Dental Insurance Explained

Dental insurance helps pay for routine cleanings and other services that keep your mouth healthy. It also helps cover more costly services like fillings, extractions and crowns.


Most plans have a limit on how much they will pay within a year. This is called the annual maximum. Some also have a copay or coinsurance.

Preventive care

Dental insurance is a type of health coverage that helps pay for preventive care. It typically covers services such as cleanings, X-rays and fillings. Dental insurance plans are available in the Marketplace and through employer-sponsored plans. Most policies require a premium, which is paid monthly. It is important for consumers to understand how dental insurance works to find the best plan for their needs and budget.

Most dental insurance policies include a deductible and annual coverage maximums, which must be met before the insurance company begins to pay for treatments. Some plans also have copays, which are a set dollar amount that patients must pay for a procedure. These amounts are usually less than the deductible, and do not count toward the yearly maximum. Other types of policies have percentage-based coinsurance, which is a share of the cost of a procedure that the patient must pay after the insurance company has paid its portion.

Consumers can compare the costs of different dental insurance plans by looking at monthly premiums, deductibles, coverage limits and copays. They should also consider whether they want to choose a Dental Health Maintenance Organization (DHMO), which requires that they visit dentists in the plan’s network, or a Preferred Provider Organization (DPPO) or Fee-for-Service plan. Many DHMO and DPPO plans have lower deductibles and coinsurance rates than other plans.

Restorative care

Dental insurance covers the costs of restorative treatments that fix damage or repair a defect in your teeth. Examples of common restorative care include fillings and tooth extractions to remove damaged or decayed tissue. It also includes repairing cracked, broken or worn down teeth and replacing lost tooth structure due to gum disease or wear from nail-biting, tooth grinding or other misuse.

Many dental insurance plans have a deductible, a fixed amount you pay before the insurance plan begins to cover treatment. These are similar to homeowner and auto insurance deductibles. Most deductibles are per individual covered on the plan and reset annually. Many also have a maximum coverage amount, either on an annual or lifetime basis. Annual maximums apply to all treatment received during that benefit period, while lifetime maximums only pay toward a single service.

Most dental insurance plans are either PPO or DHMO, with the former having a network of dentists contracted to provide discounts on fees and the latter without any such restrictions. The ADA also offers indemnity plans, where the insurance carrier pays a set dollar amount for each procedure regardless of the dentist’s actual charged fee. The patient is then responsible for any balance billed by the dentist, which is often more than the insurance carrier’s allowed charge. Generally, indemnity plans do not have copays, but some do require a patient contribution of percentages based on the type of procedure.


Dental insurance can be a confusing topic, particularly for consumers seeking coverage for specialized procedures such as orthodontic care. Insurers, benefit specialists and other industry professionals can provide clarity by explaining what a specific plan covers or excludes.

Some plans come with a network of dentists from which patients can receive discounted fees. These networks include preferred provider organizations (PPOs) and dental health maintenance organizations (DHMOs). In addition, some plans have a point of service (POS) component that allows enrollees to visit outside-of-network dentists but at a lower rate.

Most dental insurance policies have a deductible that must be paid out-of-pocket before the plan begins covering any costs. Once the deductible is met, the plan usually pays a percentage of the costs for basic and major restorative services, typically around 80%. Consumers should be aware that some dental insurance plans may have different levels of coverage for these services based on the contract negotiated by the carrier or employer.

Another factor to consider is a maximum amount of coverage per year, which resets each year. Depending on the type of plan, this can be relatively low and may not cover many procedures that need to be done, such as a root canal or oral surgery. Consumers should also be aware of what fees their dental plan is paying compared to what the dental professional charges. The ADA provides a survey of average dentist fees for common services that is available to consumers.

Dental implants

Dental implants are a popular choice for replacing missing teeth. They offer many advantages over traditional bridges or dentures, including improved chewing and speech, as well as a natural appearance. However, there are a few important things to keep in mind when considering dental implant surgery.

First, check your insurance plan to see if it covers the procedure. Your plan may also have a deductible and/or coinsurance, which are fixed amounts you must pay toward a procedure before the insurance begins to pay. Many plans also have a maximum benefit, which is the most they will pay each year for a particular service.

Before undergoing dental implant treatment, you’ll meet with a medical and dental professional to review your needs and discuss the options available. Your team will include a doctor who specializes in conditions of the mouth and jaw (oral and maxillofacial surgeon), a dentist who treats structures that support the teeth and gums (periodontist) and a dental specialist who designs and fits artificial teeth (prosthodontist).

If you’re missing one or more of your natural teeth, dental implants can help restore your smile and confidence. Implants normally last a lifetime, but it’s important to maintain good oral hygiene, avoid damaging habits (like chewing on hard objects) and keep regular appointments with your dentist. Also, don’t ignore pain or discomfort: contact your dental professional right away if something doesn’t feel right.