Dental insurance: Dental plans explained

Smile with mirror

Dental plans can be an effective way to spread the costs of dental treatment

If you want to spread the cost of going to the dentist - but don't think dental insurance or using the NHS pay as you go system is right for you - a dental plan might be the best option. But what are dental plans and how do they work?

What is a dental plan?

With a dental payment plan, you pay a regular monthly amount instead of settling bills after treatment. This can be an effective way to spread the costs if you're likely to require a lot of treatment, and means you'll know in advance how much it's likely to cost.

Fans of these schemes say dentists can devote more time to patients, but critics say patients are pressured into signing up because dentists are keen to boost their potentially more rewarding private practices.

Types of dental plan

Maintenance plans and comprehensive capitation plans are available. They cover different types of treatment and have different pricing structures. Mandatory insurance is often included for dental accident and emergency, oral cancer and hospital benefits.

Maintenance plan

These plans are offered by Denplan, DPAS or Practice Plan and are designed to provide preventive care. They can cover maintenance and accident and emergency insurance.

You can typically expect to be covered for two examinations and two oral hygiene visits with X-rays per year. Because you are paying the dentist directly on a monthly basis, there is no standardised cost and price can differ widely between individual practices. 

Capitation plan

These usually offer unlimited treatment including examination, hygienist, X-rays, fillings, crowns, bridge, root canal and extraction. 

These plans offer more comprehensive cover than a maintenance plan so you can expect to pay more each month. The actual fee you pay is based on your oral health and dental history. An initial joining fee (currently £50) might be included, while some dentists insist on examinations and may require you to have treatment before providing quotes.

Dental plans: other options

Pay-as-you-go

Many dental practices offer a pay-as-you go option for either private on NHS treatment. Surgeries decide on fees for check-ups and treatments and set attendance requirements. Paying as you go can prove cheaper than paying for insurance or a capitation plan, although you could be left with a big bill for one-off treatments.

Private medical insurance

Many private medical insurance (PMI) policies cover dental treatment. PMI operates in a similar way to dental insurance, as you claim back the cost of any treatment.

Health cash plans

Health cash plans cost less than PMI. You pay a premium to receive a cash sum for treatment. This may not cover the total bill, but it reduces it to a manageable amount.

Going abroad

While costs can be significantly lower overseas, follow-up appointments can prove costly and inconvenient. For more on getting dental treatment abroad, read the General Dental Council's guide.

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