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Do you need dental insurance?

Do you need dental insurance?
Image source: Getty Images


Paying for the privilege of having someone poke around your mouth with sharp tools might sound completely insane, but a trip to the dentist is just another thing sent to try us. So, can dental insurance make it more palatable?

Let’s take a look at what dental insurance is and whether you actually need it. 

What is dental insurance?

Dental insurance covers the cost of treatment either at an NHS or private dentist.

Some policies cover both types of practice while others will only pay for NHS dental care. Bear in mind that if you need to pay for dental treatment, you’ll have to cover the cost first then claim it back from your insurer.

You can also opt into a dental plan such as Denplan, but these aren’t quite the same as insurance policies. These schemes essentially spread the cost of a year’s worth of treatment over 12 months (so you pay a monthly fee).

Dental plans are also usually managed by individual practices, so terms and conditions can vary considerably. Typically, you get a choice of paying for basic or comprehensive care, so what’s right for you will depend on your needs.

How much does dental treatment cost?

Unlike a trip to the doctor, visiting your dentist will cost you money – depending on where you live.

If you live in Wales, the good news is that all NHS dental treatment is free. In Scotland, dental exams are free but if you need treatment you’ll have to pay a maximum of 80% of all costs. This is currently capped at £384, so you won’t pay any more than this. It’s similar in Northern Ireland, although you will need to pay for dental examinations (currently up to £22.70).

In England, the cost of dental care is grouped into bands. What you pay will depend on the band your treatment falls into:

  • Band 1 costs £22.70 – covers dental exams, x-rays and scale and polish treatments. It also covers advice and any plans for additional treatment.
  • Band 2 costs £62.10 – covers everything in Band 1 plus more involved treatments like fillings, root canal work and extractions.
  • Band 3 costs £269.30 – includes everything in the previous bands plus treatments like crowns, dentures and dental bridges.   

In private practices, prices can be significantly higher. Check-ups alone can cost around £50 and something complex like a root canal could set you back nearly £1,000.

If you need orthodontic work (straightening wonky teeth), then, as a rule, it’s only available on the NHS for under 18s and you’ll need a referral from your dentist. For adults, NHS treatment is judged on a case-by-case basis and is dependent on whether it’s necessary for your health.

In reality, if you’re 18 or over and considering orthodontics for mainly cosmetic reasons, then it’s likely you’ll need to go down the private route. To find out more, take a look at our article on how much braces cost for adults.

What does dental insurance cover?

It depends on the terms set out by each individual insurer. Generally speaking, policies will cover you for routine check-ups, including x-rays, and hygiene work, including polishing.

Policies can also cover you for more comprehensive treatments like fillings and root canal work. In the vast majority of cases, cosmetic dental work (such a teeth whitening) is not covered.

Some policies cover both NHS and private treatments, but that’s not always the case. Some insurers will only cover you for work done on the NHS.

If a policy covers both types of practice, then there may be limits on how much you can claim for private care. It’s worth being aware that some limits can be pretty low – as low as £200 in some instances. When you consider that a basic filling could set you back well over £100, that doesn’t give you a huge amount to play with.  

How much does dental insurance cost?

This depends on the type of policy you opt for.

Because NHS prices are capped, policies that cover NHS only treatment tend to cost far less than policies that pay for private care. In fact, some NHS-only policies can come in below £100, while joint care policies could be almost £400.

Some insurers also offer a no claims discount (just like you get on your car insurance) which can help keep ongoing costs down.

Do I need dental insurance?

This really comes down to your preferences and the condition of your teeth.

If you only visit the dentist for an annual check-up and polish, then insurance probably isn’t worth it. You’d spend far more on the policy itself than you’d get back in treatments. The only benefit you might see by investing in dental insurance is if you value emergency or worldwide care.

On the other hand, if you’re not great at remembering to floss, brush twice a day and avoid sugary drinks, then insurance might give you the safety net you need. If that sounds like you, insurance could be the most cost-effective way to pay for your dental care.

Where can I buy dental insurance?

Most big health insurers like Axa and Bupa offer dental policies, as do household names like Boots. Other plans worth a look include those from Dencover and Simplyhealth. Of course, as with all insurance policies, it’s a good idea to read up on exactly what is and isn’t covered to avoid any (expensive) surprises.

For more insight and advice on other types of cover, head over to our insurance hub.

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