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Dental Insurance

And other ways to pay for dental costs

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Tony and Rebecca | Edited by Johanna

Updated July 2018

Visiting the dentist can be a terrifying experience even without the bill. The NHS is the cheapest option, but you'll still have to pay for treatment.

If you're struggling to pay, or considering alternatives to the NHS, dental insurance can help cover your costs. In this guide we explain what's covered by the NHS, how dental insurance works and how to find the right cover.

What is dental insurance? Your 10 need-to-knows

The best way to keep dental costs down is to take good care of your gnashers but, according to the Oral Health Foundation, one in three people have NEVER flossed their teeth, and one in four don't brush twice a day.

If your teeth are in good shape, an NHS dentist may be the best option as it is, after all, the cheapest way to care for your teeth. However, if your pearly not-so-whites need a fair amount of attention, you'd like the option of private dental treatment or you want to insure against the cost of dental emergencies or accidents, dental insurance could lower your costs.

What is dental insurance? In a nutshell there are 2 main types:

  • A policy to cover NHS treatment
  • A policy to cover a certain level of private treatment

But policies tend to vary hugely between insurer, so it'll pay to gen up before you buy. Here are 10 things you need to know...

You STILL have to pay if you use the NHS

While we're used to being able to go to an NHS doctor for free, this is not the case when it comes to seeing an NHS dentist. Yes, it's much cheaper than going to a private dentist as NHS treatments are capped, but you'll still have to pay.

In England and Wales, NHS dental charges fall into three costs (bands 1 to 3) depending on what treatment you need, and in Scotland and Northern Ireland, patients have to stump up 80% of the dental fees to a maximum of £384 per treatment. Basic dental insurance policies would cover these costs.

The cost of seeing an NHS dentist in England

The cost of seeing an NHS dentist in Wales

The cost of seeing an NHS dentist in Scotland and Northern Ireland

I heard some people will get free NHS dental work – who are they?

What's not covered by NHS dental treatment?

How do I find a local NHS dentist?

When do you pay for NHS dental work?

Are braces covered?

Your NHS dentist may ALSO be your private dentist

Most dentists perform a mixture of private and NHS treatment. For example, you may get a standard grey filling (amalgam), which is considered an NHS treatment, or a white porcelain filling, which is classed as a private treatment and you'll be charged more for.

If you're unable to find an NHS dentist or you prefer to go private, the costs will be higher. Going private also means you'll bypass NHS waiting lists. However, as prices for private dentistry are set by the dentist, they vary across the country. This is because the private dental industry is unregulated when it comes to pricing, but not for treatment.

Therefore, before you book yourself in, get quotes from a few different dentists to make sure you're getting the best price.

Self-insuring could be the best option if your gnashers are in good condition

A sensible alternative to buying dental cover is to self-insure. Instead of paying £10ish a month for dental insurance, stash away the same amount in a high-interest-paying savings or bank account (for full info and our best buys see our Top Savings Accounts and Best Bank Accounts guides).

When you need treatment, use this cash to pay for it. And if you don't need any treatment, you get to hang on to your cash and the accrued interest.

If you don't want to pay your dentist upfront for dental work, there are three other ways to pay:

  • Use a healthcare cash plan, which gives basic dental cover (you'll pay for it and can then claim the money back) and includes other things such as cover for optical and physiotherapy costs.
  • Buy a dental insurance policy. If this is your preferred option, see below for more information.
  • Use a 'capitation' plan, which spreads out your routine dental costs over a year. These work by a dentist estimating how much you'll spend per year on treatment, then averaging out the cost over a year in 12 monthly payments. Be wary though as these policies can be expensive.

Thinking of buying dental insurance? Never assume all policies are the same

In a nutshell, dental insurance covers routine and emergency dental work, and some policies include worldwide cover. These policies typically work by you paying out for the dental treatment upfront, and then claiming back the money from your insurer.

