What is dental insurance?

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Dental insurance is a good way to make sure you can afford any dental treatment you might need. We explain how the cover works, who should get it and what to look out for in a policy.

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Dental insurance can cover the cost of routine check-ups, surgery and emergency treatment. Much like health insurance, it involves you paying a monthly or annual fee, but then pays out when something goes wrong. There are different levels of protection depending on whether you want to cover NHS costs or private treatments. Here’s everything you need to know:

What you need to know about dental insurance

There are few important points to remember about dental insurance and how it fits into the UK's NHS dental services.

Do I need dental insurance?

If you are on a low income, are under 19-years-old or qualify for free NHS dentistry by any other means, you are unlikely to need to buy a separate dental insurance policy.

How does dental insurance work?

The UK’s dental insurance system might seem complicated as insurance providers offer plans to cover either the cost of NHS or private treatment, or both. You will usually pay the dental practice upfront yourself, then reclaim the expense through your insurer.

Here are the main ways to cover your dental treatment costs:

  • You can get dental insurance as an add-on with medical insurance. A health insurance policy is often an expensive option to pay for dental care, but it will cover you for a full range of health issues. If you already have private health insurance, choosing a dental add-on for your existing policy might be simpler than taking out standalone cover

  • You could take out a standalone dental plan. This may not cover the full cost or full range of dental treatments available, but will pay for standard procedures up to a capped sum. It could also cover emergency treatment, sometimes even if you are abroad. Bear in mind that you are unlikely to be able to claim for a condition you are already suffering from when you take out a policy. There may also be a set period after you buy your policy during which you cannot make a claim, for example three months 

  • Another option could be to self-insure. This involves putting aside money every month and then paying for NHS or private treatment from that pot as and when you need it. This may be a good option to pay for annual check-ups, but any unexpected treatment could cause issues

NHS-only cover

This is a type of cover that will pay out if you receive chargeable dental care on the NHS, such as a check-up, a basic filling or more serious procedures.

If you do not usually receive dental care via the NHS, be aware that the treatments available to you may be more limited than those for private patients

It is also important to think about the sort of treatment you are likely to need. If you only want cover for annual check-ups and the occasional filling, it may be better value to put some money away each month yourself (also known as self-insuring).

Most policies will come with a mandatory excess for emergency cover. Your provider will pay the cost of regular NHS treatment but will require a specified contribution towards the cost of more significant procedures.

Private dental treatment policies

This cover will suit you if you are looking to protect yourself against the cost of significant dental treatment, alongside regular check-ups and procedures.

However, not every policy will cover every penny. Your policy may only make a ‘contribution’ to the cost of treatment, capped at a specified amount. That means you may still find yourself paying a significant sum out of your own pocket if you require a major procedure.

What does dental insurance cover and what is excluded?

You can find out exactly what your dental insurance does and does not cover in your policy document. Here are some examples of common exclusions and inclusions:

CoveredNot covered
Routine treatment (such as check-ups, X-rays and basic care)Pre-existing conditions (a dental issue you are already aware of when you take out the policy)
Common procedures (such as fillings, extractions, crowns, root canals and dentures)Procedures before a time limit expires (your policy will likely include a time period from the date you take out the policy during which you cannot make a claim, often three months)
Emergency treatment (urgent treatment for acute and unexpected conditions)Cosmetic dental treatments (your insurer will likely only cover procedures that are medically necessary. Procedures that can be considered cosmetic such as teeth whitening, you’ll be expected to pay for yourself)
Cancer treatment (treatment for cancerous growths in the mouth)Patients outside the age limit (your policy may only cover you while you are with a certain age group, such as over 18 and under 65)
Impact injuries (treatment for an injury caused by an external impact, though sport-related injuries are often excluded)Policy excess (you will usually have to pay an excess as a contribution towards the cost of your treatment that will not be refunded by your policy)

How much does dental insurance cost?

The exact price of your dental insurance policy will depend on multiple factors. These include the level of cover you choose, your dental history and even where in the country you live.

Opting for a policy that includes less cover will probably be cheaper, but it could cost you more in the long run if you need expensive treatment. If your policy doesn’t cover all of your treatment costs, you could end up paying lots more if you need to make a significant claim. Consider your circumstances carefully and make sure you get cover that’s likely to be sufficient for your needs.

Think about how much you can afford to pay and the excess you would be comfortable parting with should you need to make a claim. Once you know what sort of policy you want, you can search for the cheapest option that still works for you by using a comparison site.

How to claim on your dental insurance

Most policies work by refunding you the cost of treatment after you make a successful claim. This means you will need to initially pay for the treatment yourself.

Make sure to ask your dental surgery for all the documentation you need to start your claim. This will usually include an itemised receipt listing the procedures that have been carried out and their respective costs.

You can then make a claim with your dental insurance provider online or over the phone.

If you are unhappy with your dental insurance provider's response to your claim, you can escalate a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service for free. The financial ombudsman is an independent adjudicator that can make a judgement on your claim and help resolve any disputes over costs.

Does health insurance cover dental insurance?

UK health insurance providers might also offer private dental insurance as an additional extra, but you’ll usually have to pay a top-up fee.

You can find out more about health insurance here.

Where to buy dental insurance

The best way to buy dental insurance is by shopping around and doing an online comparison. If you have an existing health insurance policy, make sure to enquire and see how much it would cost to add on dental as an extra.

Be wary of signing up for a policy with your dentist directly, as these plans may not always offer the best range of cover options and they could be more expensive. You should always compare several policies at the same level to get a sense of what good value looks like.

You may also be able to opt in to cover through your employer, just make sure the policy is suitable for your age and medical history.

UK health insurance providers might also offer private dental insurance as an additional extra

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