Dental insurance is an (often glaring) exception to Medicare’s coverage. A healthy mouth is important to your overall health and well-being, but Original Medicare doesn’t cover most dental services. And if you find yourself in need of higher-cost dental services, such as bridges, crowns, or fillings, you could pay upward of $1,000 in out-of-pocket costs without insurance.
However, Medicare Advantage plans may offer supplementary “extras” that can help you secure dental coverage. Medicare Advantage is an alternative to traditional Medicare, where you select a private insurance company to provide your Medicare benefits. You’ll still pay your Part B premium to Medicare, and sometimes a premium to your Medicare Advantage company.
Medicare Advantage plans are area-specific, and they don’t all offer dental coverage. To save you time and often considerable research, we’ve selected the best dental insurance for seniors on Medicare. Keep reading to see who made the list.
The Best Dental Insurance for Seniors on Medicare in 2021
Humana: Best Overall
Personalized quote search process
Several $0 premium plans include dental coverage
Offered in all 50 states
Not all plans offer dental coverage
Limited PPO plans that include dental coverage
We chose Humana for our top spot based on coverage, costs, plan choices, and state availability. Searching for its plans was easy and felt more personalized as the site asked several questions about what coverage types we were seeking (for example, did we want dental and medical care?). After answering a few questions about our needs, we were given several plan choices.
Some of Humana’s plans do not include dental services, so it’s important to read its explanations of coverage for each. We did go through several “Explanation of Benefits” documents and felt the information regarding dental coverage was clearly outlined.
Humana plans have a maximum dental benefit of $1,000 to $2,000 per year, which is one of the highest maximums. There were plans that included dental services (such as Humana’s Gold Plus HMO) that were available at a $0 monthly premium. Some PPO plans didn't have dental. However, we were offered some that included dental. One of those was the Humana Honor Plan, which also had a $0 monthly premium. Although this plan is specifically geared to work with Veterans Administration (VA) benefits, anyone enrolled in Medicare can qualify for the plan based on geographic region.
Many preventive services (oral evaluations/exams, X-rays, and fluoride treatments) required a $35 copayment for services. Other services usually involve you paying a coinsurance that ranges from 50% for a filling to 70% for complete or partial dentures for in-network providers.
Aetna: Best Overall, Runner-Up
$0 premium plans include dental
Straightforward coverage at lower costs
Greater dental coverage level for those with income-related needs
Lower coverage levels for some plans
Aetna has been in operation since 1853 and has continued to build its insurance network through a 2018 merger with CVS Health. When shopping for an online quote, we were instantly offered the option to let Aetna ask more questions to guide us through the selection process or to continue searching on our own. If you use the guided process, which asks questions about the age range, overall health, and what types of coverage you are shopping for, it will use that data to help gauge how much your health expenses may be under each plan.
We used the search tools for coverage for a person age 65 to 69 in “Fair” health (having at least one chronic medical condition). The information we entered appeared at the bottom of our plan results, which made it easy to modify the selections. We searched available plans for Birmingham, Alabama, and were offered two plans: a PPO option and an HMO plan for those with dual coverage (Medicare and Medicaid). The PPO option offered a $750 coverage for dental services for any dental provider who accepts Medicare with a $0 premium—this lower coverage level may not be a good choice for those who need more extensive dental work. The HMO plan was $24.20 per month but offered a $3,000 maximum benefit for coverage—one of the higher coverage levels we reviewed. This higher maximum level would be especially beneficial for those with lower incomes.
The main reason Aetna didn’t take the top spot was the low number on its dental maximum coverage ($750) in the $0 premium PPO plan. Otherwise, its policies and coverage were straightforward and easy to read. Obtaining a quote felt personalized to our health and insurance needs, and we felt we could get affordable dental coverage for a low premium.
UnitedHealthcare: Best for Customer Service
Plans offered in all 50 states
$0 premium plan includes dental coverage
Many ways to contact customer service representatives
Website layout made it difficult to compare plans side-by-side
From the moment we viewed its Medicare Advantage website, UnitedHealthcare’s focus on being consumer-friendly was obvious. Before we searched for a quote, it offered options to find a plan online, over the phone, or through scheduling an in-person meeting. The company offers a seven-days-a-week information line as well as around-the-clock virtual visits with a health care provider for plan subscribers.
For dental coverage, one feature we liked was the option to input our dentist’s name to ensure they accept UnitedHealthcare. This saved us from having to navigate away from the website to check. We did have some difficulty comparing the plans side-by-side, and the plan details button wouldn’t open in a new window, so we had to frequently navigate back to the plan quotes.
We were offered a flew plan options for the ZIP code searched. Two of them were: a $0 premium HMO and a $33-premium HMO. Each offered up to $2,000 annually toward the cost of preventive and comprehensive dental services. We also liked the $0 copayments on all dental services—you simply use the plan until you have spent the $2,000 max. This included coverage for dentures, crowns, and anesthesia for dental procedures.
