What Counts as Cosmetic Dentistry?

The term cosmetic dentistry is used to describe some techniques that many people would assume are just run-of-the-mill techniques. It's a good idea, especially when thinking about issues like what your insurance coverage will pay for versus what will come out of your own pocket, to understand what distinguishes cosmetic methods from practical ones.

What Are Examples of Clearly Practical Procedures?

In most cases, the defining difference between cosmetic and practical work boils down to whether you're addressing an immediate medical problem in the simplest way possible. For example, a filling is not inherently cosmetic in the view of any insurance company because the primary goal is to save the tooth. Anything that restores or preserves a tooth stands a good chance of being deemed to be a practical procedure, as will other techniques aimed at sustaining oral health. Fixing a badly misaligned bite that presents problems when eating, for example, is likely to be considered practical, even though it may also yield cosmetic benefits.

What is an Obviously Cosmetic Procedure?

Many types of veneers, crowns, and bonding techniques are considered the work of a cosmetic dentist. For example, a stained tooth that is otherwise healthy does not need a porcelain veneer installed. That makes the decision to have such a veneer put in a purely cosmetic choice, and consequently, many insurance carriers will not cover the procedure.

Likewise, whitening procedures are widely considered in the industry to be cosmetic. Teeth cleanings, however, are seen as practical because the removal of plaque from the teeth has a demonstrable positive impact on the health of the gums.

The complete replacement of an extracted tooth is almost always considered cosmetic. As much as it might be unpleasant to live with a gap in your smile, insurance companies don't usually consider it essential to your oral health to have a dental implant or a bridge put in.

Debatable Cases

Teeth alignment issues are often considered borderline cases. A major misalignment has the potential to lead to major oral health issues, particularly damage to the jaw. On the other hand, a few crooked teeth aren't necessarily the end of the world. This leads to situations where insurance companies may actually pay for more expensive procedures and not cheaper ones.

It's wise to always contact your insurance company about procedures and ask whether they'll be covered. If not, your dentist can still discuss payment options.