If you do think coverage is for you (to help you decide, see 4 Important Steps For Choosing Dental Insurance), it’s important to know you are getting the best bang for your premium bucks. Here are a quintet of companies that offer plans at a pretty good value, along with some other options for dental care at reasonable rates.
The Top Providers
The following companies are among the major players offering dental insurance to consumers. Your costs will depend on whether you can sign up via a plan offered by your employer versus paying for it out-of-pocket, as well as the type of plan, family size and degree coverage provided.
As one of the country’s biggest dental insurance companies, Delta Dental provides consumers with excellent value, many sources agree. Savings average around 44%, compared to a TopTenReviews compilation of fees charged by dentists in 10 different ZIP codes. Family plans provided even higher value. Much of that value comes from the fact that preventive procedures such as examinations, cleanings and X-rays are typically provided free.
Another oft-cited advantage for Delta is the existence of a “maximum out-of-pocket price" feature on many of its policies. This feature might dictate, for example, that you will never pay more than $250 for a root canal.
Another company with highly rated coverage is Guardian. Although plans vary, many cover the entire cost of preventive exams, X-rays and cleanings and up to 90% of fillings and simple extractions.
According to a TopTenReviews compilation of fees, Guardian saves you up to 45% of the cost of dental fees. This is true even if you only use the insurance for exams, X-rays and cleanings. Of course, as with all dental insurance, savings vary depending on where you live and the type of plan you purchase.
Humana’s pricing considers not only where you live but also how you live. You pay more, for example, if you are a smoker. Even then, Humana consistently offers some of the best savings – around 48% off of regular fees,according to TopTenReviews – giving it a slight edge over Delta and Guardian .
In addition, Humana has a loyalty plan through which annual benefits actually increase gradually the longer you keep your policy (up to three years).
Aetna’s large network of providers and sophisticated online presence are big pluses. Unfortunately, the company mainly offers dental coverage as an add-on to its health insurance plans, or through group plans, the kind you'd get through an employer. If you are looking for a stand-alone individual plan, you will only find it in Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Illinois and Pennsylvania.
With full coverage of preventive care, including X-rays, and up to 80% coverage for some basic and major procedures, Aetna's dental plans are especially attractive. Note, however, that you might have to wait up to a year and a half to receive some major services, such as a crown or dentures.
Health and life insurance company Cigna has a dental plan that covers 100% of standard preventive care. This preventative-services plan also covers a percentage of root canals and orthodontia. It does not cover amalgam fillings and some other basic treatments. But if you have children, the orthodontia coverage may make the plan worth considering. Two additional plans available from Cigna cover a percentage of other types of dental work, including fillings and root canals.
The Cigna network of dentists is smaller than others, but coverage for out-of-network dentists is provided, albeit at a slightly higher cost.
For related reading, see 5 Places to Get the Best Dental Insurance.
Other Ways To Save
There are other ways to save on the cost of dental care, but they come with caveats.
Community-based health centers often provide basic oral healthcare. If you qualify, services are provided on a sliding scale, based on your income. Wait times of up to three weeks are common.
Schools of Dentistry
There are 65 dental schools in the U.S. If you live near one, you may be able to get affordable care provided by a student dentist under the supervision of a fully licensed professional. Savings average about 30% versus what you would pay privately.
Long waits are normal and schools of dentistry typically do not provide much in the way of amenities.
Discount Dental Plans
If you are in need of immediate service and lack insurance, a discount dental plan could be worthwhile. Discount dental plans are not insurance, technically, but groups you join that have negotiated special prices with local dentists. In return for a low monthly fee, you have immediate access to a network of participating dentists and specialists in your area. Savings with a discount dental plan average anywhere from 20% to 60% off regular local prices. Of course, some areas may be better populated with participating professionals than others.
The Bottom Line
Dental insurance may not seem like the most urgent health expenditure. But as one practitioner likes to put it on his appointment reminder cards, "Ignore your teeth, and they'll go away." At the very least, a dental policy can encourage you to have routine cleanings and checkups, since these preventive services often are covered 100%.
Finding low-cost coverage isn’t difficult. In addition to checking out the companies listed above, use a search engine such as the one available at DentalInsurance.com. Simply plug in your ZIP code and you will see several carriers in your area, along with available plans and prices.
You can then compare plan prices against average local out-of-pocket prices found at websites such as HealthcareBluebook.