“As a child,” the mush-mouthed comic Buddy Hackett used to say, “my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it.”  If you’ve ever shopped for dental insurance, you know that, fortunately, when it comes to dental coverage, there are many more options available.

To make the choice easier, it helps to compare and contrast the 4 basic types of coverage that are available for dental care. With that in mind, here’s a brief overview:


Dental insurance types - many choices

Dental insurance is available through traditional plans, managed care, preferred provider organizations, and discount plans or “cards.”

A dental health maintenance organization or DHMO (a type of “managed care”) is a network made up of highly qualified dentists who provide comprehensive and affordable care for individuals or families. Consumers choose a dentist from the network, and they pay a low monthly premium to receive services at either no cost or a reduced price (some services may require a copayment). The participating dentists receive fixed monthly fees.

DHMOs offer some great benefits. For example, they are normally the least expensive type of dental coverage, and subscribers have no waiting periods, deductibles, calendar year maximums, or claim forms. DHMOs are convenient for people who can’t wait for the waiting period on their indemnity plan or PPO to be satisfied. In addition, participating dentists may refer subscribers to dental specialists, and subscribers can receive a discount for specialty services from participating specialists. (Learn more about DHMOs.)


One of the most popular forms of dental insurance coverage is another type of managed care plan called a preferred provider organization (PPO). In this type of plan, consumers select a dentist from a network of preferred dental providers. The providers agree to provide dental care to members at reduced rates. PPO dental plan participants are assured of the maximum cost of their dental treatment in advance.

With a PPO, participating dentists have agreed to pre-negotiated fees. While the choice of dentists is somewhat limited, some PPO plans do provide the freedom to select an out-of-network dentist. In addition, after PPO members have used their maximum annual benefits, the costs for services still remain at pre-negotiated levels. (Learn more about PPOs.)

Indemnity Plans

If being able to choose from the largest pool of dentists is high on your list of priorities, you may be interested in indemnity plans. Individuals with indemnity insurance are free to visit any dentist, unlike those with managed care plans. Subscribers to this type of coverage, also known as “traditional” insurance, pay their dentist’s bill in full and then submit a claim for reimbursement to the carrier.

If being able to choose from the largest pool of dentists is high on your list of priorities, you may be interested in indemnity plans. 

Some key strengths of indemnity dental plans include the fact that indemnity plans typically cover a major part of the patient’s bill, and also that they help consumers plan ahead. Completing a pre-claim before having major services done lets consumers know up front what part of their bill the carrier will cover. (Learn more about indemnity plans.)

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Discount Dental Plans

Finally, while not “insurance,” discount dental plans (DDPs), also known as discount dental cards, are another type of coverage that can help consumers save on dental care costs. DDP members make monthly or annual payments in exchange for unlimited dental care services that are priced based on a discounted fee schedule. Services are provided by dentists who participate in the plan’s dental network.

Discount dental plans provide people who have no dental insurance with a cost-effective alternative. People can also use a DDP for services that are covered by one of the other types of insurance but unavailable due to a waiting period. Consumers can save up to 50% on dental work with a DDP compared to having no dental coverage. Moreover, the monthly or annual payments are usually a fraction of the cost people pay for other types of dental coverage. (Learn more about discount dental plans.)

Do you have questions about your dental insurance options? Learn more with the resources below, or leave a comment in the Reply section.

Learn More

  • Explore your dental coverage options and find answers to other questions about oral care in the Dental Resources section at DentalInsurance.com.
  • Download a free dental insurance checklist designed to help you pinpoint the best dental plan for your needs.
  • Dig into this infographic to learn more about the basic types of dental coverage available.

It’s estimated that 75% of Americans have some form of periodontal disease, which is the most common cause for adult tooth loss. That’s especially surprising in this day and age, because the means for prevention is well known: regular basic oral hygiene. So, let’s take a few minutes to review…

The top 5 dental care practices for good oral health

Basic dental care

Brush up on basic dental care.

A regular, daily oral care routine has been shown to help prevent cavities and periodontal disease. Add to that regular exams and smart choices about longer-term oral health strategies, and you can keep your teeth healthy for your entire lifetime.

With that in mind, here are the top 5 dental hygiene practices you need to follow to protect and preserve your oral health.

1. Brush your teeth, of course, but be sure you do it properly

Basic dental care  begins with brushing. To provide the best protection against plaque – the bacteria film that forms on teeth and gums after eating, which degrades the tooth’s enamel – proper brushing technique is key.

