Ask For It By Name: Bob

Cheap Dental Health insurance

I left my full-time job to work freelance eight months ago, and since then, have been playing fast and loose with my dental insurance. Without a company-supplemented plan, I thought traditional insurance was out of my financial reach, and I know I’m not alone — some 114 million Americans go without dental insurance too.

What I uncovered is that dental insurance is more affordable than I thought; I found plans less than $20 a month. My top pick, Delta Dental, has a huge provider network and a barebones HMO plan that would cost me less than $12. (Prices vary by ZIP code.) I also discovered dental savings plans, insurance alternatives that can be even cheaper if you don’t need a lot of dental work. I would pay less than $9 a month for both my top picks Cigna Dental Savings and Humana. Ultimately, you’ll want to run the numbers for both options with your dental needs in mind.

The Simple Dollar’s Top Picks for Best Cheap Dental Insurance

I looked at 28 dental insurance providers total and narrowed the list down to my three top picks. Ultimately, the quotes I received were based on the best deal for a single female under 40 (that’s me!), so if you have a spouse or dependents to cover, you’ll want to see how much it might cost to add individuals to your personal plan (most plans will allow you to add additional members for a lower per person premium).

Dental insurance is nothing like medical insurance.

There’s a reason it’s cheaper: dental plans are just not meant to cover very much. According to Steffaney Prince, an insurance coordinator at a dental office in Sacramento, “Dental insurance needs to be thought of more like an assistance plan, not a full, comprehensive plan.”

“Most plans typically only cover $1, 000 to $1, 500 per year, ” says Prince. “That goes very fast with two continuing care appointments (cleanings, exam, X-rays) and a few fillings. You’d better hope you don’t need a root canal, crown, or deep cleaning. And, let’s not forget wisdom teeth: that’ll wipe you out your max in one shot.”

Dental savings plans aren’t insurance at all.

You’re simply paying a monthly premium for access to a group of dentists who have agreed to discount their rates. You’ll pay less for each cleaning, filling, or procedure, and you’ll pay the dentist directly.

There are only two people who know what kind of insurance is best for you, and neither one is an insurance agent. Next time you visit your dentist, spend five extra minutes discussing your dental history and insurance options.

“It’s important to have what we call a ‘dental home’ — a dentist who knows your history and the problems you’ve had in the past that can help you predict your future dental needs, ” says Dr. Sally Cram, a Washington D.C.-based periodontist. “For example, if you have a lot of old fillings, it’s more likely you’ll need crowns later, which could be expensive and would be reason to get more comprehensive insurance.”

Once you have this conversation with your dentist, it’s up to you to do the research into your insurance plan. “Be a good consumer, ” says Cram. “Know what is covered under your plan, whether you have a copay, and what your deductible is. Many people don’t realize their coverage has a maximum. Ask these questions before purchasing insurance and certainly before going to the dentist.”

How We Found the Best Cheap Dental Insurance

First, I looked at the basics. I made sure each top pick was strongly rated by Standard & Poor and/or A.M. Best — meaning each have a solid history of paying claims out accurately and in a timely manner. I also didn’t want to recommend a top pick with limited access, so I sliced away any providers that didn’t operate in at least 40 states. Other guys that got the chop? Providers offering group plans that are only accessible through an employer, since those didn’t fit my needs, or the needs of anyone else without a company-supplemented plan.

Next, since the priority here is affordability, I cut any insurance provider that wasn’t able to offer a comprehensive plan for less than $20/month. If you have deeper pockets, there are more expensive plans that offer more flexibility and broader coverage over a variety of treatments, but those aren’t for us. Also, each provider had to offer a variety of plans (from HMO to dental savings) with multiple pricing tiers. Truthfully, there’s not a ton of difference in the top-tier companies working in this space: most of their differences show up in the various price models they’re able to provide in different states. It’s often a difference of just a few dollars, so you’ll want to look at each of our picks to see who can give you the best deal.

Plans had to have a minimal to no waiting period between when you purchase coverage and when it kicks in for preventative care, like cleanings or x-rays, and no waiting periods for oral surgery. I cut any insurance company that was going to make you wait over a year for treatment — having to pay to wait around before your coverage goes into effect wasn’t going to fly.

Then, I jumped on each provider’s website. If a provider didn’t have an easy, online quote tool, it got the boot I also spent a few afternoons calling automated phone services, often getting re-directed to dead air or full mailboxes. Starmount Dental, for example — which met all of the initial criteria — gave me three different phone numbers, all of which took me to automated voicemail boxes that asked me, politely, to please leave a message.

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