Dental Resources for Veterans - Navigating the Options
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Table of Contents
- VA Benefits
- Getting Care
- Other VA Options
- Private Insurance
- No Insurance
- Teeth Straightening Options
Veterans put their lives on the line to protect and serve their country. When they get home, they're entitled to health care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Unfortunately, that coverage doesn't always extend to dental health.
Private dental insurance plans for veterans exist, and they can be good choices for veterans who need coverage. Some veterans also shop for deals via the healthcare marketplace.
If you're not eligible for VA benefits and you can't afford a private plan, you still have options. Nonprofit organizations, dental experts, and some companies offer discounts or waived fees on the services you need.
How Do VA Benefits Work?
When you leave the service, advisors should help you enroll in VA programs to maintain your health. Finish that step, and you may believe you're entitled to full care to keep your teeth shining bright. Unfortunately, that's not always the case.
Are You Eligible?
During 2019, more than 580,000 veterans got dental care assistance through the VA. Experts often suggest that people with coverage fall into three simple categories:
- Service-connected dental disability
- Former prisoner of war
- Recipient of service-connected disability compensation
The reality is a little more complex.
The VA has long and strict rules about who is eligible for benefits and who is not. For example:
Persian Gulf War Veterans
People with Service-Connected Disabilities
Veterans with Trauma
Where Do You Get Care?
You've been approved for care through the VA. You're issued paperwork, and you're ready to get started. But you can't go just anywhere to improve your smile.
The VA controls costs by location. To use your benefits, you must go to one of the more than 200 VA-owned dental clinics across the United States. Most require appointments, and it's not uncommon to wait a week or two for help.
Other VA Options Available
Only about 8 percent of veterans are eligible for meaningful coverage through the VA, reporters say. If you fill out paperwork and see a rejection slip, you're not alone. But you're not out of options either.
Each year, the VA chooses private companies for an affiliated health insurance program. Enrollees get a discount on premiums, even if they're not eligible for full VA dental health benefits. Through a plan like this, you'll have coverage for the following:
- Dental surgery
- Diagnostic services
- Emergency care
- Endodontic and other restorative services
- Preventative care
If you’re enrolled in VA health care, you’re eligible for this program.
Private Insurance Options
Veterans rarely use private medical insurance. In fact, researchers say just 56.9 percent of veterans had private insurance in 2016. That's a dip from 70.8 percent in 2000. But for veterans ineligible for VA dental care, the private market offers the best dental health solutions.
These companies provide VA-approved dental insurance for veterans:
Coverage extends across the United States. You must work with a dentist affiliated with the Delta Dental plan, but the network is large.
Choose from one of three plans with varying coverage levels. All cover preventive care at 100 percent if you use a network doctor. But some don't cover things like crowns or dentures. Confirm the specifics of the plan will work for most of your dental needs.
Coverage extends across the United States, and more than 458,000 dentists participate in the MetLife program.
Choose from two plan types. One doesn't cover orthodontia at all, and the other pays 50 percent of the cost. Preventive care is fully covered in both plans. Again, confirm that the plan works to offset most of your dental costs before signing up.
If you're ineligible for health care benefits through the VA, you can't participate in the dental insurance options above. But plenty of other companies want to help you.
USAA works with Cigna Dental on a plan made just for veterans. You won't wait to use your benefits, and you can see any provider within the Cigna network. Rates are pre-negotiated, so Cigna saves money. Visit a provider outside of the network, and you're likely to pay more. You must be a USAA member to enroll in this program. Do that online.
Some veterans are ineligible for the VA or USAA. They still have options.
The health insurance marketplace is made for browsing. Give information about your age, health, and habits. You'll see a list of companies ready to offer you dental insurance. If you qualify, you might get a discount on monthly premiums based on your income level.
Marketplace plans aren't geared to veterans. Anyone can enroll. But the prices might fit within your budget quite nicely.
What If You Don't Have Insurance?
For some veterans, making ends meet seems impossible. They just don't have the money to spend on a monthly health insurance premium, and yet, they don't qualify for VA benefits. If these statements apply to you, don't despair. You still have options.
Here are some low-cost or no-cost dental solutions for veterans:
Donated Dental Services
Everyone for Veterans
Dentists for Veterans
Your local dentist may also offer discounts for veterans. You may never see the program in an advertisement, but it might exist.
