We compare dental insurance policies and explain whether you could be better off with the NHS or a dental payment plan.
How dental insurance works
With most dental insurance policies you pay your dentist for any treatment received and then claim the money back from the insurer.
Dental insurance policies cover maintenance such as check-ups, scale and polish, and X-rays as well as treatments such as fillings, root canals and crowns at NHS practices, private clinics, or sometimes both. Cosmetic dental work, such as teeth whitening, is generally excluded.
Private vs NHS dental insurance
Before buying dental insurance, check if you have a local NHS dentist (the NHS has an online dentist finder tool).
Some dental insurance policies only cover you for NHS dentists but others cover some private treatment, too.
NHS-only policies tend to be cheaper, and have other advantages.
Most NHS-only dental insurance policies will pay out an unlimited amount towards treatment on the NHS over a policy year.
All of the private policies we looked at set maximum benefit levels for check-ups, scale and polish/hygienist visits and treatment and most also set caps on the percentage that they would pay towards it.
- Find out more: the cost of different dental treatments explained
Dental insurance policies compared
These tables show the starting annual premium for dental insurance policies covering maintenance and treatment for a 60-year-old.
Policies are arranged alphabetically – not by premium or the quality of cover. Check ‘more info’ to see what the maximum proportion of the dental cost can be claimed under the plans for different types of treatment.
When can I
When can I
make a routine
|£119.58||No limit||1 month||No limit||1 month||£200|
|£137.64||£500||3 months||£500||3 months||£500|
|4 months||Not covered|
|Level 1||£167.34||No limit||30 days||No limit||30 days|
Do you really need dental insurance?
Dental insurance may seem like a good investment, but it’s worth weighing up the pros and cons against how often you visit the dentist each year, whether you visit a NHS or private clinic, and your overall oral health.
The average household spends around £140 a year on medical, optical and dental services, according to the Office for National Statistics – less than the annual premium of many dental insurance policies.
Dental emergencies or accidents can be expensive as well as painful. Dental insurance policies will typically cover accidents and emergencies, and some will also cover you for emergencies if you’re overseas.
Complex treatments, such as crowns, dentures and bridges, fall under NHS Band 3, costing £282.80 (or up to £384 in Scotland or Northern Ireland, or £203 in Wales, as of 2021). However, if you go to a private clinic, the cost could be far more.
Dental insurance is one way to cover the cost – though there are other options worth considering. See our list of alternatives below.
Option to pay monthly
If you’re worried about large bills, many dental insurance providers allow you to pay monthly.
Free dental care on the NHS
NHS dental treatment is free for everyone aged under 18 (or 19, if in full time education), pregnant women and mothers of children under 12 months, as well as many people on low income benefits.
Long waits before you can claim
The policies we looked have a one to four-month qualifying period during which you can’t claim for routine treatment.
However, some will let you claim immediately for check ups.
Caps on the cost of payouts
Many policies do not pay out for the full cost of private treatment – capping both the total cash amount they’ll pay and the percentage of the overall charge for treatment.
So for example, suppose you’ve had a £150 procedure carried out, and your policy has a cash limit of £200. If the policy also caps its contribution at 55%, it will pay out just £82.50 – and you’ll pick up the rest.
You can find out each policy’s claims limits in the table above.
Limited cancer cover
Cover for cancer is often an expense insurers are willing to pay out for the once – being excluded from the policy after the first claim.
Alternatives to dental insurance
Dental insurance isn’t necessarily the cheapest way to pay for dentistry work.
Rather than pay an annual premium to an insurer, why not pay the same amount into a savings account?
The benefit with this option is that unused money remains yours – and the less you draw on it, the bigger your reserve fund becomes for emergencies.
The downside, of course, is that your capacity to pay for treatment entirely depends on your savings – which could be heavily depleted if you need to pay for treatment early or need multiple procedures carried out in a short space of time.
Paying by credit card
You can spread out the cost of major dental treatments by up to 21 months (at the time of writing) by paying with a 0% interest purchase credit card.
Bear in mind that you’ll still have to make minimum repayments every month.
With a dental payment plan, you pay a regular monthly amount instead of settling the bill after a treatment.
- Find out more: read our guide to how dental plans work.
Health cash plans
Health cash plans cost less than many insurance policies. You pay a premium to receive a cash sum for treatment. This may not cover the total bill, but it reduces it to a more manageable amount.
Private health insurance
Many private health insurance policies also cover dental treatment, although premiums can be high.