Your Cosmetic Dentistry Questions, Answered
Will insurance cover cosmetic dentistry?
It’s often wondered if cosmetic dental procedures are covered by dental insurance. The straight answer is, most likely not. Just as health insurance companies will not cover “elective” or “cosmetic” procedures, most dental insurance policies don’t cover “elective” procedures, either. To be clear, we’re talking about 100% cost coverage. The truth is, aside from preventative care, almost no dental procedure is 100% covered by dental insurance. However, in dentistry there are some grey areas as to what is cosmetic and what is necessary restoration.
For example, repairing a chipped front tooth could be considered a cosmetic procedure by dental insurers. But on the other hand, it could be argued that repairing the chip restores tooth function and prevents further problems with the tooth. In this case, dental insurance will cover what they deem necessary for restoration but there will be a “cosmetic” portion that will not be covered.
Skilled, budget-friendly dentists are keenly aware of what procedures are or are not covered. These dentists understand that there are many necessary procedures that also improve the appearance of a patient’s teeth. Replacing defective/discolored fillings in visible teeth has the restorative advantage of preventing underlying decay. Therefor, it’s a necessary and preventative procedure. However, the replacement of discolored fillings comes with a cosmetic benefit. With that in mind, it’s advised that those with dental insurance are aware of what their policy covers and what the policy wont.
If you’re ever in doubt, contact your dentist and ask. Good dentists are familiar with insurance policies and have a basic knowledge of what procedures dental insurance groups will cover.
What is considered cosmetic dentistry?
Procedures that are considered cosmetic dentistry are procedures that improve only the aesthetic appearance of a tooth/teeth. Some procedures that the ADA consider to be “potentially cosmetic” are porcelain crowns, veneers, braces, bridges and bonding, to list a few.
In rare cases, there are procedures that are deemed “cosmetic” but also contribute greatly to oral health and function. For example, let’s consider a case where a patient is missing a tooth. When a tooth is missing, it has several negative effects in relationship to one’s oral health. A missing tooth can cause misalignment in a patient’s bite that can be problematic in the future. Furthermore, the gum and bone where the tooth is missing from are also prone to negative effects.
Two common procedures that remedy a missing tooth are the placements of dental implants or dental bridges. Typically these procedures are classified as “cosmetic,” but in cases where dental function is restored in a way that prevents further problems, some insurance plans will cover a portion of the cost. Dental insurance policies are aimed at restorative dentistry where the “end-goal” is a full set of functioning teeth. The reality is that a “full set” of teeth is often undermined by insurers unwillingness to cover the cost of remedial solutions. Instead, replacements are deemed cosmetic in nature. This leaves just the basic function of teeth to be worth covering by an insurer.
Regardless of color, shape, or geometric orientation within the mouth, teeth that function properly and are sound in their structure are deemed healthy. Whitening, re-shaping, and aligning teeth for an improvement in one’s appearance is deemed cosmetic. It’s widely understood and acknowledged that oral health has a significant effect on other systems of the body.
For example, studies indicate that gum health has an impact on cardiac (heart) health. This also drives the idea of focusing on physical function over aesthetic form within the dental community. In contrast, the correlation between positive self image and improved mental health is not considered as a factor of “improvement” or restoration to one’s overall health achieved through dentistry.
How can cosmetic dentistry change your life?
As mentioned above, the improvement of one’s life provided by an aesthetically pleasing smile goes far beyond just oral health. Greater confidence and improved self image is so desirable that the industry of cosmetic dentistry is booming, despite the out-of-pocket costs.
One survey estimates that, on average, a typical American adult will spend well over $1,000 in their lifetime on cosmetic dental procedures. Even over-the-counter whitening kits are a (self-administered) cosmetic dental procedure and are included in this cost estimate. That said, it’s a no-brainer that cosmetic dentistry is highly valuable and sought after. Despite the out-of-pocket costs, cosmetic dentistry tends to improve lives and is worth the cost for those willing/able to pay for it. A whiter smile, full set of teeth, and uniform alignment are life improvements far beyond oral health.