What to look for when choosing a dental plan

When it comes to dental coverage, you may be tempted to focus only on your annual exams and cleanings. But it’s an unforeseen dental problem that may take a big bite out of your budget.

“People who’ve had healthy teeth can often be shocked by the cost of fixing that first big dental problem,” said Colleen Van Ham, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Dental. “Without insurance, repair on a single tooth could be hundreds or even thousands of dollars.”

Without insurance, a crown could cost as much as $1,700, depending on dental practice and the materials used.

If you have dental coverage, the plan may pay for part or all of the cost of a crown or other dental work that’s outside of routine care. Preventive services, like exams and cleanings, may be totally covered. Those are some reasons why 8 in 10 employees say it’s important to have the option of dental coverage during open enrollment.

But not all dental plans are the same, and what seems like a good deal may not match your needs.

“It’s important to understand the depth of your coverage, especially if you have a chronic condition like diabetes, heart disease or COPD,” Colleen said. “These and other chronic health issues may make additional access and increased coverage for dental services even more important.”

Here are three factors to think about when choosing coverage:

1. Comprehensive vs. preventive-only plans

While most dental plans include two annual exams and cleanings, comprehensive policies may offer greater protection. These plans may include coverage for things like tooth extractions, root canals and nightguards that help prevent issues related to teeth grinding.

Some comprehensive plans also cover deep cleanings, also known as scaling and root planing, which are particularly important for people with certain chronic conditions. These cleanings remove plaque and tarter above and below the gumline, which may help reduce the risk of gum disease. Left untreated, gum disease can contribute to inflammation in the body and increase the risk of health issues like diabetes and heart disease.

2. Network access and out-of-pocket costs

As with medical coverage, dental plans feature in-network care providers, and it’s important to know if your preferred dentist is one of them. Opting for an in-network dentist can help avoid surprise costs and unnecessary out-of-pocket expenses.

You may be able to avoid other unexpected charges by using an online cost calculator, a resource available to dentists and for members. For instance, the Treatment Plan Calculator from UnitedHealthcare Dental features price estimates based on contracted rates in a member’s plan. The calculator can be accessed by dentists while a member is still in the exam room to discuss real-time, actual costs for potential treatments. For a growing number of UnitedHealthcare Dental members, we are rolling out a Dental Cost Estimate tool on myuhc.com, which helps people evaluate costs related to various dental treatments.  

3. Virtual dental care options

Some plans now include access to 24/7 virtual care at no additional cost, which may help evaluate a variety of dental issues, including tooth emergencies at night or on weekends. A virtual dental appointment may help you decide where and when to seek care, potentially avoiding a costly emergency room visit.

One more thing

After you choose your dental plan, make a point to take advantage of the services it will provide in the coming year. If it has been more than six months since your last exam and cleaning, consider scheduling an appointment early in your coverage period.

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