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The Pros & Cons of Cosmetic Dentistry

By Insurance Industry Expert & Author
Updated on

Make the right decision for your circumstances

Cosmetic dentistry continues to increase in popularity across the nation. The growing use of these services has many consumers asking if any dental plans include cosmetic dentistry benefits. In this article, we'll answer some of the most common questions associated with cosmetic dentistry:

  • What is cosmetic dentistry?
  • What are 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 the 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.

What are Common Cosmetic Dental Procedures?

Below are several major categories of cosmetic dental procedures.

Teeth Whitening

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
  • 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

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.

Implants

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.

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.

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.

Most dental plans do not cover teeth whitening services, whether received at a dentist or over-the-counter. The plans that do cover teeth whitening normally have out-of-pocket costs for the patient.

Dental implants are not typically 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 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.