Most types of insurance protect against some sort of unexpected event, whether it's a car accident, premature death or destruction of property. The financial implications of each of these events are significant. Dental insurance, however, is not about protecting against significant loss, but rather providing ongoing preventive maintenance, just like servicing your car. Regular dental checkups will generally keep the cost of your insurance lower. With the exception of accidents requiring extreme dental repairs, most dental work is highly predictable and routine in nature.
Because of this predictability, most companies are able to offer dental plans to their employees at relatively low cost. Before deciding on a plan, here are some things to keep in mind:
Do you have the freedom to choose your dentist? Some plans will restrict your choice to a set list of practitioners. If your dentist is not on the list, find out why.
What treatments doesn't your plan cover? Some plans won't cover pre-existing conditions such as missing teeth and the costs associated with further treatment. Make sure you are aware of what's covered and what isn't. Sometimes dental plans will only cover the least expensive alternative treatment. If that's the case, you'll be out of pocket for the remainder of the cost.
What type of plan do you have? Most dental plans are either managed care or fee-for-service. Managed Care systems typically contain costs by limiting the treatment available, the freedom of choice, and the level of reimbursement. Fee-for-service plans allow you to choose your practitioner, with re-imbursement levels dependant on the fees charged by your dentist.
Dentistry has become very similar to the medical profession in its use of health maintenance organizations as a way to contain and minimize costs. The two most common of these are the Preferred Provider Organization, where dentists provide discounted dental work in return for being part of an exclusive network, and the Dental Health Maintenance Organization, which pays dentists a fixed monthly fee for each individual in the plan, regardless of how much each person uses it. This system encourages dentists to keep their patients teeth healthy, and tends to be the lower cost of the two plans.
Both of these plans will limit your choice, however, whereas the fee-for-service model gives the patient complete choice. With direct re-imbursement, your employer reimburses a certain percentage of your dental expenses and you pay the rest.