Does Health Insurance Cover Dental Procedures?

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Health and dental – they’re both part of your physical well-being. So, it’s natural to assume that your dental procedures would automatically be covered under your existing health insurance plan.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Dental and health insurance are two different types of coverage, and they don’t overlap. That means you’ll have to get two separate policies for each.

The good news is that while they are two different plans, you can bundle health and dental insurance from the same provider. Or, if you prefer more flexibility, you can get two separate plans from different insurance companies.

Below, we shed more light on the types of dental coverage that are available, covered procedures, and alternatives.

Understanding Health Insurance Coverage for Dental Procedures

Dental care is typically not included in standard health insurance policies. Instead, dental coverage is a separate policy covering only dental-related procedures and treatments.

If you already have a health plan, you can contact the provider to see if they also have dental policies. For added convenience, you can bundle both health and dental insurance plans under the same provider. This means you can manage both types of coverage under one provider, simplifying the process and potentially offering cost savings compared to purchasing policies from different companies.

Alternatively, if your current health plan doesn’t offer dental coverage, you can opt to buy a standalone dental insurance policy. Some might cover basic preventive care like exams and cleanings at 100%, while others might include more extensive procedures, such as root canals and orthodontics, but with varying coverage percentages and possibly higher deductibles.

Types of Dental Coverage Options

When choosing a dental insurance plan, you have several options, each with its own benefits and limitations:

  • A Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plan allows you the flexibility to visit any dentist you choose. However, using dentists within the insurance provider’s network often.
  • A Dental Health Maintenance Organization (DHMO) is generally more budget-friendly but requires you to choose a dentist from its network. Visits to out-of-network dentists are not covered, which means all your dental care must be handled within the network to benefit from the coverage.

Within these general categories, there are more specific types of coverage that can affect how you pay for services:

  • Direct Reimbursement: Under this plan, you can visit any dentist without network restrictions. The plan reimburses you a predetermined percentage of the total cost of the dental care, regardless of the type of treatment.
  • Indemnity Plans: These plans offer a high degree of freedom, allowing you to choose any dentist. They operate on a reimbursement model based on one of two methods.
  • Usual, Customary, and Reasonable (UCR): You are reimbursed for your dental expenses up to a set percentage or a fee limit considered reasonable by the plan, whichever is less.
  • Table or Schedule of Allowance: The plan specifies a list of covered services, each with a designated dollar amount it will pay. You are responsible for any difference between the dentist’s charge and the plan’s allowance.

Keep in mind that regardless of the type of dental plan you choose, the provider will likely impose a waiting period. These waiting periods mean you will need to be enrolled in the plan for a certain amount of time before you are eligible for certain types of coverage. Often, waiting periods apply to major or specialized procedures and range from three to six months.

Covered Dental Procedures

Dental insurance typically categorizes care into four main types: preventive, basic, major, and orthodontic care. Understanding these can help you choose a plan that aligns well with your dental health needs:

  • Preventive Care: This includes regular exams, cleanings, oral cancer screenings, and X-rays. Most plans encourage preventive care, as it helps avoid more costly and invasive treatments later on. Typically, you can expect two fully covered preventive visits per year.
  • Basic or Restorative Care: These procedures go beyond preventive measures but aren’t considered major surgery. It includes treatments like fillings, crowns, and tooth extractions.
  • Major Care: This category covers more complex and invasive procedures that often require anesthesia or involve oral surgery. Examples include root canals, gum disease treatment (periodontics), tooth replacements (prosthodontics), and wisdom tooth removal. Implants are also categorized under major care.
  • Orthodontic Care: This category covers individuals who need braces, retainers, or other teeth-aligning services. However, not all plans cover orthodontic care, and those that do may have different coverage levels or age limits.

Many dental plans use a “100-80-50” payment structure, which determines what percentage of the procedure will be covered by insurance and what portion will be your out-of-pocket responsibility:

  • 100% for preventative care
  • 80% for basic care
  • 50% for major care. Remember that most plans have a waiting period even before they cover half of major dental procedures.

Limitations and Exclusions in Dental Coverage

While dental insurance plans provide valuable support for managing dental health costs, it’s equally important to be aware of certain limitations and exclusions that can affect your coverage.

