Everyone knows that taking care of your teeth is important, but paying for dental treatment can take a big bite out of your finances.

A dental insurance policy can provide valuable peace of mind that you’ll be financially covered if you need treatment, but as with most types of insurance, there are various exclusions and small print to watch out for.

In this article we break down how dental insurance works to help you decide whether it could be the right option for you.

How does dental insurance work?

With most dental insurance policies, you pay regular premiums to your insurance provider. Then, whenever you go to the dentist, you pay them for any treatment you receive and claim this amount back from your provider.

Bear in mind that many policies include a certain period after starting during which you cannot claim for certain treatments, usually between a few weeks and a few months. Some will let you claim immediately for check-ups, however.

What does dental insurance cover?

Dental insurance policies will typically cover regular check-ups, scale and polish, and X-rays. Special treatments such as fillings, dentures, bridges, root canals and crowns are also usually covered.

Most policies will not cover cosmetic treatments, such as getting your teeth whitened, nor will they cover surgical implants or orthodontic treatment. They also won’t cover pre-existing dental conditions.

Many policies for private treatments will have a cap on how much they will cover, which will be stipulated in the contract. They might, for example, only pay a specific percentage of your treatment, have a fixed cash limit, or provide you with the amount of money your treatment would have cost if it had been carried out and charged by the NHS.

Do I need dental insurance for an NHS dentist?

Unlike most other NHS services, dental treatment provided by the NHS is not free (unless you are on particular low-income benefits), so having an insurance plan in place can be a good idea.

Some dental insurance plans are designed to only cover treatment from NHS dentists. However, as these visits tend to be much cheaper than going private, NHS-only plans tend to be cheaper too. In addition, there is sometimes no cap on the amount they will cover you for on check-ups or routine treatments.

You can check whether you have access to a local NHS dentist using the finder tool on the NHS website.

What are the advantages of dental insurance?

You may be perfectly happy just going to the dentist and paying out of your pocket each time. However, dental insurance can come in handy if you run into a dental emergency or have to get an expensive procedure done, and you don’t have savings readily available to cover these costs.

The amount you’ll have to contribute towards NHS dental treatment will depend on which band that particular treatment falls into.

For example, more complex treatments such as dentures, bridges and crowns fall into the NHS’ Band 3, which means you’ll have to pay £306.80 towards these costs if you live in England, £203 in Wales, and up to £384 in Scotland and Northern Ireland. With a private clinic, the cost of these treatments is likely to be much higher. If you would feel more secure paying a bit each month to have these possibilities covered then dental insurance could be worth considering.

How much does dental insurance cost?

The cost of dental insurance will depend on your age, as well as what your policy does and doesn’t cover. A more expensive policy will tend to correlate with a higher price cap and a shorter time before you can make a claim.

An NHS-only policy will usually cost you somewhere between £70-£200 a year in premiums. Some more expensive policies in this range can get you unlimited price caps on check-ups and routine treatments.

Policies that cover both NHS and private clinics can cost between £100 and over £400 per year. This is to account for private clinics tending to charge more for their services.

Where can I buy dental insurance?

There are several providers who offer dental insurance, so it’s always worth comparing plans from a range of them before choosing a policy.

Providers include BUPA, AXA Health, Dencover, WPA and Boots.

Dental insurance is not the same as taking out a dental plan through your dentist. These types of plan, known as capitation plans (offered by providers such as Denplan) involve paying regular monthly payments to cover your dental costs. Plans can cover any of a range of treatments, such as check-ups, x-rays and hygienist visits. The cost is usually determined by your dentist and the insurer based on how much the dentist thinks you’re likely to need to spend on dental treatment each year.

Should I get dental insurance?

Whether or not you think it’s worth paying for dental insurance usually boils down to how frequently you go to the dentist, or expect that you might need to.

According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the average household spends around £140 on medical services every year including dentist treatment. While some yearly premiums for dental insurance are lower than this, many are higher. If you’re going to an NHS dentist twice a year and getting just a check-up each time, your costs could well end up being less than dental insurance premiums amount to.

However, if you are concerned about your teeth or expect you may need frequent treatment in the future, then getting insurance out could help you make considerable savings.