But don't assume all policies are the same. Prices start from £6 per month and usually have different levels of cover to choose from. For example, a basic policy may cover all of your NHS treatment and cost £10 per month, while a more comprehensive policy for £20 may cover some private treatment costs.

What is typically covered by a dental insurance policy?

What is typically NOT covered in a dental insurance policy?

How do I pay?

Is it more expensive for older people?

How often is the policy renewed?

Are my children included?

What's the difference between a dental emergency and an accident?

What if I change my mind after I bought the policy?

Check you're not already covered

If you're thinking about getting dental insurance, the first thing to check is if you already have cover, so that you don't end up paying for it twice.

This could be through a healthcare cash plan. These are often offered by employers as an employee perk (but you can also buy them yourself).

Healthcare cash plans are a cheap way to cover dental costs. They are a type of insurance policy that lets you claim back the cost of a range of treatments, such as eye tests, dental treatment or physiotherapy (see our Healthcare Cash Plans guide for more detail).

You pay a monthly premium, from £5 (or nothing apart from the tax if it's through your employer). Once you've had your treatment, you send the receipt to the insurer and it reimburses you, depending on the terms of your policy.

If you know you're going to need to spend a fair bit on your teeth, or you want a larger safety buffer in case of emergencies, a stand-alone dental insurance policy may be better because the cover will be higher.

Is dental insurance available via your employer?

Can I get help with dental costs if I'm on benefits?

You can't fix a tooth that's already broken

Pre-existing conditions typically aren't covered under dental insurance. You may be able to get cover for some basic treatments – such as checkups and a scale and polish – but anything more serious won't be covered.

The definition of a pre-existing condition depends on the insurer, but most say it's anything you've had in the past year, with the exception of oral cancer. If you've had oral cancer before, or you get it within 90 days of the policy start date, you usually won't be covered – but always check.

Some insurers will require you to have had a checkup within the last past year to get a policy, so always check.

I've been told I need a filling, is it a pre-existing condition?

It's cheaper if you pay an excess but make sure it's not too high

Not to be confused with living the high life during the festive period or a long afternoon at the local all-you-can-eat buffet, an excess - in the insurance sense - is the amount you pay towards any claims you make.

For example, if your excess is £50 and you have had an dental appointment with a £150 bill - you'll pay the first £50 and the insurer will stump up the rest.

The larger the excess the cheaper the premium. But be careful when picking one as you need to make sure you can afford it.

Be wary of getting cover through your dentist

One of the most common ways of paying for dental treatment is through a 'capitation' plan, and around 80% of those with dental insurance have one.

They're designed for covering routine treatments such as checkups, and the biggest provider is Denplan (owned by SimplyHealth).

Most people buy these plans because they want the peace of mind of knowing they won't pay anything upfront at the dentist, because the cost is covered through regular payments.

Unlike standalone dental policies which you buy from an insurer, you buy a capitation plan through your dentist. They will analyse your teeth and then decide how much you should be paying based on how much they think you would usually spend per year on your dental health.

You agree to the monthly charge and then pay the insurance company, and it pays the dentist.

Each year the dentist has the option of reviewing the fees (they don't have to) so if you've got one of these plans it's worth asking for a review once a year to check you're not paying too much.

Sounds great in principle but we've heard stories of people being charged far more than they would ever claim for. For example, one MoneySaver's paying £30 per month while only requiring two checkups in a year.

We approached Denplan - by far the biggest player in this market - and asked it to provide us with some cost figures. However, it declined, saying that it was unable to because these are set by the individual dentist.

We'd say approach the policies with caution and if you don't think the price adds up, don't be afraid to say no to your dentist and go elsewhere. For example, basic dental insurance policies start from £6 per month and these will cover the same routine NHS treatment.

Can a dentist sell you an insurance policy?

Can I only use certain dentists with a capitation plan?

I like the idea of a capitation plan simply because I am worried about the upfront cost of dental care. Is there another option for me?

