Visiting the dentist can be a terrifying thought even without factoring in the impact on your wallet. While NHS treatment can be the cheapest option, finding a dental surgery that will take you as a patient can be tricky.
If you are considering alternatives to the NHS, the cost of treatment can be eased with dental insurance. This guide will help you find the best cover without breaking the bank.
Dental insurance: The basics
Dental insurance covers the cost of regular dental treatment, emergencies or other serious dental problems regardless of whether you are a private or NHS patient. Regular treatment includes fillings or scalings, and anything that is not serious and carried out by a dentist or a hygenist in a dental chair.
Emergency dental treatment usually includes a treatment where you are suffering from acute, sharp pain or swelling, such as an infected tooth or an accident that requires immediate attention. Other serious dental problems, meanwhile, can include treatment of abcesses or cysts.
Do I need dental insurance?
As always, prevention is better than cure, so the best way to keep your dental costs down is to take good care of your gnashers. It might sound obvious but, according to the British Dental Health Foundation, 21% of adults don't use dental floss and one in four don't brush twice a day.
But regardless of the whiteness of your smile a regular dental check up, and treatment when necessary, is the best way to keep your teeth healthy. Most importantly, the need for dental insurance depends on the state of your pearly whites.
For people with teeth that need a fair amount of attention dental insurance is a sensible option, especially as you can usually choose your dentist. However, many schemes make you wait between one and six months before you can make a claim.
If your teeth are in good shape an NHS dentist is may be the best option. Before you decide, balance the cost of your insurance against the price of treatment on the NHS.
Isn't it cheaper to get treatment through the NHS?
Although everyone is entitled to NHS treatment, finding a dentist isn't easy. In some towns, there isn't a single dentist willing to take on new NHS patients. Contact your local Primary Care Trust, or visit the NHS website to see your options.
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 £18.50; intermediate treatment such as fillings or extractions cost £50.50; and complicated work such as bridges, crowns or dentures costing £219.
Insurance and using the NHS arent your only options. Before you decide on dental insurance consider all the alternatives available.
Private healthcare is an expensive alternative
Private dentistry is another option but it isn't cheap: some private dentists charge four times as much as an NHS dentist would for similar treatment.
About three-quarters of all private dental treatment is paid for on a âfee per itemâ basis, with the patient directly paying the dental practice, so most of us can get by happily without it.
Self-insure. Regularly save rather than pay an insurer
A 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 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.
Use a healthcare cashplan
Rather than buy a tailored dental insurance policy, you could cover some of the costs of dental treatment with a healthcare cash plan.
Healthcare cash plans are a cheap way to cover dental costs. If you pay for NHS or private treatments for a range of things, like osteopathy, hospital stays, dental or optical treatments, you can reclaim your costs 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 through dental tourism. This means finding a dentist overseas who'll charge a fraction of the cost.
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.
Just like Private Medical Insurance 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 conider an alternative.
Dental insurance may be avilable via 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' a 'benefit in kind', but this is still usually miles cheaper than paying it yourself.
There are many different plans to choose from, and premiums vary widely. As it depends on family size, and the level of cover you want, theres no one cheapest. Bupa, Dencover, Axa and WPA and Denplan are some of the main providers to check for a quote. Cover is also available from Boots and Ident also offer cover.
BupaMonthly fee set by the insurer
WPA From £10 per month
DencoverFrom £4.99 per month
Axa From £9.95 per month
- Two levels of cover available
- Cover applies worldwide
- Level two has a £250 limit for fillings, crowns, bridges
- You need to pay the dentist and submit a claim
- One to three month qualifying period applies for core cover
DenplanMonthly fee set by the dentist
- A range of different levels of cover available
- Dentist arranges re-imbursement directly with Denplan
- Cover only available via your dentist
- Fee can change at the discretion of your dentist
- Can be more expensive than pay and reclaim cover
- Some plans exclude the cost of fillings, root canal or crowns