Major companies, including those that offer aligners for a straighter smile, advertise their discounts on their websites. Ask about those programs before your appointment, so there's no misunderstanding when the bill arrives.
These dental resources for veterans are intended to broadly cover the dental services that veterans need.
What Are Teeth Straightening Options for Veterans?
As a veteran, you deserve a great smile you can feel confident about. Teeth straightening options for veterans include the following:
For a long time, braces were practically the only option for teeth straightening. Braces often mean chunky metal hardware that is uncomfortable and unsightly.
Today, however, braces come in many different forms. Options for braces include the following:
- Metal braces: Also called “traditional” braces, these are the more noticeable braces that use metal wires. Although they’re more visible than other types of braces, they’re also more affordable and can be customized to help with even complicated or severe orthodontic issues.
- Ceramic braces: Ceramic braces use clear or tooth-colored hardware, so they are less noticeable. They are more expensive than metal braces and may be prone to staining.
- Lingual braces: Lingual braces are the least visible of braces, as they attach to the back of the teeth. But they are the most expensive of braces options. There are other disadvantages as well. Lingual braces are harder to clean, may be less comfortable, and may require more adjustments.
Some dental or VA plans will cover some or all of the costs for braces.
Clear aligners are removable and fit over your teeth, applying subtle pressure to move teeth into the best positions for an ideal smile.
The process for clear aligners begins with a scan or impression of your teeth. Using this, your aligner provider gets a clear picture of where your teeth are currently, and where they need to be moved in order to achieve your optimal smile and bite. A set of aligner trays is then created to gradually move teeth to where they need to be.
Each tray is worn for about two weeks before moving on to the next one. After the last tray, treatment is complete, and your teeth have shifted to where they should be.
Because clear aligners are removable, they don’t interfere with eating or teeth cleaning. They can also be taken out for special occasions, like weddings or job interviews.
While some clear aligners are serviced in-office with provider-licensed orthodontists, other top providers offer an entirely remote experience, making them even more convenient.
At Byte, our process starts with an easy at-home impression kit (refundable if you’re not a candidate for treatment). You’re then sent a complete set of aligners and your treatment is monitored remotely by supervising orthodontists and clinical staff. Byte offers access to support every day on our user-friendly app.
In addition to convenience, clear aligners offer other advantages over braces. They’re more affordable (top providers range in price from about $1,800 to over $2,500), generally faster (most of the top aligner brands have a treatment time of around 4 to 6 months), and virtually invisible.
But clear aligners aren’t for everyone. Severe or complicated orthodontic problems may require braces or even surgery, and clear aligners may not be able to help. Also, aligners require commitment. To work, they must be worn as instructed, even though they are removable.
Dental or VA plans may cover some or all of the fees for clear aligners for some orthodontic issues. Talk to your plan provider for more details.
Many top aligner providers, especially direct-to-consumer options like Byte, offer straightforward pricing with no surprises. At Byte, we also offer a military discount.
Cosmetic dentistry (veneers)
Dental veneers are tooth coverings, usually made of porcelain or resin, that are cemented to the front of the tooth. They can change the shape and look of a tooth.
While veneers are sometimes used to hide minor orthodontic problems like a gap or crooked tooth, they do not address any orthodontic issues and therefore can be problematic. They will not correct any bite or alignment issues. In some cases, they could even make these issues worse.
Veneers are also expensive. They cost around $1,300 for a single tooth, and they are not usually covered by insurance.
Other drawbacks? For a veneer to be applied, the natural tooth will need to be shaved down. This is permanent. Additionally, veneers may break or need replacement, and they may cause tooth sensitivity.
VA Dentistry—Improving Veterans' Oral Health. (March 2020). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
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Find a Dental Clinic Location. (January 2020). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
All Veterans Would Get Dental Care Help Under this Proposed Plan. (December 2019). Military.com.
VA Dental Insurance Program. (October 2018). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
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Trends in Health Insurance and Type Among Military Veterans: United States, 2000-2016. (March 2018). American Journal of Public Health.
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Veterans Affairs Dental Insurance (VADIP) Plan Benefits Booklet. (2019). Delta Dental.
Veterans Affairs Dental Insurance Program (VADIP). MetLife.
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