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How Often Does Dental Insurance Cover X-Rays?
For Everyone

How Often Does Dental Insurance Cover X-Rays?

The frequency with which dental insurance covers X-rays varies depending on the type of X-ray and the specifics of the insurance plan. Here's a general overview of how often different types of dental X-rays might be covered:

Types of dental X-rays

1. Bitewing X-rays:

These are the X-rays typically taken during routine dental check-ups to check for cavities between teeth. Most insurance plans cover bitewing X-rays once or twice a year.

2. Periapical X-rays:

These show the entire tooth, from the crown to the bone that helps to anchor the tooth in the jaw. They are used to find dental problems below the gum line or in the jaw, such as impacted teeth, abscesses, cysts, tumors, and bone changes linked to certain diseases. Depending on the plan, they may be covered whenever necessary due to clinical reasons.

3. Full Mouth Series (FMX) or Panoramic X-rays:

An FMX is a combination of bitewing and periapical X-rays that covers all the teeth and surrounding bone structure. Panoramic X-rays provide a single image of the entire mouth, including teeth, jaws, and surrounding structures. Most insurance plans cover these types of X-rays once every 2 to 5 years.

4. Occlusal X-rays:

These capture the roof or floor of the mouth and are used to find extra teeth, teeth that have not yet broken through the gums, jaw fractures, a cleft in the roof of the mouth, cysts, abscesses, or growths. Coverage for occlusal X-rays depends on the plan and the clinical need.

5. Cephalometric X-rays:

Often used in orthodontics, these X-rays show an entire side of the head. Coverage will vary based on the insurance policy and the specific need for the X-ray, especially if it's related to orthodontic treatment planning.

Note: It's crucial to understand that while insurance may cover X-rays based on these general frequencies, the actual coverage will always depend on the specific dental insurance policy and the clinical necessity of the X-rays. Some policies might have limitations or waiting periods, while others may be more flexible if the dentist provides justification for the need. As with all dental procedures, it's a good idea for patients to verify coverage with their insurance provider before getting X-rays taken.

Does dental insurance cover X-rays differently depending on your plan?

Yes, dental insurance coverage for X-rays can vary significantly depending on the specifics of an individual's dental plan. Here are some factors that can affect how X-rays are covered:

1. Type of Plan:

  • HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) plans often require patients to use network providers but typically offer lower out-of-pocket costs. The frequency and types of X-rays covered might be clearly stipulated.
  • PPO (Preferred Provider Organization) plans give patients more flexibility in choosing their dentist. Coverage percentages might vary, and there may be different reimbursement levels for in-network versus out-of-network providers.
  • Fee-for-Service or Indemnity plans allow patients to see any dentist they want. They often have a deductible to meet, after which the insurance pays a percentage of services, including X-rays.

2. Coverage Tiers:

Dental services are often categorized into different tiers, which may include preventive, basic, major, and sometimes orthodontic. How X-rays are categorized can influence coverage:

  • Preventive: Many plans cover preventive services, like routine cleanings and X-rays (e.g., annual bitewings), at a high percentage or even 100%.
  • Basic or Diagnostic: Some X-rays, especially if they're needed to diagnose a specific issue, might fall into this category, which usually has good coverage but might not be as high as preventive services.

3. Frequency Limitations:

As mentioned in the previous response, many plans have frequency limitations for different types of X-rays. For example, bitewing X-rays might be covered once or twice a year, while a full mouth series or panoramic X-ray might be covered once every 2 to 5 years.

4. Clinical Necessity:

Coverage can sometimes be influenced by the clinical necessity of the X-ray. If a dentist can justify the need for a specific X-ray based on a patient's dental issue, the insurance might cover it even if it's outside the usual frequency limitations.

5. Annual Maximums:

Most dental insurance plans have an annual maximum amount they'll pay for services. If a patient has reached this maximum due to other dental procedures, they might be responsible for the full cost of X-rays, even if they are typically covered.

6. Deductibles and Copayments:

Even if an X-ray is covered, patients might have out-of-pocket costs, such as meeting a deductible or paying a co-payment.

7. Waiting Periods:

Some dental insurance plans have waiting periods for certain services. This means that the patient must be enrolled in the plan for a set amount of time before the insurance will cover specific procedures or X-rays.

It's crucial for patients to familiarize themselves with their specific dental insurance policy and, if in doubt, contact their insurance provider to verify coverage before getting X-rays or any other dental procedure.

How to find X-rays covered by dental insurance

To determine if and how X-rays are covered by your dental insurance, follow these steps:

1. Review Your Policy Documentation:

  • Begin by checking your policy booklet or coverage document. Insurance companies provide these to policyholders, either in print or electronically. This document will list covered services, including details about X-ray coverage.

2. Check Online:

  • Many dental insurance providers have online portals for their members. Once logged in, members can view details about their coverage, claims status, and specifics about various procedures, including X-rays.

3. Call Your Insurance Provider:

  • If you're unsure or need clarification, call the customer service number listed on your insurance card. The representatives can provide detailed information about your coverage and any associated out-of-pocket costs.

4. Ask Your Dentist's Office:

  • Dental offices often deal directly with insurance companies and may have experience with what's typically covered by various plans. They can help verify your coverage for specific X-ray procedures. However, remember that while they can provide guidance, the ultimate authority on what's covered is the insurance company.

5. Look for Frequency Limitations:

  • As mentioned before, dental insurance plans often have frequency limits on how often certain X-rays can be taken and covered. Make sure to check any limitations or restrictions.

6. Consider Deductibles and Copayments:

  • Even if X-rays are covered, you might need to meet a deductible or pay a copayment. Check your policy details to understand any associated out-of-pocket costs.

7. Review Types of X-rays:

  • Different types of dental X-rays may have different coverage levels or frequency limitations. For instance, bitewing X-rays, full mouth series, panoramic X-rays, and others might have different rules.

8. Check for Waiting Periods:

  • If you're newly enrolled in a dental insurance plan, verify if there's a waiting period before certain services, including X-rays, are covered.

9. Pre-authorization or Pre-determination:

  • In some cases, especially for non-routine X-rays or procedures, the insurance company might require pre-authorization or pre-determination. This means the dentist's office sends information about the planned X-ray or treatment to the insurance company in advance, and the company determines if it's covered and at what level.

10. Keep Updated:

  • Dental insurance plans can change annually, with variations in covered services, deductibles, and co-payments. Ensure you review any new policy details each year.

Remember, understanding your insurance coverage helps avoid unexpected costs. While it might take some effort to decipher the specifics, doing so can save you from potential billing surprises later on.

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About the Author

Harry Gatlin

Harry is passionate about the power of language to make complex systems like health insurance simpler and fairer. He received his BA in English from Williams College and his MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Alabama. In his spare time, he is writing a book of short stories called You Must Relax.