IMPORTANT: This article is out of date. Some of the information may be useful so we retain it as an archive, but please do be careful relying on it in full.We are currently re-researching the top products and will be publishing the rewritten guide shortly but do visit our insurance page for more guides, such as cheap health insurance, healthcare cash plans, life insurance and more.
For many private dentistry is a must; as getting on an NHS dentists register is tough. Over seven million people now routinely pay for private dental care. Thankfully if you do it right, whether because you want it, or need it, it’s possible without spending too much cash.
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Of course, the best way to minimise the cost of dental treatment is to take better care of your choppers. More than three out of four adults don't floss regularly, and a fifth of us don't even brush our teeth twice a day. So one extra investment to help is a decent toothbrush, some floss and a bit of elbow grease, and reduce your sugar and acid intake.
Step 1: Should I pay?
The National Health Service (NHS)
Although everyone is entitled to treatment by an NHS dentist, finding one isn't easy: in some towns, there isn't a single dentist willing to take on new NHS patients. About one in seven dentist’s lists is closed to adults, one in ten for children, and this number is expected to increase following the new NHS dental contracts that were introduced in April 2006.
So unless you’re after private dental insurance because it gives greater choice, first try to find an NHS dentist. Most don't advertise in the Yellow Pages, so contact your local Primary Care Trust, visit NHS or call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. Additionally, word-of-mouth is usually best so ask friends and family whether they like their current dentist or check the Which? NHS Dentists pages.
Just because it’s on the NHS doesn’t make it free though; while children, pregnant women and people receiving means-tested benefits will still receive free treatment, others pay.
In England, NHS dental charges now fall into three cost bands, with the cost of basic treatments such as scaling and polishing £16.50; intermediate treatment such as fillings or extractions cost £45.60; and complicated work such as bridges, crowns or dentures cost £198.
Get cover through your employer
Some employers include private dental for employees, so check if you have it. Do note though if your employer pays for your insurance, you pay tax on it like your salary as it’s a ‘benefit in kind’, but this is still usually miles cheaper than paying it yourself.
Step 2: Private dental insurance
There are many types of dental plans. Most dentists organise ‘capitation’ schemes (more later) which spread the cost, but these tend to be beaten by simple dental insurance policies, which have the big advantage there’s no need to have your teeth inspected to get cover.
Hence, for people with less-than-perfect teeth, buying insurance is a good option. However, some insurance policies make you wait, say, three to six months before you can make a claim, so check carefully before signing on the dotted line.
Insurance plans cover general dental treatment, injuries and emergency work, plus serious oral diseases, however cosmetic dentistry is excluded, so don't expect your policy to pay for teeth whitening, porcelain veneers or dental implants.
Many dental insurance policies require you to pay something towards your treatment costs, say a quarter of all spending up to a limit of £500 a year. Also, as with private medical treatment, the cost of, and demand for, private dental treatment increases with age, so older people should be especially keen to double-check every policy.
Finding the cheapest insurance
16 Mar 2009. IMPORTANT. This article was last majorly updated in 2007.
We are currently re-researching the top products and will be publishing the rewritten guide shortly.
There are dozens of different plans to choose from, and premiums vary widely. As it depends on family size, and the level of cover you want, there’s no one cheapest. The main providers are Bupa*, Tesco, Denplan, CIGNA and WPA; to check for a quote.
Step 3: Compare other options
Now you've found the cheapest privately insured plan, compare it to the other available options:
Simply pay as you go to the dentist – good if you’ve limited issues.
Private dentistry isn't cheap: some private dentists charge four times as much as an NHS dentist would for similar treatment. For example, a routine examination with scale and polish can cost around £65.
About three-quarters of all private dental treatment is paid for on a “fee per item” basis, with the patient directly paying the dental practice, so most of us get by quite happily without insurance.
Furthermore, if your teeth naturally look like Tom Cruise's or Jennifer Aniston's and don't visit the dentist very often, paying hundreds of pounds a year for dental insurance is money down the drain.
If that's the case then PAYG is a good deal. However those likely to need regular treatment should avoid it, as either you'll pay a whack or you'll feel discouraged from going to the dentist due to the cost and this could damage your teeth.
Self-Insure – regularly save rather than pay an insurer.
One sensible alternative to buying dental cover is to self-insure. Instead of paying £20 a month for dental insurance, stash away the same amount in a high-interest savings account (see Instant Access Saving article).
When you need to make a “claim”, use this cash pot as a Pay as you go (see above) to pay for your treatment. As an added bonus, if you don't need any treatment, you get to hang on to your cash and the accrued interest, too!
Use a healthcare cash plan.
Rather than buy a tailored dental insurance policy, you could cover some of the costs of private dental treatment with a healthcare cash plan.
Healthcare cash plans are a good low cost way to cover dental costs. With these little publicised schemes, if you pay for NHS or private treatments for a range of things, like osteopathy, hospital stays, dental or optical treatments, you can reclaim the cash up to set limits. These plans are best for those likely to claim for other treatments too. For full details see the Best Healthcare Cashplan Providers article.
Dental tourism. For major treatment consider going abroad
If you are in need of major private treatment for your teeth, costing thousands, it’s often much cheaper to reduce the cost is dental tourism. This means finding a dentist overseas who’ll charge a fraction of the cost as a lot cheaper and getting it done there.
There are also reports of very high class dentistry in some former Eastern block countries which even including travel costs (see Cheap Flights article) are a fraction of the cost. Read moneysavers feedback in the Great Medical Tourism Hunt, where quite a few people mention cheap dentist treatment.
Get cover through your dentist.
Many dentists encourage private patients (especially new patients) to sign up to ‘capitation' plans, which spread the cost of your dental care over a year. The biggest provider of these schemes is Denplan, which has signed up over 6,000 dentists (roughly a third of all UK dentists) and has 1.8 million registered patients.
Here a dentist will inspect your teeth and place you in one of five categories from ‘A' to ‘E', with ‘A' being the cheapest and ‘E' the most expensive. Film-star teeth will gain you treasured ‘A' band status, but if your teeth are like a decayed picket fence around an ancient graveyard, you'll find yourself in band ‘E'! So manky teethed MoneySavers will be much better off with the dental insurance plan, where no check is done.
Just like Private Medical Insurance (PMI) plans, these schemes will cover all routing procedures excluding cosmetic dentistry. Budget capitation plans are also available, which only cover routine and preventative work, such as examinations, hygiene treatment and x-rays, but not more expensive treatments.
The problem with capitation plans unlike private dental insurance is that you're tied to a particular dentist and pay the same fixed amount (an average of £240 a year), regardless of how much treatment you actually receive. So, if your dental hygiene is good and you only see your dentist for occasional check-ups, you're subsidising snaggletooths!
Like any insurance policy, dental insurance plans don't guarantee to save you money. Those who don't need treatment will overpay, those who can't get an NHS dentist with teeth as reliable as the Manchester City defense will save a fortune and/or save their teeth. Yet even so getting the right policy counts. (Oh and before any Blues get annoyed, sadly I've suffered as a City fan for the last 35 years!)
Checkups only (1)
Medium treatments (2)
Heavy treatments (3)
Very heavy treatments (4)
Based on NHS treatment *Treatments doubled for couples (1) 2 x check ups (2) 2 x basic, 1 x intermediate, (3) 2 x basic, 2 x intermediate, 1 complicated treatment (4) 2 x basic, 2 x intermediate, 2x complicated treatments