"I told my dentist my teeth are going yellow. He told me to wear a brown tie." —Rodney Dangerfield

Don’t wear a brown tie.  Really.  Just get dental insurance.    

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What do I get for my money?

Many dental insurance plans have a coverage structure of “100-80-50.”  Here’s how that breaks down:

  • 100% of preventive care is usually covered
    • A check up every six months
    • A cleaning every six months
  • 80% of minor fixes
    • Cavity fillings
    • Root canals
  • 50% of major fixes
    • Bridges
    • Crowns

This means that you’ll pay significantly less than people without dental insurance if you need minor work done.  If you need major work, you’ll still save big—50% of a major procedure could amount to thousands of dollars.

How much will I save?

It depends on what you need done. If your teeth are in pristine shape and you only need cleanings twice a year, you’ll still save money.  However, if you last saw a dentist during the Clinton administration, chances are you need more work done.  This is where you’ll really see savings add up.  Here are a few specific dental procedures you’ll save big on:

Save on root canals

  • Different teeth have different numbers of roots, so cost varies.  Molars are harder to work on and have more roots, so they cost more than, say, incisors.  Aetna estimates you could pay $500 for a root canal, but depending on your dentist, that number could be closer to $1,000.
  • Estimated average cost: $750
  • What you could pay with dental insurance: $150
  • Estimated savings with dental insurance: $735

Save on crowns/caps

  • If a tooth is cracked or broken beyond repair, a crown (sometimes called a cap) is a way to make the tooth look better and restore it to its original shape and size.  Of course, cost varies by dentist and by tooth.  It also varies by the material used in the crown, whether that’s gold or porcelain or resin. You can expect to pay at least $500 (for a resin crown) and possibly as much as $2,000 (for a porcelain crown).
  • Estimated average cost: $1,250
  • What you could pay with dental insurance: $625
  • Estimated savings with dental insurance: $625

Remember, these are only estimates. Dental insurance plans vary in what they’ll cover. Dentists also may charge different prices depending on where they’re located. 

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What about wisdom teeth?

It depends on your specific situation: are your wisdom teeth fully erupted (pushed up above the gumline, like regular teeth) or are they impacted (below or only partially above the gumline)? Or are they presenting an immediate danger, such as infection?  

Wisdom tooth removal is usually considered oral surgery, since it’s more involved than extracting other teeth.  Many dental insurance plans covered up to 80 percent of the cost of oral surgery.  Others cover about 50 percent of the cost.

Not to scare you or anything, but a young man in Ohio died in 2011 because his wisdom tooth became infected and he couldn’t afford to pay for the antibiotics that would have cleared up the infection. Because he couldn’t afford to have the tooth pulled as his dentist recommended, he dealt with the pain of the infected tooth until it became unbearable—then he went to the emergency room.  When they prescribed both antibiotics and pain medication, he could only afford to fill one prescription.  He chose the pain medication.  The infection spread without antibiotics, causing brain swelling and his death a few days later.  With regular dental care, this situation wouldn’t have happened.

Not everyone needs their wisdom teeth removed, but if you do, dental insurance is a great way to help offset the cost of your treatment.If you’re thinking about wisdom tooth removal, crowns, caps, or any expensive dental procedure, it’s a good idea to look into dental insurance first. 

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