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The Best Dental Insurance
Ultimate Buyers Guide

The Best Dental Insurance

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Keeping your health at its best means keeping up with your dental health, so it's important to find the best dental insurance. About 114 million Americans are without dental insurance, leaving them vulnerable to a variety of medical problems due to poor dental health.

Research reveals an existing link between gum disease and other conditions such as heart disease, pre-term birth, stroke, and diabetes. Clearly, it's important to keep your teeth and gums clean, which you can achieve with twice yearly dental check-ups and cleanings.

This link between oral health and general physical health and well-being has both lifestyle and cost implications. A study by, Cigna - the leading dental insurance provider, followed by Avia and Careington shows a 27.5% medical savings when gum disease is properly treated.

The Best Dental Insurance: Our Top Picks

Here are some of the best providers of dental insurance or dental discount plans in the country, each with its own offerings. The variety of coverage offered and range of prices means that you should be able to find a company that fits your dental service needs and budget.

Cigna Dental Insurance

  • Pros
  • No claims process
  • No referral needed for out of network visits
  • Waive waiting periods if you have prior coverage
  • Cons
  • Plans not available in every state

Cigna Dental Insurance offers dental preferred provider organization (PPO) plans to people of all ages. With a Cigna dental plan, you get coverage for many dental procedures and services, including routine cleanings, X-rays and much more. Cigna Dental has a large network of dentists who accept their insurance and they offer a choice of three dental insurance plans.

Avia Dental Plan

  • Pros
  • Large network of dentists
  • No waiting period before getting care
  • Online sign-ups
  • Cheaper than traditional dental insurance
  • Cons
  • Only available in 21 states

Avia Dental Plan is a fee for service plan, providing it's members with considerable discounts on dental services. Avia has a large network of established dental practices that members can choose from, with these dentists offering discounts that at times exceed 50%. The service providers go through a credentialing process, meeting high quality standards to become a part of the Avia network.

Careington Dental

  • Pros
  • Affordable discount fees
  • No waiting period or paperwork
  • Cheaper than traditional dental insurance
  • Cons
  • Not as much coverage as a traditional dental insurance

Careington Dental & Vision Plus discount plan helps reduce overall healthcare cost via substantial discounts on dental and vision care. Members take advantage of significant savings on a wide range of dental procedures. The Careington dental plan is accepted by one of the largest national dental networks, focused on neighborhood dentists. They offer a transparent pricing, with their fee-per-service price schedules.

Aetna Dental Insurance

  • Pros
  • Affordable Premiums
  • User friendly site
  • Helpful online tools
  • Large network of dentists
  • Cons
  • No short term policy

Aetna Dental insurance offers several coverage options for individuals, families and groups. They have the nation's largest network of dentists for members to choose from, and their website offers a great user-friendly array of online tools to manage your account with, from choosing a dentist to managing your claims. Most people covered by Aetna Dental get access to their dental insurance plans via their employer.

United Concordia Dental

  • Pros
  • Excellent customer service
  • Wide range of plans
  • Good available discounts
  • Cons
  • Network not as wide as other providers

United Concordia Dental has over 40 years of expertise providing dental insurance. They help almost 7.5 million members nationwide access excellent dental health care. There are more than 97,000 dentists available at 302,000 access points via United Concordia. Members choose from flexible flexible dental coverage options, and can customize an affordable dental plan for themselves and their families.

Key Considerations When Looking for Dental Insurance

Dental insurance products come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The primary distinction is the difference between traditional dental insurance and dental discount plans, and their coverage and cost structures. In both cases, the plan grants access to a network of affiliated dentists. For some shoppers, the key consideration is access to specific dental services such as orthodontia or crowns. For others, affordable dental insurance that covers routine care for multiple children may be the deciding factor.