While we were offered HMO plans for the state of Tennessee, UnitedHealthcare offers HMOs to some zip codes, PPOs to others, and both to some as well. The PPO plans we searched offered comprehensive benefits and a maximum of $500 to $1,500 in most instances. The high dental coverage limit of the HMO plans and straightforward nature (no copayments to calculate) made these plans one of our top choices.
BlueCross BlueShield Association: Best Specialized Care
Most plans include comprehensive care benefits
Several dental packages to choose from
$0 coinsurance for preventive services
Can be confusing to know which association to look for
Medicare Advantage not offered in nine states nor the District of Columbia
BlueCross BlueShield is an association of 36 insurance companies, including Anthem BlueCross and BlueShield, Empire BlueCross BlueShield, Highmark, and Wellmark BlueCross BlueShield. When you visit the BlueCross main page, you can input your ZIP code to be directed to the appropriate company.
BlueCross does not offer its Medicare Advantage plans in all states: you can’t purchase a plan in Alaska, Delaware, Iowa, Maryland, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming, or the District of Columbia.
We searched BlueCross BlueShield companies in Detroit, Michigan, and were offered 10 different plans that included HMOs and PPOs. Many of the plans offered “Optional Supplemental Benefits” (OSBs), which was an add-on benefits package that includes dental.
We were frequently offered one dental package option, but others may exist. It offered $0 copayments for preventive services and a $2,500 maximum for comprehensive dental services (essentially any services that aren’t cleanings or X-rays) with a 25% coinsurance fee for in-network services, such as fillings, root canals, and simple extractions.
We did search plans in other states as well, many of which had options that included dental coverage without the OSB add-on option. Many had coverage maximums that ranged from $1,500 to $2,500, but all included preventive and comprehensive coverage, which is handy if you need specialized care like a root canal or filling.
WellCare: Best for Dentures
Many $0 monthly premiums that include dental coverage
Dental benefits include preventive and comprehensive coverage
Lots of educational tools
Offered in 27 states
Pricing information hard to initially find
WellCare is an insurance company with more than 6 million members across the country. It is based in Tampa, Florida, and offers plans in 27 states. We chose its plans in particular because of its higher benefits paying for dentures.
We searched available plans in Dallas, Texas, and were offered many different plans that included HMO, PPO, and Special Needs Plans (SNP) options. We looked at its WellCare Premier PPO plan’s dental coverage, which offered $0 co-payments for in-network routine dental services, such as cleanings, dental X-rays, and one emergency visit per year. Many of the comprehensive dental services ranged from 20% to 50% copayments. This includes root canals and dental extractions. It also pays for one complete or partial denture set every five years (a percentage copayment applies). The maximum dental benefit was on the lower side of some of the plans we reviewed at $750.
However, we did see other plans (such as the WellCare Dividend HMO) that had higher maximums of $1,000 or more. WellCare also advertises that in some regions, it offers plans with a maximum benefit of up to $5,000 a year—that amount would be very helpful if you were to need new dentures.
WellCare's website allows you to easily navigate through each aspect of coverage, including drug formulary, extra benefits information, and pharmacy search tools as well as “New Member Quick Tips.” We had to go through several screens and selections to obtain pricing information, however. This made it harder to fully evaluate the plans until we had all the information. When we did see the premiums, many were $0.
Cigna: Best Dental Benefit Variety
Variety of PPO and HMO plans offered
Many plans offer $0 premiums
Different dental plan choices available
Some plans offer only preventive coverage
Only offered in 18 states and the District of Columbia, but will add 5 more states in 2021
Cigna is a large insurance company with Medicare Advantage offerings in 18 states and the District of Columbia for 2020 and has added 5 additional states for 2021. While its network coverage could be larger, it offers a wide variety of dental plans in the states it serves.
In terms of website navigability, we liked the Medicare Advantage FAQs, which asked us a series of questions about what we were looking for in a Medicare Advantage plan. For example, if we would rather pay a low- to no-premium fee and have out-of-pocket expenses or vice versa. If it was important to have extra services, including dental, we could receive plan recommendations that featured dental services.
The dental plan options were not uniform across plans, so it’s important to read the coverage details carefully. For example, the HealthSpring True Choice (PPO) plan had a $0 premium with a dental allowance of $1,500 for preventive and comprehensive care. The Cigna Preferred Medicare (HMO) has a $0 premium and offers $2,000 in yearly dental benefits as well. Another difference between the two is of course the medical coverage (HMO vs. PPO).
Cigna’s variety of plans is helpful for choice. However, it can extend the time needed to research and compare plans while considering how much dental coverage you need.
How to Shop and Compare Dental Insurance for Seniors on Medicare
Step 1: Determine If You’ll Need Dental Care in the Near Future and the Expected Costs
While a crystal ball would come in handy for predicting your anticipated dental care needs, today you can only use your medical history to predict potential costs in the future. Have you required extensive dental work in the past? What types? Think about how you would rate your current overall oral health and preventive efforts.
At a minimum, you will need preventive dental cleanings at least twice per year. The average dental cleaning costs between $90 and $120 while X-rays or a comprehensive exam can cost between $50 to $400. You can use this information to estimate your basic dental needs a year.
