You’ll want to go to an in-network dentist as they usually have better, contracted rates. We’ll show an example of that in a minute. Cleaning or preventative care visits are typically covered at 100%. Basic or major services visits are typically covered at 80% and 50%, respectively. What does this mean? If you go to an in-network dentist for a tooth filling (80%) whose contracted rate is $200, you’ll have to pay $40 out of pocket ($200 X (1 – .80)).
Depending on the type of insurance you’re looking at, the network of your dental insurance provider could be crucially important. Check to see how many dentists they have in their network and if your current dentist is in it or if there is a dentist who has an office near you that you would want to go to. Another thing to consider is whether the insurance provider will let you go see dentists outside their network, what the costs will be, and whether you need a referral when you need to see a specialist.
Since all dental insurance carriers are different, it is important to clarify which dental procedures fall under each specific category. This is important because some insurance plans don't cover major procedures and others have waiting periods for certain procedures. If you know that you will need major dental work that is not covered by a given plan, you should probably look elsewhere to find one that suits all of your needs.
Another benefit is that you have more flexibility when it comes to choosing what type of plan you want. When you work for an employer, they choose which plan they believe would be right for the majority of their workers. But you might not need the same type of coverage as the person who works in the cubicle next to you. By buying an individual plan, you're able to customize and purchase exactly what you need. For that reason, your coverage can actually be less expensive than if you had an employer-sponsored plan – especially if you had to pay for part of your premiums.
People buying their own dental insurance (as opposed to those covered by an employer's plan) sometimes get a nasty surprise when they sign up: a waiting period. Unlike regular health insurance, in which coverage usually starts immediately or at the beginning of the next month, dental plans often come with a delay between enrollment and the actual onset of coverage for some or all services. It could be six months to a year or more.
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.
Before deciding to purchase dental insurance, talk with your dentist regarding the extent of your treatment plan. This way you can decide if you would be better off with or without dental insurance. A very important factor to remember regarding any dental insurance plan is that dental insurance is not at all similar to medical insurance. The majority of dental insurance plans are designed with the purpose of only covering the basic dental care around $1,000 to $1,500 (about the same amount that they covered 30 years ago) per year and is not intended to provide comprehensive coverage like that of medical insurance.
The cost of not taking care of your oral health could be more. Those without individual dental coverage are less likely to get routine dental care, meaning they seek out a dentist only when they have a problem. By then, more extensive and more expensive measures may be necessary, and major problems linked to poor oral health (like heart disease and diabetes) are more likely to appear.2 Doing nothing now means you might pay more later.