Here are some of the main points I took into account when doing a dental insurance comparison:

  • Cost of monthly premiums
  • Type of plan (insurance or discount)
  • Services covered
  • Location and availability of participating providers
  • Copays and other fees, such as charges for out-of-network providers
  • Reimbursement policy (if applicable, such as for out-of-network services)
  • Frequency of use and number of people needing coverage
  • Future needs such as braces or dentures

In the end, you'll want a dental insurance product that works for you at a price you can afford from a reliable company. Here's an expansion of these points to consider as you shop the dental insurance marketplace:

Dental Insurance vs. Dental Discount Plans

With traditional dental insurance, you pay a monthly premium and a deductible amount before the insurance begins to pay. After you pay the deductible, policies do vary a lot on co-pay requirements. There are insurance products with no co-pay and others where you pay a high percentage for dental services. The highest-tier products offer the best dental care coverage, however, of I found these plans come with the highest monthly premiums as well.

There is often a coverage cap on dental insurance; my analysis showed that most people face a yearly cap of $1,200 to $1,500 per year. When you exceed that amount, you pay for dental care out of pocket. Expenses add up more quickly than you might think - the average root canal can cost over $1000. If you do buy dental insurance, there is the security of oversight from your state's department of insurance -good to know if you have a complaint.

To point out the obvious, the best deal on dental insurance is to have it covered, at least in part, by your employer, but that isn't always an option. According to Zenefits, a Human Resources services company, a wide variety of factors contribute to whether or not you have the option of buying dental coverage through your employer, these include:

  • The size of the company: only around 50% of smaller companies offer dental insurance plans. Up to 90% of those with 500 employees or more provide this benefit.
  • Location, location, location: I was surprised to find that the area of the country in which you reside makes a difference as well. Around 76% of employees in the Northeast can buy coverage through their employer, while just 63% of those in the South can say the same.
  • Industry: if you work in the manufacturing industry you have a higher chance of being able to get a plan through your company than if you're in the service field.

Keep in mind, also, that just because a company offers a plan doesn't mean that it's the best dental plan or that it's the most affordable. In fact, it doesn't even mean that the company helps you pay for the coverage at all. One survey of members of the National Small Business Association showed that 23% of small companies don't make any contribution toward their employees' dental insurance premiums. This is why it's important to read the fine print when choosing a coverage option.

it's vital to analyze not only the copays you will be responsible for but the type and quality of care you will be receiving overall. Compare dental insurance to get the plan that's right for your circumstances.

Discount dental plans require payment of an annual membership fee, then provide subsequent access to discount services from providers in the plan's network. There are no yearly caps on coverage or deductibles, and no claim forms to fill out for reimbursement. You can use a discount plan for cosmetic dentistry, which is generally not covered by dental insurance.

PPO vs. HMO: Which is Better?

In my assessment of the top dental insurance options, I also found that not only are there traditional coverage vs. discount plans, but there are differences within the categories as well. Traditional dental insurance plans are typically broken down into two types:


This stands for Participating Provider Option (also known as Preferred Provider Organization). When you choose this type of dental insurance plan, your dentist is paid for each procedure which she or he performs on you. This kind of coverage typically also allows a little more flexibility in provider choice, allowing you to visit out-of-network providers. The tradeoff, however, is that you may have to pay out of pocket and file for reimbursement.


A Health Maintenance Organization plan functions quite differently from a PPO. In this case, dentists and other oral health care professionals are paid per patient, rather than per procedure. This means that whether or not you go in for all of your exams and cleanings each year, your dentist gets paid the same amount regardless.

You're probably already familiar with the terms PPO and HMO when it comes to medical insurance. These options exist for dental care as well, and as you can see the way each type works is radically different. This is why it's vital to analyze not only the copays you will be responsible for, but the type and quality of care you will be receiving overall. Compare dental insurance plans with an eye toward details to make sure you're getting the type that's right for you.

Dental Networks

Each insurance company or discount plan maintains its own network of dental practitioners providing services for members at prices they agree to honor. These dental networks vary in size and quality. Some of the networks are regional, some are national, and in the case of Cigna Dental Insurance, their network is international. As you consider dental insurance and dental plan companies and products, conduct a check to see if they have network dentists available in your area.

With both insurance companies and dental discount plans, your dental bills are cheaper when you visit providers within their network. Some plans limit care to their network only, while others allow you to visit providers outside the network. Check to see if a referral or prior approval is necessary to visit a dentist out of the network.

