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Many years ago, The Simpsons produced a memorable episode that had Homer and his nuclear plant co-workers striking against Mr. Burns in order to get back the company’s dental plan. The reason Homer led the charge was because he could not afford to pay for daughter Lisa’s braces otherwise. While this was one of the show’s more engaging episodes, it did spark some food for thought. Many of us have the option to take dental insurance as part of our employee benefits, and there are supplemental plans available we could purchase on our own. Yet, is dental insurance something we really need?

Before you say no to the dental option when you get your work benefits settled, you may wish to research what dental insurance covers for you and your family, and if you anticipate needing this type of coverage. If you have had a history of dental problems like periodontal disease, for example, you may have just answered the question. However, if you are unfamiliar with this type of coverage let’s take a look at some of the things that a plan typically covers.

1) Cleanings. The standard cleaning, part of your twice-a-year routine when you visit the dentist’s office, may fall under general care and may be covered by your plan. Usually what you pay for insurance – which could amount to about $1000 a year – is enough to cover these visits, and if you keep up with the brushing and flossing at home you hopefully don’t need to visit the dentist for anything else.

2) Denture repair. Maintenance of dentures may also be covered in your plan, though not every insurance company may handle 100% of the cost. Be sure to read the policy.

3) X-rays. If x-rays are part of your routine visits. These may be covered in your plan as well.

4) Oral surgery. It is important to note that coverage for a needed operation like a root canal or tooth extraction may not take effect until several months after you purchase the policy. This is so the insurance company is assured that people aren’t trying to obtain a quick fix to a problem they have recently discovered.

Unlike the events that transpired on The Simpsons, not all dental insurance plans cover braces, mainly because it is not considered preventative care. Other procedures like cosmetic dentistry – which can include teeth whitening and bonding – are also not likely to be covered by insurance. Keep this in mind as you decide whether or not to add a dental plan to your healthcare expenses.

Dental insurance can be useful if your family has a history of teeth problems, or if you are observant about preventative care. Research your options before you enroll.