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Dental insurance explained

We compare dental insurance policies and explain whether you could be better off with the NHS or a dental payment plan.

In this article
How dental insurance works Private vs NHS dental insurance Dental insurance policies compared
Do you really need dental insurance? Alternatives to dental insurance 

How dental insurance works

With most dental insurance policies you pay your dentist for any treatment received and then claim the money back from the insurer. 

Dental insurance policies cover maintenance such as check-ups, scale and polish, and X-rays as well as treatments such as fillings, root canals and crowns at NHS practices, private clinics, or sometimes both. Cosmetic dental work, such as teeth whitening, is generally excluded.

 

Private vs NHS dental insurance

Before buying dental insurance, check if you have a local NHS dentist (the NHS has an online dentist finder tool).

Some dental insurance policies only cover you for NHS dentists but others cover some private treatment, too.

NHS-only policies tend to be cheaper, and have other advantages.

Most NHS-only dental insurance policies will pay out an unlimited amount towards treatment on the NHS over a policy year. 

All of the private policies we looked at set maximum benefit levels for check-ups, scale and polish/hygienist visits and treatment as well as a cap on the percentage that they would pay towards it. 

Dental insurance policies compared

These tables shows the starting annual premium for dental insurance policies covering maintenance and treatment for a 60-year-old.

Policies are arranged alphabetically - not by premium or the quality of cover. It’s worth comparing the premium you’re prepared to pay with the claim limits offered by different insurers.

Provider Policy
name

 

Annual
premium

For a 60 year old

 

Maximum
claim for
check-ups

Includes scale and polish

 

When can I
make a
check-up claim?

How long you have to hold the policy before you make a claim

Maximum
claim for
routine
treatment?

 

When can I
make a routine
treatment claim?

How long you have to hold the policy before you make a claim

Maximum claim
for emergency
treatment?
Axa PPP

 

More info

You can claim back 100% of costs, up to the claim limit. Emergency treatment covers up to 4 incidents per year. Available after 1 month from start of policy. You get up to £12,000 towards one course of oral cancer treatment charges, up to 18 months following diagnosis. Available after 1 month from start of policy. You get a hospital cash benefit of up to £60 per night for up to 30 nights.

Core
cover
£119.58 No limit 1 month No limit 1 month £2,500
Boots

 

More info

You will pay your NHS dentist the published patient charge for the applicable band. You will then claim this full cost from your Boots dental plan. You get a hospital cash benefit of up to £100 per night for NHS treatment to a maximum of £5,000 (50 days).

Core
plan
£137.19 £500 3 months £500 3 months £500
Bupa

 

More info

100% reimbursement for all NHS treatment charges. Payouts are based on NHS dental cost bandings in England and Wales. Prices may be different in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Emergency treatment is available 14  days after the start of the policy. There's no annual limit for oral cancer treatment, available six months after the start of the policy.

Dental
Cover 10
£164.64 Local NHS
limits
Immediately Local NHS
limits
4 months Local NHS
limits
Dencover

 

More info

You can claim back 100% of costs, up to the claim limit. Emergency treatment is available after 15 days from the start of the policy. There is a £2,500 one-off single payment for oral cancer treatment for the lifetime of the policy, available after two months from the start of the policy. 

NHS £84 £21.60 Immediately £118.20 2 months £425
WPA

 

More info

You can claim back 100% of costs for check-up and routine treatments, 75% of emergency treatment. Maximum of 2 emergency claims of up to £250 per policy term. There is a £10,000 one-off single payment for oral cancer treatment, available after 90 days of holding the policy.  You get a hospital cash benefit of up to £200 per night for up to a maximum of £2,000.

Level 1 £167.28 No limit 30 days No limit 30 days £500

 

All information correct to May 2019.

Do you really need dental insurance?

Dental insurance may seem like a good investment, but it's worth weighing up the pros and cons against how often you visit the dentist each year, whether you visit a NHS or private clinic and your overall oral health.

The average household spends around £150 a year on medical, optical and dental services, according to the Office for National Statistics - less than the annual premium of many dental insurance policies.

Pros

 

Emergencies

 

Dental emergency or accidents can be expensive as well as painful. Dental insurance policies will typically cover accidents and emergencies, and some will also cover you for emergencies if you're overseas.

 

Large operations

 

Complex treatments, such as crowns, dentures and bridges, fall under the NHS’ Band 3, costing £269.30 (or up to £384 in Scotland, or £199 in Wales, as of 2019). However, if you go to a private clinic, the cost could be far more.

Dental insurance could be one of several ways to cover the cost; see our list of alternatives below.

 

Option to pay monthly

 

If you’re worried about large bills, many dental insurance providers allow you to pay monthly.

Cons

 

Free dental care on the NHS

 

NHS dental treatment is free for everyone aged under 18 (or 19, if in full time education), pregnant women and mothers of children under 12 months, as well as many people on low income benefits. 

 

Long waits before you can claim

 

All of the policies we looked have a one- to six-month qualifying period during which you can't claim for routine treatment. 

However, many will let you claim immediately for check ups.

 

Caps on the cost of payouts

 

Many policies do not pay out for the full cost of private treatment. You can find out each policy’s claims limits in the table above.

 

Limited cancer cover

 

Cover for cancer is often an expense insurers are willing to pay out for the once - being excluded from the policy after the first claim.

Alternatives to dental insurance 

Dental insurance isn't necessarily the cheapest way to pay for dentistry work.

Self-insuring

Rather than pay an annual premium to an insurer, why not pay the same amount into a savings account?

By saving £10 a month into an instant access account paying 1.45%, you’d accumulate £1,292 - more than enough to pay for even the most complex work at an NHS dentist. 

Plus, the money could be used to pay for other emergencies. However, this option may not be suitable for those in imminent need of treatment, given the time taken to accumulate the money.

Paying by credit card

You can spread out the cost of major dental treatments by up to 26 months (at the time of writing) by paying with a 0% interest purchase credit card.

Bear in mind that you'll still have to make minimum repayments every month.

Dental plans

With a dental payment plan, you pay a regular monthly amount instead of settling the bill after a treatment.

You can read our in-depth guide to dental plans here.

Health cash plans

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

Private health insurance

Many private health insurance policies also cover dental treatment, although premiums can be high.

You can find our dedicated guide to private health insurance here.

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