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Spend & Save

Paying for dental treatment doesn't have to be painful

If your dentist announces that your next examination will be your last under the NHS, you will usually be offered a dental payment plan to dull the ache of paying for private treatment.

Dental plans are not actually classed as insurance. Taking into account the practice's overheads and the dentist's hourly charge, a rate is agreed which, spread across all patients, will cover the practice's income needs. The contributions are collected by the company which operates the plan and paid to the dentist after deduction of an administration charge.

Patients entering the plan will first be assessed by the dentist, and a premium set according to their dental health. Healthy teeth mean less work for the dentist, and therefore a lower charge. Most plans offer several fee categories- band A,B,C or D, for instance.. The cost varies from one dentist to another and with the individual case. Denplan, which has more than 80 per cent of the market, says that 90 per cent of patients pay between pounds 5 and pounds 15 a month. BUPA says that under its plan charges might range from as low as pounds 5 to more than pounds 25 a month.

Charges do not go up according to your age, unlike medical insurance. But your contributions will be affected by your dental health. If, when you join a plan, you need work done on your teeth, your first year's costs may be higher to reflect this.

Dental plans are usually annual contracts, so the terms are renegotiated each year. There are exclusions. Normally the plans exclude the cost of laboratory work connected with your treatment (for instance, when you need crowns or bridges) and anything regarded as cosmetic dentistry. Orthodontic work (such as braces) and dental implants are usually not included.

Dental payment plans are only available through dentists. You can't take one out if your dentist does not offer it. Some people may have insurance cover for dental treatment through a medical expenses plan. The most comprehensive types of medical insurance offer some dental cover, but the premiums for such policies are high. Limited cover is also available through "hospital cash plans", which make fixed cash payments in the event of treatment in exchange for relatively low fixed premiums.