For those with dental insurance visiting a dentist outside the network, you pay the dentist at the time of service, and the insurance company reimburses you. Some insurance companies are stingy with these reimbursements and look for reasons to disallow them.

Coverage Options

A typical dental insurance plan may offer complete coverage for basic preventive dentistry, including two annual oral exams, cleanings, and X-rays, plus fluoride treatments for kids and older adults. Specific dental procedures such as fillings or specialty dentistry are covered in part by the insurance company, with you paying the difference.

Discount Dental Plans usually list the services covered and their prices at their website, allowing you to see what their fees are before you sign up. If the fee schedule is not available online, request a copy before you buy.

Coverage options vary widely, especially with dental insurance products. It is critical to carefully research and understand what services are covered prior to enrolling in a plan. It is also important to verify that your preferred dentist is a provider for the plan you are considering.

Costs and Fees

Dental insurance typically costs $166 to $326 per person yearly, and $325 to $667 a year for an individual and family, according to the National Association of Dental Plans. In some cases, employers provide access to dental insurance and pay part of the monthly premium.

The dental insurance industry is known for a coverage structure termed 100-80-50. This means that the typical plan will cover 100 percent of basic preventive care (cleanings and checkups), 80 percent of standard procedures such as fillings and root canals, and 50 percent for crowns and other major specialty procedures. I have found, in my research, that this is just a general guideline and may vary by provider. There are also other structures available, depending upon the company and what you decide is the best dental coverage allocation for you.

Dental insurance tends to offer a discount on orthodontia, rather than full coverage. The higher-tier products cover more of the expense of visiting the orthodontist, but you pay higher monthly premiums for such plans.

Dental discount plans charge an annual fee that runs from about $95 to $120 per year. Members then gain access to dental care at rates that are discounted from 10 to 60 percent, with the dental plan providing a list of prices for specific procedures. You pay the discount fee at the time of the service. Orthodontia typically comes at a 20% discount.

Specialty Providers

Dental insurance plans may or may not provide coverage when it comes to specialty dentistry services like periodontal maintenance or root canals. Some insurance companies require prior approval or a referral to visit a specialty dental service provider. A waiting period may apply before members can visit specialty providers.

Dental discount plans usually provide access to specialty dental practitioners. It's important to confirm the fee prior to the visit for service. The advantage of the discount plan over insurance is that there is no waiting period for specialty services; you just make your appointment and go.

Reputation & Service

Are you ready to buy a dental insurance or dental discount plan product? Be sure you check the reputation of their network dentists that you plan to visit. It's also important to look into the customer service record of any company you are considering. Do they pay their claims? A great way to answer these questions is to look at independent consumer reviews of both dentists and the companies themselves.

If you want specific information on a dentist in the network, contact your state board of dental examiners. You will be able to find out if there have been official complaints filed or any disciplinary action administered by a given provider. This is a wise step to take if you're dealing with a particularly small pool of available participating dentists in a plan you're considering. It adds another thing to your research list, however you want the best dental care possible for your family.

Tips & Advice

It's no secret that the cost of dental services can add up quickly. This can be stressful for families, as well as individuals on a limited budget or fixed income. Fortunately, there are dental insurance and dental plan products available that are designed to deliver quality dental care at a fair price.

I found that when shopping for a dental insurance or dental plan product, many companies trumpet their plan as the highest quality dental insurance plan at the deepest discounts. It's important to keep your particular dental needs and budget in mind when shopping for a dental service product.

Effects of the ACA

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (or "Obamacare") has impacted the availability of cheap dental plans in a number of ways. The most significant effect of the ACA is on children, because pediatric oral health is now considered an EHB - or Essential Health Benefit. This means that all private and small group insurance plans must offer the option of oral health coverage for kids. There is an exception - this requirement does not apply to stand-alone dental insurance plans. In other words, only coverage which is offered as part of an overall healthcare plan, including medical insurance, must include dental coverage for children.

The ACA has had a profound effect on access to cheap dental care, particularly for minors. According to the ADA (American Dental Association), nearly nine million children will gain dental care coverage by 2018, including five-and-a-half-million whose families are able to purchase it through a healthcare exchange or their employer.