Step 2: Find a List of Medicare Advantage Plans Available in Your State or ZIP Code
Many third-party websites help you easily compare Medicare Advantage plans online to choose the one that’s best for you. One of the best places to start is Medicare.gov’s Plan Finder. Here, you can input your ZIP code, search “Medicare Advantage” plans, and filter the plans by ones that offer dental coverage.
Once you identify potential plans, you may go to the individual companies' websites (or call them directly) to find out more detailed plan information.
Step 3: Compare Plans
It’s important to weigh the costs of premiums and deductibles (money you’ll pay on the front end) with the potential costs of your dental care. For example, if you know you may need costly care (such as dentures or dental implants), a maximum dental benefit of $1,000 likely won’t be enough.
Of course, you’ll also want to look at the other aspects of the Medicare Advantage plan offered. Does it offer prescription drug coverage or hearing or vision care? Considering the plan as a whole can further aid in your decision-making process.
To have your final questions answered, consider talking to a broker or using free resources, such as your State Health insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). This program is a free service that offers unbiased advice and insights on plan selection and coverage.
Step 4: Sign up on the Provider’s Website, Through a Broker or Agent, or Through Medicare.gov
Once you’ve selected your plan, it’s time to sign up. You can usually do so via the insurance company’s website, through an insurance broker, or via Medicare.gov.
Medicare Advantage has key enrollment periods throughout the year. These include:
- Initial Enrollment Period: Three months before, the month of, and the three months after your 65th birthday.
- Medicare Open Enrollment Period: The time from October 15 through December 7 when you can sign up for coverage or switch your current Medicare Advantage plan.
- Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period: The time from January 1 through March 31 where you can change your Medicare Advantage plan to another plan or choose to go back to Original Medicare.
You may also qualify for other special enrollment periods based on individual circumstances, such as if you move from your coverage area or if your plan closes.
Do All Medicare Advantage Plans Have Dental Coverage?
No, not all Medicare Advantage plans offer dental coverage. For 2016 (the earliest available numbers), an estimated 60% of Medicare Advantage enrollees had some form of dental coverage. Some had preventive benefits only (19%) while a larger number (42%) had coverage that included preventive care as well as more extensive coverage. The more extensive coverage usually includes dental restoration services, such as dentures, fillings, or dental implants.
Is It Less Expensive to Buy Dental Coverage on the Open Market?
An estimated 18% of all Medicare enrollees have Medicare Advantage plans that offer dental coverage. Another 8% are enrolled in separate, private dental plans, while 65% (37 million) do not have any form of dental coverage. Several companies offer individual policies to those ages 65 and older who desire dental coverage. These include BlueCross BlueShield, Cigna, DeltaDental, and United Healthcare.
Medical care is expensive, and dental care proves no exception. An estimated 19% of Medicare beneficiaries who required dental services spent more than $1,000 on their dental care in 2016.
Just as with Medicare Advantage plans, individual dental plans can vary in their coverage. We researched senior dental coverage through BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina for a 70-year-old man. We were quoted a $23.86 monthly premium for a preventive plan that offered $0 copayments for preventive services (like dental visits). Their “Core” plan was $44.35 and offered coverage at a higher percent—but had a yearly max of $1,000 that the plan would pay.
Buying a plan on the open market versus having a plan with Medicare Advantage really depends on how much dental care you anticipate needing as well as the terms of each plan.
Are Dentures Covered Under Medicare?
No, Original Medicare does not cover the cost of dentures. However, many Medicare Advantage plans offer comprehensive coverage that covers all or a portion of the costs for dentures.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, an estimated 15% of American adults ages 65 and older do not have teeth and therefore could potentially benefit from dentures.
What Dental Services Are Covered Under Medicare?
Since its inception in 1965, Original Medicare hasn’t covered many dental-related services. That’s why many people choose Medicare Advantage plans to help supplement their dental costs. Medicare does include some dental services, such as:
- Dental extractions in preparation for surgery, such as to treat cancers of the head and neck.
- Dentistry-related procedures that are part of a larger surgical procedure, e.g. jaw reconstruction after trauma.
- Inpatient hospital admission when a person has a dental-related medical concern that requires hospitalization, for example, a severely abscessed tooth.
- Oral examinations as a surgical clearance requirement for procedures such as organ transplant or heart valve replacement.
Original Medicare does not cover preventive dental exams, dental restorations (such as fillings), or major restorative dental services, including crowns or root canals.
How We Chose the Best Dental Insurance for Seniors on Medicare
We reviewed more than 20 insurance companies that offer Medicare Advantage plans with dental coverage to select the best plans. We used criteria such as states served, if the plan offered comprehensive coverage in addition to preventive services, plan pricing, and the number of available dental plans. We also evaluated website navigability, educational information, and availability of customer service information. After accounting for these factors, we selected the above companies for their coverage and costs.
Cigna. "Average Cost of Teeth Cleaning Without Insurance." Accessed December 29, 2020.
Kaiser Family Foundation. "Drilling Down on Dental Coverage and Costs for Medicare Beneficiaries." Accessed December 29, 2020.