Home > Personal Finance > Is Dental Insurance Worth It?

Comments 1 Comment

You need medical insurance, if only to protect against the cost of an accident or illness so expensive that you could be ruined financially. But do you really need dental insurance?

It’s an interesting question, because you can avoid the most likely causes and expenses of dental problems, decay and gum disease, by brushing your teeth and flossing diligently. “The cheapest cavity is the one you never get,” Cleveland dentist Matt Messina tells U.S. News & World Report.

The Price of Insurance

About 61% of Americans have dental insurance. Nearly all of them have coverage through work or a group plan like AARP’s, Medicaid, Tricare (for military families) and the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program, wrote Evelyn Ireland, executive director of the National Association of Dental Plans, in an email interview.

Most dental preferred provider organization and regular insurance (indemnity) plans have an average deductible of $50 and a maximum yearly benefit of $1,000, Ireland says. Only 2% to 4% of Americans with dental insurance use up their yearly maximum allowance.

Dental plans offered through a workplace typically are one of three types:

  • Indemnity plan. You choose your provider of choice, and your plan pays a percentage of the fees.
  • PPO. Preferred provider organization plans have groups of practitioners who agree to reduced fees for patients within the network. Your costs are lower with network dentists. You may see out-of-network dentists, but it’ll cost you more.
  • HMO. Health maintenance organizations cut costs by requiring members to use only providers within the network.

Annual premiums for dental insurance run, on average, according to Ireland at the NADP:

  • $166 to $326 per person yearly for an employee only.
  • $325 to $667 a year for an employee and family.

Is Insurance Worth It?

The National Association of Dental Plans describes coverage in a typical plan:

  • Preventive care (periodic exams, X-rays and, for some age groups, sealants) — 100%.
  • Basic procedures (office visits, extractions, fillings, root canals (sometimes), and periodontal treatment) — 80%.
  • Major procedures (crowns, bridges, inlays, dentures and sometimes implants and root canals) — 50% or less.

Orthodontics coverage usually can be purchased as a rider, says the NADP. Cosmetic care is not covered.

In deciding if insurance is worthwhile for you, consider:

  • The annual price of premiums.
  • The cost of the dental care you need.
  • Your policy’s limit on how much it pays out in benefits. Some plans let you roll over unused benefits from the previous year.
  • Policy coverage.

“While many dental policies focus on preventive measures by offering two annual visits, you’ll really start seeing the savings with more expensive treatments, like root canals and crowns,” explains Angie’s List.

Help From the Affordable Care Act

The Affordable Care Act requires insurance providers to offer dental insurance for children younger than 18.

“Although the new act does not require dental coverage for adults, most state marketplaces will also offer dental coverage for adults,” says the American Dental Association. Adult dental coverage may be offered as part of a comprehensive health plan or as stand-alone dental insurance. Here’s more about the ACA and dental coverage:

10 Alternatives

Dental insurance isn’t the only way to cut dental bills. In fact, 39% of Americans have no dental insurance. Here are 10 other ways to cut your costs:

1. Self-Insure

It may be less expensive to pay out of pocket than buy a plan. Fees vary by dentist office and by geographic region. Here are average costs in the U.S. for several common procedures, from the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute’s 2013 Survey of Dental Fees:

  • Teeth cleaning (prophylaxis) adult — $85.
  • White dental filling (one surface, anterior) — $149.
  • Silver filling (one surface, primary or permanent) — $125.
  • Porcelain crown fused to noble metal — $1,003.
  • Complete series of intra-oral X-rays — $124.

2. Preventive Care

In many cases, the best way to save on dentistry is to take excellent care of your teeth and gums and teach children healthy dental routines. For example, did you know that fruit juices, carbonated drinks and acidic foods can help wear away your tooth enamel?

The American Dental Association tells how to brush correctly, how to floss effectively and offers more information on dental health.

3. Cut Back to One Cleaning a Year

If you don’t have serious dental issues, you can probably get by with one cleaning annually, not two. “Several studies have indicated that visiting the dentist twice a year has no notable benefits when compared with a single visit annually,” writes U.S. News & World Report.

Just don’t skip that annual cleaning and exam; it could save you from costly and serious problems.

4. Discount Dental Plans

Discount plans charge an annual fee in exchange for discounted services from network providers. Before buying in, be sure to look at a list of covered procedures.

Enrollment fees often run between about $80 and $120 a year. Providers’ discounts commonly are 10% to 60%, says NerdWallet.

But note: “These plans typically cost less than HMOs and PPOs, but they won’t save you as much money in the long run,” Angie’s List says.

5. Request 10% Off

Some dentists will take 10% off the cost of a visit or procedure if you pay at the time of the visit. Some offer a discount for cash.

If your dentist doesn’t provide a discount, ask for one. A respectful and polite request has the best chance of success. Or shop around for a dentist, gathering recommendations from friends and then phoning those offices to find out if they offer a discount.

6. Charitable Clinics

Look for low-cost or free dental clinics offered in your community by local dentist volunteers.

Find opportunities in your area through America’s Dentists Care Foundation. Another charitable organization with volunteer dental professionals is Dentistry From the Heart, a global nonprofit organization (727-849-2002). Or ask your state’s dental association (find it online) about low-cost care.

7. Dental Schools

Dental schools, at many colleges and universities around the U.S., often offer free or reduced-cost care. Accredited programs are listed at the American Dental Association website.

8. Federally Qualified Health Centers

Private health centers offering dental services are in cities and counties across the country. They receive some government funding and charge according to what you can afford. Use the clinic locator at the federal Health Resources and Services Administration website.

9. Look into Dental Tourism

Cost savings can be had by traveling to other countries for dental care. “Dental patients who live close to an international border form the majority of dental health travelers,” according to Patients Beyond Borders, which publishes a site and books with information about medical and dental tourism.

Josef Woodman, CEO of Patients Beyond Borders, told Fox News that an estimated 400,000 Americans crossed international borders for dental care in 2012.

Do plenty of research to ensure you are getting safe and high-quality care. Some resources:

The decision to visit another country for dental care should go beyond simply comparing prices or even evaluating the dentists’ expertise. Countries differ in their standards for infection control and safety. The use of fresh gloves, sterile instruments and safe water are not standard practice in all countries. Without these precautions, patients could be infected with diseases such as hepatitis B.

10. Broaden Your Reach

Dentist fees in rural counties typically are lower than in urban areas, the ADA’s 2011 survey of fees found. Comparison shop for the procedure you need by phoning offices of American Dental Association member dentists outside your metro area and asking about fees.

This post originally appeared on Money Talks News.

More from Money Talks News:

Image: iStock

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

  • Tharste1951

    Great article

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team