Here’s a refresher on how to brush your teeth:

  • Use a toothbrush that is right for you: toothbrushes vary in size, bristle strength, and other factors, and you should use one that allows you to reach all your tooth surfaces easily (ask your dentist or oral hygienist if you need help choosing)
  • Use a toothpaste that contains fluoride
  • Hold the brush against your teeth at a slight angle, and brush gently back and forth with short motions about the width of one tooth
  • To brush the inside surfaces of front teeth, use a gentle up-and-down stroke
  • Ensure that all the surfaces of your teeth – inner, outer, and chewing surfaces – are well brushed
  • Finally, be sure to brush your teeth at least twice a day, and – while you’re at it – be sure to brush your tongue as well, to help remove any remaining bacteria and promote fresh breath

2. Floss between teeth frequently 

Flossing your teeth is another important way to maintain oral health. Even after thoroughly brushing your teeth, bacteria that can lead to tooth decay may remain between your teeth. To remove any stubborn bacteria between your teeth and at the gum line, frequent flossing is strongly recommended.

Here are some tips for successful flossing:

  • Use about one-and-a-half feet (18”) of floss, wrap it around the pointer or middle fingers of each hand, and insert the floss gently into the crevice between your teeth
  • Start at one end of the floss, and move it through your fingers an inch or so each time that you move on to the next tooth, so each tooth crevice gets flossed with a clean, new section
  • Gently rub the floss against the tooth and gum line; when you reach the gum line, place the floss in the space between the tooth and gum and press the floss lightly against the tooth while you move the floss up and down
  • Work your way from one corner of your mouth all the way around to the beginning again, one tooth crevice at a time, including the back sides of the teeth at the ends of each row
  • Explore different varieties of floss, floss holders, or interdental cleaners until you find what feels and works best for you

3. Eat a healthy diet

To maintain optimal oral health, eat a balanced diet with only a moderate amount of sweets or snacks. Whether you choose the Mediterranean diet, the FDA food pyramid, or some other dietary system to follow, the key to good nutrition ultimately comes down to consuming a wide and balanced variety of foods.

When it comes to your teeth, not all foods are created equal. 

When it comes to your teeth, though, not all foods are created equal. Sweet, sticky snacks such as preserves, candy bars, and dried fruit, can be a threat to teeth and should be avoided unless it will be possible to brush soon after eating them. Some choices for snacking that are less prone to promote tooth decay include vegetables, nuts, and popcorn.

To learn more about the important role diet plays in oral health, talk to your dentist, oral hygienist, or family doctor.

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4. Visit your dentist and dental hygienist regularly

Now that we’ve covered the three must-do daily regimens for oral health, let’s look at two longer-term strategies for basic dental hygiene. The first of these is regular, professional dental exams and cleanings. To maintain optimal dental health, most dentists and health professionals agree that you should visit the dentist twice yearly for a regular check-up.

Routine teeth cleaning by a professional dental hygienist is an indispensable component of one’s dental health regimen. A dental cleaning, or “prophylaxis,” is the first line defense in the field of preventative dentistry, and as such it is right up there with brushing and flossing in overall importance.

Regular visits to the dentist’s office not only help keep teeth as beautiful as possible: they also help keep teeth as healthy as possible. Your regular visits allow dental professionals to monitor your dental health so they can spot and correct any potential problems as early as possible.

Your dentist or hygienist may also suggest adding personalized elements to your daily oral care routine based on your specific situation. For example, they may suggest rinsing with mouthwash, using toothpaste with a specific ingredient, or taking a fluoride supplement.

5. Plan ahead for good oral health

Finally, planning ahead is an important strategy for maintaining long-term dental health.

Prevention is key

Prevention is crucial to protecting your oral health. Click to view related infographic.

Planning ahead for optimal health means knowing what to do in an emergency. Before you find yourself in an emergency dental situation, talk with your family dentist about the best ways to deal with various dental problems that might arise.

If you understand in advance what to do in an emergency – such as a bitten tongue, broken tooth, or impacted wisdom tooth – you might just save a tooth or two.

Planning ahead for optimal health also means having adequate dental insurance coverage. There are a wide variety of dental plans, features, and services available that help people to cover the costs of their dental care needs, from simple checkups to root canals and everything in between. 

You can learn all about dental insurance basics, such as deductibles, co-insurance, and premiums, in the dental resources section.

A lifetime of happy, healthy smiles

To keep your teeth in the best possible health, be sure that you understand proper dental hygiene and the other elements of basic dental care. With proper dental hygiene, regular professional care, and the right planning to meet your needs, your teeth can last a lifetime.

Which parts of your oral care routine need a brush up?

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