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Does Dental Insurance Cover Teeth Whitening?

Teeth whitening is one of the most popular dental treatments for getting a brighter smile. For most dental patients, dental insurance typically helps cover their dental care costs, focusing primarily on preventive and restorative services. But when it comes to cosmetic dentistry, does dental insurance offer any help? This article will explore whether insurance covers teeth whitening costs.

Understanding dental coverage

There are several types of dental insurance plans. Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs) and Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) are the most common types. Though levels of coverage can vary, these plans generally prioritize preventive care, like exams and cleanings, and restorative care, such as fillings and crowns. Cosmetic procedures are typically not covered because they are considered elective.

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Can dental insurance cover teeth whitening?

The reality is that most dental insurance plans do not cover teeth bleaching. This procedure is often classified as cosmetic, so many insurers exclude it from coverage. For those craving that dazzling white Hollywood smile, this typically means paying out of pocket.

However, there are a few dental insurance companies that do offer teeth whitening benefits. However, coverage can vary from state to state and policy to policy. Check what options are available in your state. Teeth whitening is more likely to be covered when you purchase a more robust, comprehensive policy. Here are four dental insurers that offer teeth whitening within some of their policies:

  • Ameritas
  • Anthem
  • Delta Dental
  • Guardian Direct

Exceptions

Although most other dental insurance plans do not cover teeth whitening, there may be times when they will. Coverage for whitening may be granted after dental trauma or a previous root canal, where bacteria, saliva, or blood can remain inside the tooth, discoloring it. In these cases, a more invasive procedure known as internal bleaching may be necessary. Here, an endodontist opens the tooth and inserts bleach crystals for 30 minutes to several days to whiten it from the inside out. Some dental insurers may offer partial reimbursement for this procedure.

Some plans might cover basic dental cleanings before whitening treatments, although this varies significantly between insurers. Because whitening treatments can be costly, it is best to always check the details of your specific dental insurance plan for accurate coverage information.

Types of dental whitening treatments

You can choose several treatments to lighten your teeth and amp up your smile. Two treatments require assistance from your dentist. The others can be purchased on your own.

Dentist supervised whitening:

  • In office. Dentist application of a peroxide-containing gel, used with or without an accelerant light
  • Take-home kits. Gels used in custom-made trays provided by your dentist and intended for at-home use

Over-the-counter whitening products:

  • Carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide-containing products at lower concentrations than dentist-supervised products
  • Include toothpaste, whitening strips, paint-on gels, and trays

Teeth whitening costs without insurance

What if you don't have dental insurance coverage for teeth whitening? Here are your options and how much you can expect to pay.

In-office whitening

In-office teeth whitening administered by your dentist is popular due to its immediate and significant results. The teeth whitening cost for this powerful, professional in-office treatment can range from $300 to $1,000. Factors influencing this cost include the geographic location, the dentist's expertise, and the specific whitening technique employed.

How much of that cost you will be responsible for paying can vary widely based on whether you have insurance and the type of plan you have. For instance:

  1. Without insurance. The average cost for in-office whitening is $508. For more intensive treatments like internal bleaching, the costs can soar to over $2,100 for multiple teeth.
  2. With insurance. Under the most comprehensive Delta Dental PPO plan, coverage is 80%. So, if the total cost of in-office bleaching is $508, insurance would cover $406 after the waiting period, leaving you to pay $102.

At-home whitening products

Dentist-supplied take-home kits can cost from $100 to $600. Over-the-counter products such as whitening strips, trays, and toothpaste offer a more affordable approach to teeth whitening, generally ranging from $20 to $100. These methods are less expensive but tend to yield less dramatic results and require a longer duration to see effects.

  1. Take-home custom whitening trays. Provided by dentists, these use a peroxide gel that is not as strong as the in-office treatment but stronger than the over-the-counter products.
  2. Whitening strips. These over-the-counter options are less expensive and can be effective with consistent use.
  3. Whitening toothpastes and pens. These products are good for removing surface stains but are less effective for significant whitening.
  4. DIY methods. Household remedies like brushing with baking soda or oil-pulling with coconut oil may offer a temporary solution for light surface stains, but always consult your dentist for safety.

Additional considerations

It is essential to consult your dentist before undergoing any teeth whitening procedure, including over-the-counter products. They can advise you on the best whitening method, considering any dental health issues and which specific treatments could exacerbate any dental problems. Reasons you may not be a good candidate include sensitive teeth, pregnancy, peroxide allergies, multiple restorations in the mouth (crowns, composite restorations) that cannot be bleached, active cavities or gum disease, and some systemic illnesses, such as diabetes.

There can be side effects to teeth bleaching. These include temporary tooth sensitivity or gum irritation, which will usually go away once you stop bleaching your teeth.

Tips to maintain your new smile

Once you’ve bleached your teeth and are happy with the new lighter shade, it’s important to maintain excellent dental hygiene and regular dentist visits for long-lasting teeth whitening results. Your diet and whether you smoke can also affect the longevity of your results.

Be aware that eating and drinking certain foods like coffee, tea, wine, berries, ketchup, and soda can reintroduce new stains. Try sipping dark liquids with a straw. Swallow stain-causing foods immediately — don’t let these foods stay in prolonged contact with your teeth. Also, try to get into the habit of rinsing your teeth after eating these foods. If you can’t rinse with water, chew on gum instead.

Results can last anywhere from six months to three years, depending on your whitening method and how well you take care of your teeth afterward. Expect in-office results to last the longest, over-the-counter treatments to be the least long-lasting, and at-home treatments to last somewhere between.

Although most dental insurance plans don’t cover teeth whitening, a few do. Knowing the details of your policy can help you plan both financially and practically for your whitening treatment. Whether you opt for a pro treatment at the dentist, try a take-home kit, or use an over-the-counter whitening product, always check in with a dental expert first to ensure it's safe and suitable. And don’t forget, keeping up with your daily dental care is crucial for maintaining those pearly whites.

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