Healthy teeth are crucial both for our overall health and appearance. Everyone should have an annual checkup and cleaning as many of us will face cavities, toothaches, and tooth loss that requires more extensive dental work. This can be expensive, even if you use subsidised NHS treatment. Dental insurance plans can offset some of these costs, but they don’t make sense for everyone.
If you’re considering dental insurance, it’s important that you compare health insurance policies to see what treatment you’re entitled to and how much the policy will pay out.
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In this guide
Paying for dental care, what are your options?
NHS: The NHS offers free or subsidised dental care, including check-ups, cleaning and emergency treatment. It doesn’t usually offer cosmetic treatment.
Dental insurance: Policies you pay for with premiums which can reimburse you for part of the cost of private dental treatment, usually with an upper limit of £1000 a year.
Capitation plan: Plans sold through dentists, entitling you to treatment by them in exchange for a monthly subscription cost
What dental treatment can you get on the NHS?
This is the cheapest option for dental care. As a resident of the UK, you’re entitled to free or discounted treatment, including annual check-ups, cleanings, dental work, and emergency treatment.
Many people, including children, pregnant women, and those on Income Support, qualify for free treatment. Otherwise, in England, a check-up and cleaning costs £22.70; fillings, extractions, and root canal work cost £62.10; and crowns, dentures, and bridges cost £269.30.
NHS dental treatment usually costs around half that of private care and you’ll only have to pay once for a course of treatment, even if you need multiple appointments and investigations like X-rays.
However, NHS dental care may not be adequate if you have significant or complicated dental needs. In this case, you might want to investigate private dental care, paid for with dental insurance or a capitation plan. Dental insurance can also meet the full costs of NHS dental care.
How does dental insurance work?
Dental insurance covers the cost of dental care, including routine check-ups; dental work like extractions, fillings, and root canals; and emergency treatments. Cosmetic treatments, such as tooth whitening, are usually excluded.
You typically pay premiums to your insurer, either monthly or annually. These usually total between £70 and £300 a year, depending on how much cover you choose.
When you receive treatment, you pay the dentist and then are reimbursed by your insurer. The amount you can claim back will depend on your level of cover and ultimately on the cost of your policy. Most policies will have an upper limit for the amount you can claim each year, usually between £500 and £1,000 a year. Additionally, some policies will only pay out half of the cost of each treatment or have a specific limit for each treatment type—for example, that you can only claim £500 a year for root canals, even if you have several.
You can also claim back for NHS detail treatment, which typically will be 100% covered by insurance plans. Some policies only cover NHS dental treatment, but will typically come with cheaper insurance premiums.
Almost all policies have a one to six-month qualifying period during which you will be unable to claim for routine treatment (but may be able to claim for emergency treatment). So, you won’t be able to take out a policy and then claim for your scheduled scale and polish the next day.
Is dental insurance worth it?
In general, dental insurance makes financial sense for people who have complex or frequent dental treatment needs. The annual premiums will likely be below the cost of Band C treatment (such as a bridge or dentures) on the NHS, and less than the amount you can claim back for similar private treatment.
Dental insurance is also useful for emergency treatment, which can be very expensive, especially if you can’t get in at an NHS dentist and have to visit a private dentist.
However, the annual premiums will easily exceed the cost of routine check-ups and cleanings on the NHS. So, if you have good oral health and require few interventions, your dental insurance premiums will end up subsiding the cost of root canals and fillings for everyone who was less diligent about brushing their teeth.
How do capitation plans work?
Capitation plans, such as Denplan, DPAS or Practice Plan, spread the cost of dental treatment over a set time period, often a year. They’re sold by private dentists and entitle you to treatment by that dentist.
You’ll pay monthly, with fees set by your dentist after an examination of your teeth. You can move up and down between bands, as your oral health deteriorates or improves. Average fees are around £19 a month—around the cost of a more expensive dental insurance policy— and you may also pay a starting fee.
These policies are somewhat inflexible: they only cover you for treatment with that dentist, which could be inconvenient if you face a dental emergency. If you have good oral health, simply relying on NHS treatment will likely be sufficient. If you have more complex dental needs, a dental insurance policy can offer more coverage and flexibility for the same cost as a capitation plan.
Advantages of dental insurance
Can cover you for treatment following a dental accident or emergency, which can be very expensive, especially if you can’t get in at an NHS dentist. Most policies will also cover you for emergency treatment while you’re overseas.
Many policies can be used at any dentist, including NHS and private dentists, giving you choice and flexibility.
Can cover the full cost of NHS dental treatment, often with no upper limit. This could work out to be much cheaper than paying the full cost of one or more Band C treatments (bridges, crowns, dentures) on the NHS.
You can pay premiums monthly or annually to suit your circumstances.
Many policies cover oral cancer screenings or even offer one-time cover for oral cancer.
Disadvantages of dental insurance
Premiums can be expensive.
Policies often don’t cover the full amount of private dental treatment.
You will have to pay for dental treatment upfront and then claim money back from your insurer.
Policies generally have a qualifying period of between one and six months during which you won’t be able to claim for routine treatment like checkups and cleanings.
Premiums are more expensive than the cost of routine checkups and cleanings on the NHS or even privately. If you have good oral health, you’re better off just using NHS treatment and going without dental insurance.
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Author: Fergus Cole
Fergus is a journalist specialising in the personal finance, energy and broadband sectors. He also has a passion for travel and adventure so tries to make the most of this in any spare time he gets.