest on a payment plan. Discuss options with them before you select a payment plan.
Dental credit cards are specialized credit cards that help you pay for dental services.
They may provide introductory periods where you won’t owe interest if you pay the total cost before the time runs out.
If you have a major procedure to pay for and poor credit, you may opt to take out a personal loan. Personal loans give you a lump sum that you’ll pay off over months, similar to a credit card.
Personal loans typically have lower interest rates than many credit cards and don’t require good credit.
If your need isn’t urgent, you can research dentists in your area to see who offers the lowest out-of-pocket prices.
Some dentists also offer a small discount for using cash to pay for services.
Nearly 40% of U.S. adults don’t receive dental care, many for financial reasons.6 Dental insurance helps people access more affordable dental care. It typically covers the total cost of preventive care and the partial cost of other dental work.
However, dental insurance has limitations. It often won’t cover orthodontia like braces or cosmetic dentistry. It can also have waiting periods and low annual maximums, restricting when you access services and how much your plan pays.
Alternatives to dental insurance include dental savings plans, dental schools, payment plans, and personal loans. Research your options thoroughly when deciding how to offset dental care costs.
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