Cosmetic Dentistry: Pros & Cons
Making Smart Decisions about Cosmetic Dental Procedures
Cosmetic dentistry continues to increase in popularity. The growing use of these services has many consumers asking if any dental plans will help pay for these procedures. In this article, we'll answer some of the most common questions associated with cosmetic dentistry:
- What is cosmetic dentistry?
- What are common cosmetic dental procedures?
- Do any dental plans cover cosmetic dentistry?
- What should I do if my plan doesn't cover cosmetic dentistry?
What is Cosmetic Dentistry?
Cosmetic dentistry is a discipline within the dental field focusing on the appearance of teeth and mouth. While traditional dentistry may also improve the appearance of teeth, it typically achieves such results within its larger objective of promoting the oral health of a patient. Cosmetic dentistry, in contrast, has a strong emphasis on aesthetics, that is to say, the attractiveness of teeth. Consumers often seek out cosmetic dentistry to improve the look of their smiles and benefit from the boost in self-confidence that attends this improvement.
Cosmetic dentistry is typically an elective service. In other words, it is not medically required for the consumer.
Common Cosmetic Dental Procedures
Below are several major categories of cosmetic dental procedures.
The most widely practiced cosmetic dental procedure is teeth whitening. Part of its widespread adoption is that whitening can be performed at home with over-the-counter-products as well as in-office by a dentist (for more information on this topic, see our article on What's the best way to whiten my teeth? Teeth whitening can be achieved by one of several methods including:
- Toothpaste with teeth whitening ingredients
- Bleaching strips or trays
- Bleaching with LED light assistance
- Laser whitening
Teeth bleaching is very familiar to consumers since similar treatment is available for over-the-counter purchase. This method may use the bleaching agent within trays that fit over the upper and lower teeth. The concentration of the bleaching agent received within a dentist's office may be stronger than what can be purchased over-the-counter. The bleaching approach may also be enhanced by the assistance of LED light (this method is known as Zoom whitening). Ideally teeth bleaching remedies undesirable teeth discoloration by lightening their color by several shades.
Laser whitening is a whitening process by which a laser activates a whitening gel applied to the patient's teeth by the dentist. It is faster than many competing forms of teeth whitening.
White Fillings (Composite Fillings)
Some dental treatments straddle the line between traditional dentistry and cosmetic dentistry. Metal fillings, for example, are a traditional dental procedure but patients may not like the look of dark metal in their teeth. White colored fillings are a common cosmetic alternative to traditional metal fillings (sometimes referred to as "silver fillings"). The color of white fillings is more likely to blend in with a tooth and conceal the filling itself. The white filling is made from a resin material but, unfortunately, this material may not be as durable as the traditional metal filling and have a shorter lifespan as a consequence.
Veneers are a man-made covering attached to the front of a tooth to improve its appearance while maintaining the appearance of being "natural." Veneers are made from various materials and are very thin. They are used to improve the appearance of teeth that cannot be otherwise improved. The veneer may change the color, shape, or size of the tooth so that it matches the rest of the teeth within the patient's mouth. Veneers may be made from porcelain or a resin material.
A dental implant replaces a missing tooth with an artificial one that looks natural. The replacement tooth is attached to the jaw by a small titanium post. The replacement tooth may be permanent or replaceable. For help finding insurance coverage of dental implants, see Dental Insurance that Covers Implants.
Do Any Dental Plans Cover Cosmetic Dentistry?
Yes. In the past decade, the market has witnessed an increase in insurance coverage for cosmetic dental procedures. Years ago, coverage of cosmetic dentistry was uncommon. Below are some examples of dental plans with benefits for various cosmetic dental services:
|Insurance Company||Plan Name||Cosmetic Services Covered|
|Guardian Direct||Advantage Diamond||Implants are covered after a 12-month waiting period at 50% of cost when received in-network. Implants also have a $1000 lifetime maximum. Teeth whitening is covered at 50% of cost in-network (after a $50 whitening deductible) with a $500 benefit per year maximum|
|Anthem BlueCross BlueShield||Essential Choice Silver||Covers 50% of teeth whitening costs in-network after the deductible is satisfied. Anthem also pays 50% for veneers but they are limited to one per tooth per 84 months.|
|Humana||Humana Extend 2500||The plan pays 80% of white filling costs and has a $100 allowance for teeth whitening. Implants are covered at 50% with a limit of one implant per tooth per five years.|
|MetLife||TakeAlong Dental HMO-Managed Care 350 (Low)||White fillings cost $25 per tooth and whitening comes with a charge of $125 per arch (for external bleaching). Depending on the type of veneer, costs can range from $285 to $380.|
|Careington||500 Series Dental Savings||White filling costs start at $95. Implants and teeth whitening has a 20% discount.|
While many plans do not cover white fillings, the trend is toward covering this procedure. Among plans with white filling coverage, there may be limitations such as restricting white fillings to the anterior of the mouth. Plans that do not cover white fillings may still pay for filling work at the rate for silver amalgam fillings despite the higher price of white fillings made from resin composite.
Many dental plans do not cover teeth whitening services, whether received at a dentist or over-the-counter. However, there are dental plans covering dentist-provided teeth whitening. For a state-by-state list of dental plans with teeth whitening coverage, see "Does insurance cover teeth whitening?" NOTE - the plans that do cover teeth whitening have out-of-pocket costs for the patient and other conditions on the benefit.
Dental implants are often not covered by privately purchased dental plans. For those that offer this benefit, the degree of cost sharing may decrease the longer the enrollee has been enrolled in the plans. For example:
- 1st Year – 20% coverage of costs after deductible
- 2nd Year – 40% coverage of costs after deductible
- 3rd Year and after – 50% coverage of costs after deductible
Dental discount plans, it should be noted, may offer discounted rates on cosmetic services often not covered by traditional dental plans (such as teeth whitening, veneers, and dental implants). For more information, see "Discount Dental Plans."
What Should I Do if My Plan Doesn't Cover Cosmetic Dentistry?;
If you desire cosmetic dentistry but your dental plan doesn't cover the procedure you desire, you can take one of several approaches.
First, you can discuss your lack of coverage with a cosmetic dentist to see if you can secure a negotiated rate that is affordable to you.
Second, you can use our online tool to compare dental insurance plans available in your area to see if any cover the cosmetic dental procedure you desire.
Third, if no dental insurance plans cover what you want, you can explore an inexpensive discount dental program to see if your desired procedure is among the dental services you can receive at a reduced rate from a participating dentist.
Fourth, if the first three options are not fruitful, you can delay the cosmetic procedure while you save for its expense.