Dental insurance is unlike health insurance in that its primary purpose is to cover the cost of inexpensive preventative treatments, rather than the more complex, and therefore more expensive, procedures like crowns and root canals. If you want to choose the best dental insurance for your family, it is necessary to understand what it actually does for you first.

In some ways, choosing a dental plan is more difficult than picking out a dentist. It usually only takes a few visits to a dentist for regular checkups and cleanings to realize that you’ve made a mistake in selecting your dental insurance. However, sometimes you won’t discover problems with your coverage until it is too late. Discovering that your coverage is inadequate at the time that you need major services, could be the difference between footing the bill yourself or postponing treatment, sometimes for years.

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Most insurance plans provide for full coverage of preventative care like checkups, cleanings, and x-rays. Basic treatments like fillings are normally covered about 80 percent, with you paying for the balance. More difficult and more expensive procedures like crowns and root canals are rarely covered at more than 50 percent, which means that you’ll have a large out-of-pocket expense to cover. Most of the time, plans require that you’ve been active for more than a year before coverage for anything beyond preventative treatments is provided.

Another thing that you may not realize is that most dental insurance plans have limits of up to $1,500 per year, after which you are responsible for paying for your dental care. Given that crowns cost an average of about $1,200, and implants begin at $1,500, the potential that you’ll exhaust your dental limits quickly is fairly likely.

You’ll also have to cover your deductible, the amount that you pay out-of-pocket, before your insurance will kick in to cover their portion of the treatment costs. Typically this is about $50 to $100 per person annually, $150 to $300 for a family.

Premiums for an individual average around $350 annually, and family policies cost around $550 annually.¬† Essentially you are pre-paying for the cost of essential preventative care in order to have some assurance that you’re covered should you chip a tooth or need a couple of fillings.

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¬†Choosing a dental plan sometimes comes down to selecting one of the plans that your preferred dentist accepts and recommends. If you haven’t selected a dentist yet, or if you don’t mind changing dentists, you should take more time to shop around for a plan that provides the best coverage to meet your needs.

You should compare dental plans to make sure that you get the most return for your investment. Consider how large the plan’s network is. Will you have a lot of options for where to seek treatment? What savings can you expect to receive from the plan, and at what cost? What dental treatments are covered by the plan? How high is the annual maximum cap? These are all questions that you need to know the answers for before committing to a dental plan.

Knowing what to expect from your dental plan ahead of time will save you a lot of frustration when the need for dental care arises. Take the time to choose a dental plan carefully, so that you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that you have coverage that provides for your family’s dental care needs, when you need it.