Most dental insurance plans set an annual maximum – commonly about $1,500. This cap limits what the insurance will pay within one year. Any dental costs that exceed this limit will be your responsibility.

Given the cost of some dental procedures, this cap can be reached quickly, especially if you need extensive work. To maximize your benefits, it’s wise to plan your finances and treatments strategically throughout the year.

Dental plans typically do not cover experimental procedures. These might include new treatments or technologies that have yet to be widely accepted as standard care by the dental community.

Another significant limitation is the exclusion of pre-existing conditions. For example, if you were already missing a tooth before enrolling in the plan, any treatments related to that tooth might not be covered. Dental plans often include a “missing tooth clause” or similar exclusions, which can affect coverage for conditions that existed before you obtained the policy.

Alternatives for Dental Coverage

If you have healthy teeth, you may opt to forgo a monthly dental insurance plan. Or you may need a supplementary plan to help pay for dental treatments that your policy doesn’t fully cover. In either case, you can explore the following alternative financing options for dental coverage:

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)

An HSA is a personal savings account that allows individuals with high-deductible health plans to set aside money on a pre-tax basis to pay for qualified healthcare expenses. Contributions to an HSA are tax-deductible, and withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are tax-free.

However, funds used for non-medical expenses are subject to taxes and may incur an additional penalty.

Unlike some health-related savings accounts, the funds in an HSA roll over year after year. There’s no pressure to spend the money within a given year, which makes it a great option for saving toward future healthcare needs. But contributions to an HSA are capped annually.

HSAs can be particularly beneficial for covering a range of dental procedures:

  • Preventive care, including teeth cleanings, dental check-ups, and x-rays.
  • Basic and major procedures from fillings, crowns, and extractions to root canals, gum cleaning, and wisdom teeth removal.
  • Orthodontic care for braces and other devices to correct dental alignment.
  • Dental surgery like oral surgery, gum-tissue grafts, and full-mouth reconstruction.
  • Other dental work includes dental veneers, dental bleaching, inlays, onlays, and even dental bridges.

Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs)

Like HSAs, FSAs are another type of medical savings account – except these are employer-sponsored. FSAs allow you to use pre-tax dollars to pay for eligible healthcare expenses. Eligible dental expenses typically include the same list of procedures that HSAs cover.

However, FSAs differ from HSAs in some key ways:

  • FSA funds do not roll over at the end of the year. Any unused money is forfeited.
  • At the beginning of the plan year, you decide how much to contribute to the FSA. This elected amount can only be changed outside of open enrollment if there is a qualified change in employment or family status.

Dental Financing

Given that most dental plans have low limits (often around $1,500 per year), patients needing extensive dental work will likely meet this cap quickly, leaving them responsible for paying a portion out of pocket.

While you can forego some treatments when your coverage limit resets, you might not be able to put off major procedures. In these instances, a viable alternative could be working with clinics that offer dental financing directly to patients.

Here’s how dental financing offered directly from clinics serves as a practical option for patients:

  • Immediate Access to Necessary Care: Dental financing plans allow patients to undergo necessary procedures without delay. This is particularly important for treatments that should not be postponed, such as those that prevent further dental deterioration or address significant pain.
  • Flexible Payment Options: Many dental offices offer financing plans that can be tailored to fit different budgets. These plans often come with varied terms, including low or no interest rates with monthly payment options.
  • Enhanced Treatment Options: Spreading the cost over time eases the financial burden, so patients might choose more comprehensive or advanced treatment options that they would otherwise forgo due to upfront costs.
  • Simple Application Process: Typically, clinics streamline the financing process with quick applications and real-time pre-qualifications. If approved, patients can undergo dental as soon as possible.


Navigating the landscape of dental insurance requires understanding the distinctions between health and dental coverage, as well as the specific types of treatments and financial support available. Whether through traditional dental insurance, savings accounts like HSAs and FSAs, or direct financing options from dental clinics, there are several pathways to manage and reduce dental care costs.

Ultimately, selecting the right option depends on your specific health needs and financial circumstances, ensuring you can maintain optimal dental health without undue financial stress.

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