(BPT) - Dental health is essential to overall health, affecting everything from our hearts to our mental well-being. Yet despite ample research that underscores the importance of taking care of our teeth, millions of Americans never go to the dentist. A lack of dental insurance is one of the top reasons Americans don't keep up with their dental care.
'In 2008, the last year for which statistics are available, the National Center for Health Statistics estimated that 45 million Americans were without dental insurance,' says Stacia Almquist, senior vice president of dental for Assurant Employee Benefits. 'Five years and a recession later, it's reasonable to assume that number has stayed the same or grown. While at the same time dental insurance is as important - and affordable - as ever.'
Most people covered by dental insurance today receive the benefit as part of an employer-sponsored benefits package. And as awareness of the importance of dental health grows, more people are urging their employers to offer the benefit or are looking at buying individual dental coverage.
Not all dental plans are created equal, so it is important to understand what you are purchasing. 'Changes in health care law and increased opportunity for people to purchase their own health coverage have made many consumers more aware of the need for informed decisions when choosing health insurance,' Almquist says. 'Choosing a dental plan should also be an informed decision.'
If you're in the market for stand-alone dental coverage (and if you don't already have dental insurance, you should consider it) or get to pick a plan through your employer, keep these points in mind when comparison shopping:
* Understand the alphabet soup of dental plans - Two common insurance acronyms include PPO (preferred provider organization) and DHMO (dental health maintenance organization). Most PPO plans have a large dental network of providers and provide 100 percent benefit coverage for preventive care, cleanings, check-ups, protective sealants and X-rays, while major services such as crowns and bridges are usually covered at 50 percent. A DHMO usually has a smaller network of dentists than a PPO network, with the trade off being that members typically pay less out of pocket for services.
Dental discount plans are also available. Discount plans are not insurance, but are similar to wholesale store plans where you pay a discounted fee for products or services.
* Look for options and extras - Look for a dental plan with a network that offers the options that you need. Your relationship with a dentist is as valuable and personal as one with your primary care physician. Make sure the dental network you choose includes a dentist you are comfortable seeing or one that has dental recruiters who are willing to try to recruit your dentist. Ultimately more dentists in the network mean more options for you and your family.
Also look for ancillary services such as dental hotlines similar to Ask-A-Nurse lines where you can get 24/7 answers when dental emergencies arise.
* Maximize your dental dollars - Most dental plans limit the amount they will pay in a given year. It's important to know what that cap is because you will need to pay full dental costs after you reach that limit in a year. Some dental PPOs let you share unused dental dollars with family members. Programs such as Family Share Max replace traditional individual maximums and allow families to pull from one shared dental coverage pool in a way that most effectively meets their specific needs and budgets.
Ultimately taking care of your teeth today keeps costs down for you and your family in the future.
'Poor dental health has been linked to a range of other health issues, from cardiovascular disease and premature birth to increased risk of Alzheimer's and eating disorders,' says Almquist. 'Fortunately, it's possible to help protect your dental health with the right insurance coverage.'
Still confused? Don't hesitate to seek the advice of an insurance broker who offers a variety of dental insurance products.
To learn more about dental insurance and how to select a provider, visit www.assurantemployeebenefits.com.