Is Dental Insurance a Money-Saver or Just Another Expense?

by Debra Karplus

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Will dental insurance save you money? Not necessarily. We walk you through how to do the math of comparing dental costs to insurance costs and choosing a plan that really will help you save.

Quite often, dental insurance is very underutilized. This means that people are quick to purchase a dental insurance plan without really needing most of what it offers. It means they are likely overpaying for dental care.

Here is how to determine whether dental insurance will cost or save you money.

How is your current dental health?

If you’re blessed with good teeth or healthy gums, that’s great news for you. You may be smart to avoid dental insurance and simply pay out of pocket for your semi-annual dental checkups and occasional fillings. Genes count!

Most dentists agree that genetics plays a big factor in the health of your teeth and gums. Additionally,  good oral hygiene habits and a commitment to regular dental exams as recommended by your dentist can keep your teeth healthy and dental costs low.

You already know your track record in terms of how many fillings you’ve had as well as other procedures, such as root canal or implants. Did your parents have dental problems? This information is a useful place to start in determining the health of your mouth over the long term, and consequently, your expected dental costs.

Being on an employer dental plan through your job can be a great deal! People on an employee dental plan often pay as low as $17 monthly or $204 yearly. With an average dental exam and cleaning costing $150 to $200, that dental insurance pays for itself and is probably well worth the expense.

Dental insurance for seniors might be smart.

But what about all those other folks who are not covered under an employer plan?

Sitting in the dentist’s chair while getting two fillings, a 66 year old woman questioned whether she should have dental insurance. She alternates dentist and periodontist visits every four months. Thus far, she has only needed cleanings, checkups and occasional fillings, but no other treatments or procedures. It was costing her about $180 per visit at the time of this writing. So under $600 yearly.

As an AARP member in Illinois at the time, she called AARP and got a quote from one of their providers. Premiums were quoted at $63.90 monthly ($766.80 annually) or $43.32 monthly ($519.84 annually) depending on which of their plans she chose. She also learned she could add a spouse and dependents to the plan. And, there would be no problem with pre-existing conditions.

Initially, it sounded like this dental insurance could benefit her until she learned that it does not cover all expenses with its co-pay and deductible. So she decided to decline dental insurance. But she’s well aware of the fact that as people age, even healthy people who take good care of themselves as she does, are inclined to have more health and dental problems, so at some point she’ll likely get it.

If you don’t currently have dental insurance, but discover at a dental exam that you need lots of work, you can jump in and buy a plan, and you would be covered right away. That’s not a bad thing if you think about it!

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Dental insurance for everyone else depends on your teeth and on your finances.

Shopping for dental insurance is not unlike shopping for health insurance, and like your health insurance, it varies from state to state. To get the lowest premiums, expect less coverage, a higher deductible and a co-pay. Additionally, prices can be kept lower by a PPO dental plan where you see a dental provider, dentist, or periodontist who is within the network.

If you get your dental insurance via the Health Marketplace, you can only enroll during the period in November and December each year when it is open enrollment time, as many of those pricier health insurance plans also include dental coverage.

Be sure to read that fine print very carefully to learn what is covered and what isn’t. Typically three exams by a dentist or periodontist are covered annually, which covers preventive care, cleanings and x-rays. Fillings, sealants, crowns, root canals, oral surgery, extractions, implants, and dentures are covered, but not necessarily at 100%. So ask lots of questions before signing up for any dental insurance plan.

Do an online search and you’ll find other providers of dental insurance. Cigna advertises rates as low as $20 per month on their website; Humana claims $18 monthly. Molina is a provider of dental insurance helping families on Medicaid.

Sit down with a calculator and really determine what it costs to take care of your pearly whites each year before you start getting quotes on dental insurance premiums.

Reviewed June 2023

About the Author

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on Amazon (Kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at

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