10 tips for finding a good dental insurance plan

Dental insurance is an important part of maintaining good oral health, as dental expenses cost more than ever. You can easily pay hundreds of dollars on even a routine trip to the dentist, and basic and major procedures can cost thousands. If you have children, that cost multiplies. Dental insurance makes trips to the dentist more affordable, which also makes you and your family more likely to seek dental care as recommended. Here are some tips to help you find a cost-effective dental insurance plan:

1. Get a recommendation from your current dentist. If you have a favorite dentist you would like to keep seeing, check with that dentist about which plans he/she belongs to. Dentists are also good resources to learn which plans to avoid. Word travels fast in the dental care community, so your dentist should be able to provide good counsel about which plans are good and which ones are bad. If you don't have a current dentist, get a recommendation from a friend. Most dentists or their staff will be more than happy to answer your questions to secure a new patient.

2. Search for dental insurance quotes online. The Internet has numerous websites dedicated to providing you with multiple online quotes for dental insurance. Don't just look at price when comparing quotes; you also have to compare the features and reputation of the insurer. Check an insurer's reputation with the Better Business Bureau. There are a lot of fraudulent insurance companies dealing in dental insurance. Any company you choose should be licensed with your state. You can check for licenses and complaints with your state insurance department.

3. Evaluate the network of dentists before buying. Not all dental insurance plans have extensive networks of dental care providers. Before you sign up for a plan, make sure there are qualified dentists in your area. You should have several to choose from in case you decide that you don't like a particular dentist. Most plans will allow you to browse their provider directory prior to purchasing the insurance. If an insurer will not allow you to do that, take that is a red flag and find another insurer.

4. Take note of how treatment is determined. You don't want to buy dental insurance from an insurer that controls treatment decisions. Some plans will require dentists to treat you in the least expensive way possible even if there is a better treatment available. You want to get a plan that allows you and your dentist to determine how your dental issues will be treated. You will likely have to pay a higher co-payment for procedures that are more expensive, but you should have the choice to do so if you so desire.

5. Inquire about dentist scheduling. Some dental insurance plans cause patients to only be seen at certain off-peak appointment times. These are the only times that people with these plans can get appointments, and they are typically the slowest times during the day and week. Dentists often use this practice to help fill gaps in their schedules and leave room for cash patients at the best appointment times. It's incredibly inconvenient for you, however, to be restricted to only the unpopular appointment times. Before signing up for a plan, call one or more of the dentists in the network to ask about their scheduling policy.

6. Consider what type of treatments you need covered and at what level. Dental insurance classifies dental procedures as preventative, basic, and major. Most dental insurance will cover at least preventative and basic procedures, but the amount of coverage will vary from carrier to carrier and plan to plan. Before buying a dental insurance plan, consider how much care you have required in the past as a way of predicting how much you will need in the future. Only get what you need. For example, if you are young, you probably don't need denture coverage.

7. Focus on preventative coverage if you are young and have healthy teeth and gums. You can easily find a dental insurance plan to cover 100% of preventative dental care including bi-yearly checkups, cleanings, and X-rays. By focusing on obtaining coverage for these routine procedures, you can help prevent the need for more extensive procedures like root canals in the future. Typically, non-preventative dental procedures are not fully covered by dental insurance and you will have to pay 20%-50% co-pay. With good preventative care you may not need coverage for those procedures at all, and you can always get a supplemental policy to cover emergencies.

8. Pay attention to the maximum amount of coverage allowed by the dental insurance plan. A comprehensive plan should have at least a $1,000 maximum coverage, but more is always better. A major dental procedure can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars, and you can easily max out your insurance in one trip. When comparing different dental insurance plans, compare the coverage limits. Higher limits usually require higher premiums, but they may be worth it if you require multiple dental procedures.

9. Crunch the numbers to determine if a plan is cost effective. Calculate your yearly premium and make sure it does not exceed the maximum coverage. If you are paying $1,000 a year in premiums, it doesn't make sense to get a policy with a $1,000 maximum coverage. Consider how much you typically spend each year in dental fees. Make sure your premiums do not exceed that amount either. Don't forget to factor in how much you will need to pay in co-payments.

10. Try to get group dental insurance if possible. Group insurance is almost always cheaper than an individual policy because the premium is either subsidized by an employer or discounted because of bulk membership. If your employer doesn't offer dental benefits or you are self-employed, you may still qualify for a group plan elsewhere. Some trade associations and fraternal associations offer members the opportunity to buy group health and dental insurance. While there are many affordable individual plans that you can purchase, if you have access to group insurance you should take it.

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