Dental insurance is a specialized type of health insurance that deals solely with procedures and treatments performed by a Dentist or a Dental professional - not medical or doctor procedures generally. There can be some overlap if you need dental surgery, but usually with dental insurance you will be dealing with dentists.
Dental insurance, while similar to health insurance, has one unique feature. Most dental insurance plans will impose a 6 month to 18-month waiting period before coverage commences. This waiting period ensures that your new insurer is not paying for old problems. However, that's a disadvantage to you. As a result, it's best to get your dental insurance before you have a problem and preferably, while your teeth are still in their best shape. If you suddenly need a root canal before your waiting period is up, it will be money that will come out of your pocket.
Dental insurance is very similar to medical insurance. In most cases, you will be looking at one of two types of insurance: fee-for-service insurance or managed care insurance.
Fee-for-Service dental plans are typically freedom-of-choice arrangements under which a dentist is paid for each service rendered according to the fees established by the dentist. What does this mean? It means you pick your dentist and the payment to the dentist is based on the dentists fee schedule, rather than a set fee schedule. In many cases, this will involve Direct Reimbursement (DR) to the dentists office, so you are not paying on your way out. For employers who opt for this kind of plan for their employees, instead of paying monthly insurance premiums, you only pay a percentage of actual treatments received. Moreover, employers are removed from the potential responsibility of influencing treatment decisions due to plan selection or sponsorship.
Managed Care dental plans are cost containment systems that direct the utilization of health care by a) restricting the type, level and frequency of treatment; b) limiting the access to care; and c) controlling the level of reimbursement for services. In other words, you don't choose the type of treatment. You can't necessarily choose to see your dentist when you think you need to. You are also restricted in your choice of dentist.
You do have alternatives to insurance with dental care. There are now discount dental programs, which are not insurance at all, but a way of getting your dental services at a discount. Each dentist participating in a discount dental program has agreed to accept a discounted fixed fee schedule as payment in full. In some cases, you can save an average of 30 percent and up to 50 percent on everything from general dentistry and cleanings to root canals, crowns and orthodon'tia. Given the high percentage of co-payments as well as high deductibles on many insurance policies, group discount plans may actually provide you with a more cost-effective alternative, especially if you do not require high priced care for your teeth. It can be worth looking into.
Need more information? Don't forget to check out the how do I choose a dental insurance policy, dental insurance - fee for service, dental insurance - managed care, group dental insurance and individual dental insurance and dental insurance plan questions pages and click the links above to get started comparing dental insurance plans.