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Save Your Smile and Your Wallet--A Guide to Dental Insurance
Larry Denton

It is highly unlikely that there is anyone on earth who actually "enjoys" going to a dentist office--unless it is a dentist, of course. Government statistics show that many people actually hate and fear dental visits and avoid them at all cost. Sadly, it is precisely because we avoid the dentist, that makes going to the dentist so uncomfortable, sometimes painful, and quite expensive. By the time we go, minor problems have usually flared into major and serious conditions requiring extensive procedures.

When it comes to dental care, the old adage, "A ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," is profoundly true. It really does pay to go to the dentist regularly, to obtain the preventive treatments that will reduce exorbitant dental bills later. In recent decades, dental insurance plans have been one of the fastest-growing items on the employee benefits scene, yet dental professionals estimate that nearly 50 percent of Americans are without dental insurance. Many people never had it, while others have had their coverages dropped recently by their employers to deal with the rapidly rising medical insurance costs.

As you are probably aware, a hole in your tooth can put a larger hole in your bank account. And a major dental procedure like wisdom teeth removal or braces for your children can be a major financial set back. One important way to reduce dental costs is to get dental insurance. Whether it is an employee benefit or you buy it yourself, it is a good investment--especially when you have young children. You want to give them a healthy and attractive smile, along with durable, straight teeth.

As with any insurance purchase, when it comes to purchasing dental protection, things can get pretty tricky. Basically, there are four primary options when it comes to dental plans: indemnity, dental health maintenance organizations (DHMOs), preferred provider organizations (PPOs), and lastly, dental discount plans.

Each of the four types have certain advantages and disadvantages, and since each individual and family is unique, there is no single dental plan that is "perfect" for everybody. You would be wise to research the various plans available and comparison shop for the best prices for your particular situation.

Indemnity insurance is the traditional type of insurance. You pay monthly or yearly premiums and you can use the dentist of your choice. There is usually an annual benefits cap--for example, $2,500, and the insurance pays a different percentage for different procedures, from 20 to 80 percent. The most significant advantage of this insurance is your personal choice of dentists--a very important feature for many people.

DHMOs are similar to medical HMOs and operate in much the same way. Dentists are paid a flat rate to provide dental care for a certain number of patients. Patients pay an annual premium and are usually required to make co-payments for office visits and procedures. Patients do NOT get to choose their own dentist, but they are less expensive than indemnity plans.

PPOs are insurance plans where groups of dentists have agreed to provide discounted services to insured members. Members pay annual premiums and may get preventive care free and pay a certain percentage on other types of procedures. Patients can choose their own dentist, but will have to pay more money to do so.

Dental discount plans have grown remarkably in the past few years. Not really insurance, dental discount plans have a network of dentists who have agreed to provide deeply discounted services to group members. Members can routinely save 50 percent on most dental services. The drawback to these plans are that they are somewhat limited in number and may be difficult to find in your area.

Whichever plan you choose, there are many reasons to maintain good dental health. Beyond having a healthy smile to improve your appearance, proper oral hygiene can reduce more serious health problems, including heart disease. You don't want to sacrifice your health for a few pennies a month--it is simply not worth it. There are many plans available for as little as $100 a year, and THAT is a wise investment.

About the Author

Larry Denton is a retired history teacher having taught 33 years at Hobson High in Hobson, Montana. He is currently V.P. of Elfin Enterprises, Inc., an Internet business providing valuable information on a variety of timely topics. For a dentist office full of advice and resources about dental insurance, visit

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