Going abroad could cut costs but can be risky

If you are in need of major private treatment for your teeth, costing £1,000s, it could be cheaper to go abroad for it.

Many foreign clinics advertise on the internet, and some have offices in the UK where you can go for an initial appointment.

We've heard positive reports from MoneySavers of top-class overseas dentists where treatment is a fraction of the cost. Here are a few for inspiration...

I had a good time in Chiang Mai and found a dental practice recommended by various westerners. For the price of £1,500, (not implants) I had a load of work done. Apart from it taking ages in the UK, it would have cost about 5 times as much - Pjpern.

I've had extensive dental treatment in Turkey. Surgery open 24/7 so some of the appts were quite bizarre as in 9pm - 2am for instance. Very satisfied as all done for under £5k including air fares - Sheepieju.

While in Slovakia I always get my dental work. I have 8 implants and had my remaining teeth fitted with crowns. I cannot praise them enough. It cost around a third of the price and the hygienist is far superior to any I have visited in the UK. Six years on I'm still singing their praises - Lesanne115.

Warning: We've all heard horror stories of foreign medical and dental treatment going wrong. This is because the quality of treatment can vary wildly, so if you're going to go down this route, there can be big risks involved so do your homework first. You also won't have the same protection as you'd have in the UK and the dentist's qualifications needed will differ depending on where you are in the world.

If you're not happy, complain

If you're unhappy with your insurer, say you think it's unfairly rejected your claim, the first thing to do is complain to it. If after eight weeks it hasn't replied, or you're not happy with the response, you can escalate your complaint to the free Financial Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman is an independent adjudicator that will make the final decision on a claim if you are locked in a dispute with your insurer. For more on how to make a complaint, read our Financial Rights guide.

To whom do I complain about NHS dental work?

To whom do I complain about private dental work?

Can I get a refund if I've been overcharged for an NHS treatment?

How can I tell I'm not getting ripped off?

Do I have more protection if I've paid by credit card?

Best buys: The cheapest NHS policies

If you've decided dental insurance is right for you, there are many different plans to choose from. Premiums start from £6 per month, and the price you pay depends on the level of cover you want.

Dental insurers aren't on comparison sites, so you need to go direct to an insurer. We've analysed policies which meet our minimum criteria and chosen some top picks below, which are in price order.

However, when you come to pick a policy ALWAYS check the policy documents for your personal requirements before buying. 

Cheapest cover for all ages

Axa PPP £10.49 per month

Axa PPP is a big household name when it comes to insurance, and this policy is the cheapest we've found which meets our minimum criteria and has no age limit for patients, which means older patients can take advantage too.

The cheaper Core policy also has a one-month qualifying period before you can claim so you won't be left hanging around - which is pretty good compared to the typical three-month qualifying period.

Key stats
  • Aged 18+ (no upper age limit)
  • Pays out for all NHS routine treatment (no limit)
  • Worldwide dental emergencies up to £200 per incident (max 4/yr), up to £2,500 for accidents
  • Up to £12,000 for oral cancer

2nd cheapest but pricey for 50+

WPA £11.04 per month (£13.94 for 50-65)

WPA's basic policy covers all NHS routine treatments with no limit. It's pretty similar to the Axa PPP policy above but the difference with this one is the fact it's a 'shared ownership' policy - meaning you need to pay some of the costs for some treatment (in this case emergencies-only).

This works in a similar way as paying out an excess when you make a claim, so factor it in when deciding. Eg, if you have to pay £400 for a dental emergency, the policy will only pay out 75% of costs (max of £250) and you'd have to pay the extra £150.

Key stats
  • Aged 18+ (over 50s will pay more. It's available for under 18s if taken out over the phone)
  • Pays out for all NHS routine treatment (no limit)
  • Worldwide dental emergencies up to £250 per incident (max 75%), up to £10,000 for injuries
  • Up to £10,000 for oral cancer

Best buys: The cheapest NHS policies with an excess

If price is important when you're looking for a policy, you can pay a lot less if you're able - and happy - to pay an excess for each claim.