Cost assistance for healthcare marketplace plans does include those which offer dental as part of the package. This has made it possible for 800,000 adults who have been without dental insurance to also have coverage by 2018, due to availability through the exchange. By far, however, the most significant impact of the ACA in terms of dental care is on children.


When considering which dental insurance or dental discount plan to choose, first and foremost keep in mind what will work for your needs. Determine the specific coverage you and your family require, and keep your budget for dental care in mind. Are you looking mainly for preventive care, or do you have children ready for braces, or a need for more costly specialty procedures? How urgent are special needs? This is important to consider, wait time can be a factor.

Before you buy a dental care product, conduct a due diligence check to ensure that there are dentists in your area that are part of the plan's provider network. This simple step can prevent a world of headaches, and make the entire process of setting up your care go much more smoothly.

If you're also searching for medical coverage, be sure to check out our guide to the best health insurance. Don't forget eye care - we've got a great overview of how to find the best contact lenses as well.

Dental Insurance FAQs

Q How much is a dental insurance per month?


Dental insurance for individuals averages $350 a year annually. For families the cost is $550 per year. These insurance premiums are charged on a pretax basis if they're deducted directly from your paycheck, so the actual cost to you can be significantly lower depending on your tax bracket.

Q How much is dental insurance and what does it cover?


Dental insurance costs $350 to $550 per year and covers routine preventative and diagnostic work, usually at 100%. For repair work, such as fillings or root canals, the insurance will typically cover 80% of the cost after the deductible. More elective work may not be covered at all, or covered at a lower rate, such as 50%.

Q How much does it cost to go to the dentist?


Depending on where you live and what dentist you visit, a typical cleaning can cost from $75 to $200. Additional services, such as dental x-rays, cavity filling, or other more in depth work that requires the work of a dentist and not just a hygienist will cost more.

Q Is dental insurance required by law?


Under the Affordable Care Act, dental insurance is required for minors, but adults can waive their dental insurance without penalty. All qualified plans will cover dental service for children. It is also possible to get stand alone dental plans if you have a non-qualifying plan that does not offer dental insurance.

Q What dental insurance or plan is right for me?


The best plan for you will depend on the state of your oral health and what you are looking for in long-term care. There are now options between having dental insurance and opting out for a dental discount plan. You must also consider what it will cost you and if you can comfortably fit that into your monthly budget and if the coverage is exactly what you need for the present as well as for your future challenges. You may want to choose a higher deductible on your plan depending on how often you want to seek care. You must take into consideration the location and type of dentists in your area. Are there enough of them and are there enough of whose specialty you might seek out?

Q Is a dental discount plan the right choice for me?


Dental discount plans differ from traditional dental insurance plans and coverage. A dental discount plan is like joining a shopping club where you pay a membership fee to take advantage of certain products and discounts. You generally pay an annual fee to become a member of the dental discount plan. This will allow you to choose from a wide variety of dentists who are participating in the discount plan. By joining this discount plan, the dentists have agreed to charge a certain discount for their services and procedures. You are only paying for the access to a particular network of dentists. Because of this, you have no paperwork to do or claims forms to fill out. Your coverage is never capped at a certain amount and there are no deductibles to reach. Cosmetic surgery is generally available with such discount plans whereas such procedures are not covered in a traditional dental insurance plan.

Q Are there differences between a discount plan and a dental insurance plan?


With a dental discount plan, your coverage usually begins within three days and there are no specified limits on the use of the plan. When you pay your annual fee to a discount plan, you will receive a membership card which you present at the time of service. That is all you have to do. There are no claims forms to be filled out. Unlike with certain dental insurance plans, discount plans have no restrictions for pre-existing conditions or other health related situations. Nothing is "covered" and paid for with a discount plan unlike insurance which will pay for certain procedures and care. With the insurance plan, however, there are limits and there are deductibles as well as waiting periods for certain dental or surgical procedures. Unlike discount plans, many things are not covered like cosmetic surgery and there is paperwork to be filled out. With insurance plans, pre-existing conditions will suffer exclusions and limitations and you will pay monthly premiums for specifically outlined care.

Q What will a discount plan or an insurance plan cost me?


