Dental insurance can be expensive. In fact, in many cases, the cost of the insurance can exceed the cost of paying for regular preventative dental care – such as routine check-ups and cleanings – out of pocket.

For most people, the real value of dental insurance is the peace of mind gained by knowing there will be coverage for some portion of major procedures, such as root canals, crowns and other big-ticket items. 

For a brush-up (no pun intended) on the basics, see How Does Dental Insurance Work?

What to Look for

When selecting a dental insurance plan, you should consider the following:

Network  The bigger, the better. If you already have a dentist you like and want to keep, it's more likely you'll find him or her in a sizeable network with lots of practioners.  

Options – Companies that offer a variety of plans and policies to choose from tend to be more desirable than those with few choices. 

Coverage – Most insurance plans cover Class I (Preventative Care) including cleanings, exams and X-rays with no additional co-pay from you. 

Coverage for the three additional classes – Class II (Basic) including fillings and extractions; Class III (Major) for crowns, bridges and implants; and Class IV (Orthodontia) – varies.

Benefits – Many policies come with a maximum amount of annual benefits you can receive, typically around $1,500 per person.

Some companies require a waiting period before benefits begin. Make sure you know the waiting period – if one exists – for the policy you select. 

Costs – Premiums vary a great deal. Overall, the adage “you get what you pay for” applies to some degree with dental insurance plans: The higher the monthly premium, the higher the yearly maximum. That said,  it is important to choose a plan that offers rates you can easily afford and that gives you the best value for your money. 

Best Plans

Using criteria listed above, the following five dental insurance plans provide some of the best coverage available in the marketplace today. Here they are, along with some of their most salient features.

Delta Dental – Delta Dental’s network of more than 145,000 dentists in 292,000 locations is one of the largest. The company serves one-third of all Americans who have dental insurance.

Delta features a variety of plans. Instead of reimbursing a percentage of a service's cost, Delta sets a maximum price you pay for a specific procedure. 

Guardian – Guardian, like Delta, has extensive network that includes over 83,000 providers at more than 171,000 locations. The company offers multiple insurance plans, including plans that cover 100% of the cost of preventative care, including x-rays.

Unfortunately, it is only available in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New York, Texas and Utah. If you live in one of those states, especially if you have children, Guardian may well be worth considering. 

Humana – Humana offers a unique loyalty plan in which benefits increase every year. In addition, there is no waiting period for discounted services. Big into online access, the company also features a mobile app.

One caveat: not all Humana plans include orthodontic care. Nonetheless, the company's coverage is generally an excellent value – especially if you keep your plan for several years. 

Cigna – Cigna Dental does not require you to choose a primary dentist and referrals are not needed for care by a specialist. In addition, you do not need to file claims – that’s done for you by Cigna network dentists.

Cigna’s coverage is worldwide and plans include the entire cost of preventative care as well as a portion of the cost of orthodontia.

Aetna – Aetna offers dental insurance as an add-on to its health insurance plans, which are widely available. Standalone coverage is only available in Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Illinois and Pennsylvania.

The company has a huge network of dentists and a large selection of plans covering everything from preventative care to orthodontics. 

The Bottom Line

If dental insurance is available through your employer, check there first. If that’s not an option or if you want to look for better coverage, any of the five companies listed above would be a good place to start – assuming they offer the type of care you require.

If you want to do more research, check out the dental insurance search engine on the site eHealth. Merely plug in your ZIP code and the search engine will locate available plans in your area. For more, see 4 Important Steps for Choosing Dental Insurance.