Dental Insurance: Full-Coverage or Supplemental

Going to the dentist is not on the top of anyone’s list of favorite things to do. But finding yourself stuck with a hefty dentist bill can be even less fun.

Everyone knows that they should have health insurance, and if you care about your teeth, you should add dental insurance to your list of “must haves.” But when shopping for dental insurance, how can you know which type of plan to get?

Essentially, there are two primary – and distinct – forms of dental insurance: full-coverage insurance and supplementary insurance.

Full-Coverage Dental Insurance

Full-coverage dental insurance is very similar to your standard health insurance coverage. You pay a premium to the insurance company and then if necessary, only a portion of the actual dental costs. And when you need to go to the dentists, you often will need to visit a dentist that is part of the dental insurance company’s network in order to get receive the greatest benefits from the plan.

It is important to note that while this type of insurance is called “full-coverage,” it actually does not cover all dental costs. Often, the policy will cover a portion of more expensive procedures, requiring that you make up the difference.

What is typically fully covered by most dental insurance plans is basic dental care, which includes routine checkups and cleanings – one every six months is standard. This type of preventative care is important to both you and your insurance company because it helps avert the development of more expensive dental work.

The next level, or secondary category, of dental care consists of minor work, such as root canals, caps and bonding. Most full-coverage dental insurance plans will cover a good chunk of the costs for this type of work. However, it is recommended that before you have any minor work done, you check your insurance policy to find out what portion is actually covered in order to avoid an unpleasant surprise in the form of an unexpectedly large bill.

Finally, there are procedures that fall within the category of major dental care, which can include orthodontic work, dentures and surgery. For this category, most insurance policies will cover an even smaller proportion of the total costs. Again, it is best to find out exactly what that proportion is before undergoing any major dental care.

Supplemental Dental Insurance

Just like it sounds, supplemental dental insurance in essence supplements your full-coverage insurance. The monthly premium is typically lower than that for your full-coverage insurance and can help lower your total costs for any procedures that are not fully covered by your primary dental insurance.

There are three primary types of supplemental dental insurance plans:

  • Dental Discount Plans, designed to lower dental costs by leveraging the large number of members in order to negotiate lower prices from dental care providers and then pass those savings on to their members.
  • Discounted Student Dental Plans, designed specifically for college student who might lose coverage under their parents’ dental plan once they turn 18; these discounted plans typically cover cleanings, x-rays, fluoride treatments, routine fillings and emergency dental treatment for pain relief.
  • Dental Insurance Preferred Provider Network Plans, consisting of a network of dentists who have agreed to offer discounted services to the plan’s membership; often, members are able to switch to different dentists within the plan’s network.
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