The following cover basic NHS routine treatments and meet our minimum criteria.

Cheapest with an excess

£9 per month

Dencover's silver policy includes most NHS treatments, along with a limit for emergency and worldwide cover. If you're after a cheap policy which covers the basics, it's one of the cheapest on the market, meeting our minimum criteria, and is available for all ages.

Some of the limits include an excess so make sure you factor this into the price. For fillings, for example, it'll only pay out 55% of each claim and you'll need to pay the rest.

Key stats
  • Aged 18+ (no upper age limit)
  • £30 for routine checkups and X-rays
  • £210 for fillings, extractions, dentures, crowns, root canal and bridges (55% paid per claim)
  • £35 for scale and polish (80% paid per claim)
  • £850 for worldwide emergencies and £5,000 for accidents
  • Up to £5,000 for oral cancer

2nd cheapest but a small excess

£9.25 per month

SimplyHealth is another cheap option which covers basic NHS dental care but requires you to stump up some cash for each claim. It's more expensive than Dencover above but you'll pay out a smaller excess for each claim.

Key stats
  • Aged 18+ (max age 79)
  • £45 for checkups
  • £35 for scale and polish (75% paid out)
  • £200 for treatment including crowns, fillings, bridges, inlays and onlays (50% paid out)
  • £5,000 worldwide accident cover
  • £500 worldwide emergency cover
  • £5,000 for oral cancer

Best buys: The cheapest NHS plus private policies

If you're after more cover than just basic NHS routine treatment, the policies below all meet our minimum criteria of our basic top picks and include some cover for private treatment.

Cheapest with private treatment

from £15.72 per month (more for 50-65)

If you want some private cover included in your policy but don't want to pay through the roof, WPA's premium policy includes everything from the basic policy above, plus a buffer for private treatment.

It's a 'shared ownership' policy so you'll need to stump up some cash on some claims so factor this into the cost. Eg, if you have to pay £400 for private dental work, the policy will only pay out 75% of costs (or £250 - whichever is less) and you'd have to pay the extra £150.

Key stats
  • Aged 18-50, £19.76 for those aged 50-65 (avail. for under 18s if taken out over the phone)
  • Pays 75% of all NHS or Private general dental treatment up to a maximum of £250 per person per policy year
  • Emergencies up to £250 per incident (max 4 incidents per year), up to £10,000 for accidents
  • Worldwide accident and emergency cover up to £250 per injury
  • Up to £10,000 for oral cancer

Cheap private policy with no age limit

Axa PPP £21.03 per month

Axa PPP's premium policy includes everything from the basic version above, as well as some private treatment costs. It has a larger limit for private treatment than the WPA policy above, and there's no upper age limit, so if you're aged 65 or older it could be a winner. However, it's only worth the cost if you can afford it.

Key stats
  • Aged 18+
  • Pays out for all NHS routine treatment
  • Worldwide dental emergencies up to £200 per incident, up to £2,500 for an accident (max 4/yr)
  • Up to £125 per year for private routine treatment
  • Pays up to 50% of the cost of private remedial or restorative treatments, such as fillings, crowns, bridges and dentures (£1,000 per person per policy year)
  • Up to £12,000 for oral cancer

How to complain about your insurance provider

The insurance industry doesn't have the best customer service reputation and while a provider may be good for some, it can be hell for others. Common problems include claims either not being paid out on time or at all, unfair charges, or exclusions being hidden in the small print. It’s always worth trying to call your provider first, but if not then…

Free tool if you’re having a problem

This tool helps you draft your complaint and manage it too. It’s totally free, and offered by a firm called Resolver, which we like so much we work with it to help people get complaints justice.

If the complaint isn't resolved, Resolver will escalate it to the free Financial Ombudsman Service.

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