Nobody looks forward to a dental appointment. Having to hand over wads of hard earned money to the receptionist on the way out just adds insult to injury. What’s the best way to ensure that your teeth receive the care they need and that you have access to emergency treatment when you need it without it costing you an arm and a leg? Should you commit to a dental plan or is it actually better to simply take things as they come?
Your first and most obvious route is the NHS. You may or may not have access to an NHS dentist. Though we are all entitled to treatment on the NHS, in practice, finding an NHS dentist is tough. Most NHS dentist lists are closed as demand for the better-priced NHS service massively outstrips supply. Though only children, pregnant women and people receiving means-tested benefits are entitled to free dental treatment, it is still worth trying to track down an NHS dentist if possible. Falling into three basic cost bands with basic treatments such as scaling and polishing, mid range treatment such as fillings or extractions and complicated work such as bridges, crowns or dentures covered means you will still have to pay 80% of the costs. If the treatment you require is significant though, the savings can be too.
If you struggle to find an NHS dental practice you wouldn’t be alone. According to a recent dental survey, 39% of people have had difficulty in finding an NHS dentist, while 43% had deferred visiting the dentist due to concerns about the cost. So what is your alternative to an NHS dentist? The obvious answer is a private practice and a dental insurance plan to spread the cost and cover any nasty surprises. Even if you have an HNS dentist you might want to seriously consider a dental plan to spread costs and allow against an unforeseen dental circumstance. Over 3.3 million people in the UK already have a dental plan. It’s predicted that with even more practices likely to opt out of NHS provision throughout 2010, that figure will continue to rise.
In the same way that investing in any insurance is a gamble, paying for dental insurance is a calculated risk. You are betting the value of your premiums against the value of treatment that you predict you will need over the coverage period. If your teeth are in poor condition and you require repeated treatments, then it could be a very sensible investment. If you are fortunate enough to not require any treatment or just need a small amount of treatment then you might end up having spent more on premiums than on treatment – not a bad problem to have in many respects.
There are numerous types of dental plans on offer with the usual insurance rule of thumb applying – the more you pay the wider the cover you are entitled to. Do your research to identify the type of plan that you feel might best suit you and them run your requirements through an online comparison site to identify the best like for like deals. It’s often surprising how much you can end up saving on like for like products.
Whilst insurance plans cover general dental treatment, hygienist work, injuries and emergency work, plus serious oral diseases, it’s unlikely that cosmetic dentistry will be covered as typically cosmetic treatment. Orthodontic treatment, dental implants or sports injuries (unless a gum-shield is worn) won’t be included. If you do seriously want ‘American’ teeth and coverage to include things like teeth whitening then you are looking at the top end of the pricing scale. Many dentists will also insist that your teeth are of a certain standard before they will cover you and that no outstanding work needs doing.
Some will insist that you offer proof of regular dentist visits and others will want your dentist to complete a form supporting the health of your teeth. Some policies also include a time delay of six or twelve months until you are entitled to receive treatment. Again, check the details and make sure when you are comparing online that your are comparing like for like.
Mark Bartley is an author who aims to help people understand the details of dental insurance and other personal finance products.
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