Page Reviewed / Updated – July 17, 2022

Dental health is a crucial part of lifelong health and wellness, yet many older adults don’t get the dental care they need. According to the CDC, nearly one of every five adults aged 65 or older have untreated tooth decay, and two of three have gum disease. Since Original Medicare and Medicaid don’t cover routine dental services, seniors have to purchase private dental plans, which may seem out of reach on a fixed retirement income. 

With so many plan options available, seniors may easily become confused or overwhelmed by dental insurance options. This guide breaks down the four main types of dental plans for seniors so that they can make an informed decision regarding their dental insurance and care needs.

The 4 Main Types of Dental Plans for Seniors: An Overview 

From PPOs to HMOs and beyond, dental plan options have their fair share of similarities and differences. Understanding the ins and outs of each helps individuals make the right choice for their financial circumstances and desired care level. This table helps illustrate the differences between the four main types of dental plans for seniors. 

Type of Plan

Coverage Overview 

Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs)

Dental PPO plans allow the subscriber to choose a provider from a network of dentists who provide their services for a set fee. They can also select out-of-network options that may charge higher or lower fees. PPO plans have waiting periods and annual maximums that vary by plan. 

Dental Health Maintenance Organizations (DHMOs)

Dental HMO plans typically cost $8 to 12 a month. Subscribers are limited to using in-network dentists, and specialist care requires a referral. Copays are low ($10, $20 and sometimes $50, depending on the service), and there are no deductibles, waiting periods or annual maximums. 

Preventative-Only Plans

These plans cover preventative dental visits only. Preventative-only plans start at around $180 a year. Any other dental work, such as fillings or crowns, is the subscriber’s responsibility to pay for out of pocket. 

Discount Plans

Dental discount plans are not insurance. Instead, they offer subscribers the ability to see a network of local dentists at discounted rates. Discounts range from 5% to 60%, depending on the plan. 

Preferred Provider Organization Dental Plans

Dental PPO plans allow subscribers to choose a dentist from either in-network or out-of-network options. They’re the most common option out of all dental plans available.

Covered Services 

Dental PPOs divide their services into preventative, basic and major categories.

  • Preventative services: Include two yearly cleanings/exams and diagnostic X-rays.
  • Basic services: Include deep cleanings, fillings, treatment for gum disease and extractions. 
  • Major services: Include high-cost services, such as crowns, root canals, bridges, dentures and implants. 

Coverage Limitations and Exclusions 

PPO plans place limitations and exclusions on different types of coverage. Some are more restrictive than others, so it’s important to closely review a plan to understand its exact limitations. 

Annual and Lifetime Maximums

Annual maximums are the capped amount that a plan pays per year. So if a plan has an annual maximum of $1,500, any additional costs are the subscriber’s responsibility.

Lifetime maximums apply to expensive dental services, such as dentures. Once the subscriber reaches their lifetime maximum, the plan won’t pay for that service anymore. 

Waiting Periods

Waiting periods can vary between 6 months for basic services to a year for major services. Some plans have shorter waiting periods or no waiting periods at all. Additionally, some companies offer a waiting period waiver for people with recent comprehensive dental insurance on a different plan. 

Treatment Exclusions

Plans may exclude a treatment category entirely or only cover the lowest-priced option to treat an issue. For example, a plan may exclude bridges or crowns or limit subscribers to a cheaper option. 

Time Period Limits

Some plans may only cover a service every couple of years. For example, the plan may cover dental implants, but coverage may only apply for one implant every 5 years. 

Pre-Existing Conditions

Some plans won’t cover dental issues that existed before coverage began. These include things such as existing crowns or missing and broken teeth. 

Financial Pros and Cons of PPO Plans

PPO plans have the potential to save subscribers money, but they can also cost them money depending on how they use the plan. Here are the main financial pros and cons of PPO plans. 

Pro: Potential Cost Savings

While the upfront costs are higher than some other options, it’s entirely possible to save a significant amount of money with a PPO plan if the subscriber uses it for more than just preventative care. In addition, subscribers can further maximize their savings by sticking to the plan’s in-network dentists. 

Con: The Risk of Breaking Even or Losing Money 

On the other hand, if the subscriber only uses their PPO plan for preventative care, they risk breaking even or losing money. For example, if the subscriber spends $360 on premiums every year and receives $300 worth of preventative care, they’d lose that extra $60. 

PPO Plans vs. Indemnity Plans

Indemnity plans, also known as fee-for-service plans, are very similar to PPOs. Both usually feature a network of preferred providers. With a PPO, subscribers get the best coverage by using an in-network provider. With an indemnity plan, subscribers can get the same coverage regardless of network. 

One notable difference is that balance billing occurs more frequently with an indemnity plan. Otherwise, much of the information above applies to indemnity plans.

Dental Health Maintenance Organizations

Dental HMO plans are structured very differently from PPO plans. While PPO plans are more common, HMO plans can be appealing because their low monthly costs range from $8 to $12 a month. The table below helps illustrate the main differences between HMO and PPO dental plans. 

Plan Feature or Benefit

Dental PPO Plans

Dental HMO Plans

Annual maximum




Yes (% of flat-rate)

Yes (% of a dentist’s contracted rate)



Yes (typically very low: $10, $20 or $50)

Waiting Periods






In-network required



Primary dentist required



Generally speaking, HMOs are an option for seniors who are looking to keep dental costs low and don’t mind the restrictions of having to see a single primary dentist. However, dental HMOs aren’t available in every state, and policyholders can encounter long wait times to see a dentist. Those considering a dental HMO should review the plan documents thoroughly to decide if the coverage is a good fit for their needs.

Preventative-Only Plans

As the name suggests, these plans only cover preventative care. Subscribers typically receive two annual cleanings or exams and X-ray coverage. Paying for any additional services, such as fillings, is the subscriber’s responsibility. Preventative-only plans start at around $180 per year and can save people a few hundred dollars per year on essential dental care. 

Discount Plans

A discount plan isn’t an insurance plan. Instead, it offers the subscriber access to a network of dentists who provide services at discounted rates. There are no waiting periods, copays or deductibles. Discount plans may also offer discounts for services not typically covered by PPO plans, such as teeth whitening and other cosmetic services. While the subscriber pays for all their dental care out of pocket, they can expect to see cost savings between 5% to 60%, depending on the plan. 

What To Know When Choosing a Dental Insurance Plan

When choosing a dental insurance plan, seniors need to review the coverage and costs carefully to make sure the plan meets their needs. That way, they’re less likely to encounter unwelcome surprises, such as going to the dentist and finding out the care they need isn’t covered. When evaluating a dental insurance plan, seniors should carefully review the plan documents and look for the following information:

  • Monthly or annual premiums
  • Deductibles and co-insurance
  • Coverage and exclusions
  • Waiting periods
  • Age limits
  • Exclusions (for treatments or pre-existing conditions)
  • Annual and/or lifetime maximums
  • Dentist options and availability
  • Senior discounts (if applicable)


Will Medicare or Medicaid cover dental costs?

Medicare doesn’t cover dental costs. However, limited exceptions may exist for emergency dental surgery in a hospital setting. Additionally, some Medicare Advantage plans may include dental options. 

Medicaid doesn’t require that states provide dental coverage for adults. Usually, Medicaid programs won’t cover anything other than emergency dental care. Check your state’s online resources to see if Medicaid can help with your dental care. 

Does the VA provide dental coverage for veterans?

Yes, the Veterans Administration provides dental care for veterans. Consult your local VA chapter or its website to learn how to qualify for dental benefits through the VA.