Teeth whitening is a popular, effective method of combating unsightly stains and discoloration. But how much does it cost? And can you get your money’s worth with just one session?
You’ve got the perfect smile — white teeth that sparkle when they’re not covered in coffee or chocolate. Unfortunately, those pearly whites may lose their luster over time thanks to staining from food pigments and tobacco use.
If only there were some way to restore them to their former glory, well, there is! There are several options for bleaching your teeth, but which will work best on your budget? Read on to find out if your dental insurance covers this cosmetic procedure.
How Much Is Teeth Whitening With Insurance?
Suppose you have dental insurance through an employer plan or purchased individual coverage. In that case, the chances are good that any treatment performed by a dentist (including teeth-whiting) falls under the coverage provided by your company.
The rules vary depending upon your specific health benefits package, so check with your insurance provider to see what services fall within its guidelines.
Generally speaking, however, most companies offer at least partial coverage for specific procedures such as fillings, root canal therapy, gum disease treatments, and orthodontic braces.
In addition, many plans cover preventive care like cleanings and x-rays. It should be noted that even though these policies typically pay for routine treatments, they don’t provide unlimited coverage. Each policy has a maximum amount per year that it pays toward particular procedures or categories of medical expenses.
For example, if your dentist recommends a costly dental implant, look up the limits listed on your policy before agreeing to anything more than necessary.
Most people who go into debt paying for private insurance coverage do so because of emergency room visits, major surgeries, hospital stays, expensive prescriptions, etc., rather than cosmetic procedures.
If you need proof that insurance companies want you to keep healthy teeth, consider this factoid: About 90 percent of insured Americans aged 18 to 64 reported having seen a dentist during 2010, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention results.
That means millions of people visit their local doctor each month without being billed for unnecessary services. A similar trend exists among dentists; nearly 60 percent of American adults reported seeing a dentist last year, compared to 45 percent in 2002.
Therefore, it seems unlikely that someone would receive unexpected charges while receiving regular care from their family dentist. So relax, take deep breaths and let your insurer handle everything.
How Much Does Laser Teeth Whitening Cost?
There are two types of teeth whiteners available today: chemical methods, including mouth rinses containing hydrogen peroxide, and laser techniques using either carbamide peroxide gels or light sources called diode lasers. While both products bleach teeth, they differ significantly in price.
At $100 to $200 a pop, home kits containing mouthwash and strips are cheaper than laser sessions costing anywhere between $400 and $800 per session. Professional teeth whitening costs range from around $300 to $600.
When shopping for a low-priced tooth-brightening option, read the fine print carefully. Many cheap brands contain lower concentrations of active ingredients than higher-end models. This leads to less efficient bleaching and often requires multiple applications to achieve optimal effects.
Also, remember that the longer the product remains inside your mouth, the greater the chance of drying out the tissues surrounding your teeth. When misused, overuse could irritate, cause bleeding gums, dryness, sensitivity or long-term damage or recession of enamel, the hard outer layer of teeth.
Laser teeth whitening offers numerous advantages over other methods. Unlike chemicals, lasers target the actual coloration of stained teeth, eliminating the risk of unwanted side effects.
Although high-intensity lights tend to burn sensitive oral tissue faster than weaker units, newer technology allows technicians to adjust power levels accordingly, ensuring safety.
Additionally, since laser beams pass directly onto teeth surfaces where stains build up, patients experience minimal discomfort. Instead of worrying about whether you’ll finish making dinner before the timer goes off, worry about how great your new smile looks after an hour-long appointment.
Finally, laser teeth whitening takes significantly fewer appointments than traditional methods, resulting in less downtime.
How Much Does Teeth Whitening Cost Without Insurance?
The easiest way to determine what kind of service works best for you is by comparing prices across different providers. To compare prices, first, decide what type of whitening you’d prefer.
Since no single technique provides the same result, the following descriptions assume laser whitening unless otherwise indicated. Once you narrow down your choices, call a few offices to ask about rates and availability.
In general, whitening procedures aren’t covered by dental insurance. As previously mentioned, most insured consumers receive limited coverage for preventative services like cleanings and exams.
Some insurers refuse to cover cosmetic treatments outright, regardless of necessity. Others limit reimbursement amounts based upon patient age, gender, or location. Dental professionals refer to this phenomenon as “underwriting.”
Other factors might include geographic region, number of previous procedures, type of insurance held, and specific state laws governing cosmetic practices. Although many states require licensure for cosmetologists, others allow anyone to perform minor surgical procedures for payment.
This means that unlicensed personnel may trick customers into believing that they are getting something other than the advertised whitening. Unscrupulous workers sometimes charge inflated fees, force unwarranted restorations or attempt to sell nonapproved replacement appliances, all under the guise of providing whitened smiles.
Because underwriting varies widely across insurers, you shouldn’t rely solely upon marketing claims made by prospective businesses. Before committing to any service, research potential providers thoroughly.
Contacting a handful of locations gives you a sense of typical pricing ranges, allowing you to zero in on places offering the lowest possible rates. Remember that prices frequently change, especially once competition begins heating up. Call again later to inquire about current specials.
Next, we’ll discuss what happens during a laser teeth whitening treatment.
During laser teeth whitening, your technician applies a gel coated with Carbamide Peroxide to your upper front teeth. Next, she directs a pulsating beam of light at the surface of your teeth until the substance absorbs enough energy to release oxygen molecules.
These free radicals react chemically with stain molecules, breaking them apart into basic components known as oxides. Afterward, excess gel residue is removed with special brushes.
Your technician uses a handheld device to measure the effectiveness of each application. You’ll return every four weeks for additional treatments spaced roughly three months apart.
During each visit, your provider adjusts the power level of the machine to ensure optimum performance.
She also cleans your teeth gently, avoiding the sensitive parts behind your molars. Overall, your total treatment time depends largely upon the size of your teeth and the concentration of whitener applied. Most office visits run 30 minutes or slightly longer.
How Much Do Lasers Really Save Patients Money Over Home Kits?
One recent study found that subjects experienced better cosmetic outcomes with laser whitening versus kit-based methods. Researchers attributed this difference to several factors, including improved accuracy, depth of penetration, reduced pain, and increased efficiency.
They concluded that laser whitening saved 53 percent of the time spent preparing patients’ mouths for treatment and 55 percent spent performing the procedure itself.
Compared to kit-based systems, laser solutions cost more upfront ($1,857 vs. $863) but had comparable annual savings of $547.