Dental benefits: insurance or cash plans?

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  • Dental insurance plans and dental cover offered through healthcare cash plans each have their pros and cons for staff.
  • Basic offerings of all dental plans include: routine check-ups and treatment, accident and injury, and cover accessing NHS and private treatment.
  • Some providers offer added-value services on top of their basic cover.
  • The dental benefits market has experienced growth in recent years.


Dental perks are increasingly popular, and the choice is between insurance and cash plans, says Jennifer Paterson

Employers that want to include dental perks in their package have two main options: dental insurance and dental cover within a health cash plan. Each has its pros and cons.

Employers can offer the benefit in a variety of ways. They can fully fund it for staff, include it in a flexible benefits scheme, or offer it on a voluntary, employee-funded basis.

At their most basic level, all dental benefits include routine check-ups and treatment, accident and injury cover, and cover accessing NHS and private treatment. But these basics are subject to an annual fixed limit, which will differ depending on the type of plan offered. Matthew Reeves, corporate channel manager at Denplan, says: “Cash plans are fine if employers want to offer a little bit of cover for a wide range of medical treatments, but it is better to buy a standalone dental plan if they want to do something meaningful towards employees’ dental costs.”

Dental perks within a health cash plan provide money back on everyday dental bills up to an annual limit, but dental insurance offers more comprehensive cover. Morag Peterson, dental product manager at Cigna Dental, says the maximum benefit levels stand at around £300 for cash plans and £2,000 for insurance. “The dental benefit allowance within a health cash plan is, typically, limited to preventative and restorative treatment, whereas dental insurance provides additional comprehensive cover for accidents, emergencies and oral cancer.”

Qualifying periods

Some qualifying periods apply, but individuals can start using their plan for a check-up straight away. But before arranging appointments, staff should be aware of the typically low annual limit associated with dental cover within a health cash plan.

Some providers include value-added services on top of the basic cover provided under both types of benefit. These can range from a 24-hour worldwide emergency helpline to a one-off payment if staff develop cancer of the mouth. Abby Bowman, communications manager at Simplyhealth, says: “Accident and emergency cover is extended for any trip anywhere in the world, for up to 28 days.”

The dental benefit market has experienced growth in recent years. For example, Reeves says Denplan’s corporate dental insurance plans have grown 30% in the past two years.

According to Laing and Buisson’s Health and Care Cover – UK Market Report 2009, published in June last year, the annual spend on dental plans in the UK was £543 million in 2008.

Dental cover has also been acknowledged as one of the more popular benefits offered through a health cash plan. Sue Weir, chief executive at Medicash, says: “Following the government’s dental reforms in 2006, we have seen an increase in interest in dental cover. But many employers still opt for a standard [health] cash plan over a dental-only plan because this tends to provide more comprehensive cover for the workforce. If there is a problem for a workforce in accessing an NHS dentist, we have seen a greater uptake in dental-only cover.”

Overall, flexibility appears to be key. Cigna’s Peterson says: “People [seem to be] favouring the more portable, flexible alternative of an insurance plan that can be used at any dentist, which is either paid for by themselves or through an employer’s scheme.”

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