Costs for both dental discount plans as well as full dental insurance plans can vary due to region as well as insurance company. Generally, discount dental plans will run anywhere between $95 and $120 every year for a membership. This provides you with access to their network of dentists who will provide services at a discount. These discounts can range from 10% percent up to as much as 60% on certain procedures and care. Dental insurance plans are typically offered by an employer and can range from $166-$326 per year for an individual with family plans costing in the range of $325-$667 per year. Usually a dental insurance plan pays 100% for basic preventative care with certain discounts offered for other procedures and surgeries.

Q What are the differences between a dental DHMO, POS, and PPO?


A DHMO is a Dental Health Maintenance Organization and works similar to health insurance HMO's. There is a certain network of dental providers who belong to the DHMO and you must stay within that network. If you venture out of that defined network of providers, you will likely be responsible for the entire amount of the work you have done.

A POS is a Point of Service plan. This type of dental plan offers the flexibility to venture out of the pre-defined network of a DHMO. There will be more out of pocket costs when you leave the DHMO network but it does provide more options for you.

A PPO is a Preferred Provider Organization. It, too, operates a network but these network providers have agreed to offer specific discounts to members of the PPO. You can go out of the network but will generally only be reimbursed for the discounted fee on the care you received from an out of network provider.

Q Would I be better off buying an indemnity plan?


An indemnity dental plan is a traditional type of pay as you go plan. There are no networks or specified providers you must choose from. You can go to any dental professional of your choosing. There will be some indemnity insurance plans that will ask you to become pre-certified before having a particular procedure done but, for the most part, you will not need anyone's authorization or referral when you choose your dental care provider. While you will pay a deductible, your coverage under such a plan is generally an 80-20 split with the insurance company usually paying 80% of the incurred costs. These plans also tend to have a maximum out of pocket limit. Once you have exceeded that, the plan usually picks up 100% of the costs after that.

Q How do deductibles actually affect my care?


Your deductible is the dollar amount that you are required to pay during the course of a year before your insurance actually kicks in and begins to cover certain care. For instance, if you choose a $100 deductible, you will have to pay out the first $100 of your dental care before your plan becomes activated. Your deductible doesn't apply to just any care or procedures you have done, however. If you choose to have some cosmetic surgery done and such work is not covered under your plan, the expense you pay out will not be taken off your deductible amount. Your deductible is credited only with care that is covered by your plan.

Q How does coinsurance and office co-payments work?


Co-payments are generally one set amount that you must pay upon your visit to a dentist or other dental specialist. A co-payment situation may also apply to a certain procedure or basic maintenance situation. Most dental insurance plans have deductibles that can range from anywhere between $5 and $25 or more. Coinsurance is a plan whereby your dental insurance plan will offer to pay a certain percentage of your office visit or procedure fee. If your office visit is $25, the coinsurance option in your plan may pay a certain amount of that such as $10. Coinsurance generally sets a certain percentage such as you're paying 10% of the office visit charges.

Q Who and what will actually be covered by my dental insurance plan?


This situation varies by individual and also by their family situation. This is where you need to spend some time reading and sifting through the various alternatives and options with regard to coverage. If your employer actually offers several plans, you must decide what your present and future needs will be for both yourself and your family. What in fact is covered is spelled out specifically in your plan's policy. Dentists usually don't know what your insurance will cover or not. It becomes your responsibility to know what coverage you have and what gaps you need to fill. Your policy will tell you exactly what is and isn't covered. In this way, you can effectively plan and determine what other coverage you may need to get to help with certain situations that your plan doesn't cover.

Q What coverage is there if both I and my spouse have a dental plan?


As standard coverage goes, both you and your spouse are each covered by your individual plan. Neither of you are covered for dental care under the other's plan. If you have children, however, it tends to depend on the insurance regulations specified by your particular state government. Generally speaking, however, there is a "birthday rule" that comes into effect in most states. Whichever spouse's birthday falls the earliest in the year is, generally, the insurance policy that will cover the children. This standard is recognized by the American Dental Association as the easiest and most efficient way of coordinating dental benefits in a family situation. Be sure to check your policies to see which would be most beneficial to your family.

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