Buyer’s guide to group dental plans 2013

With NHS dental charges covering three different price bands, more employers are turning to group dental plans for their treatment needs.

The facts

What are group dental plans?

A group dental plan is an insurance-based scheme that offers employees cover for both preventative and restorative dental treatments. The plan gives staff access to dental insurance through their employer. The benefits can be accessed in various ways, including via private medical insurance (PMI), flexible benefits or as part of a health cash plan. The level of cover can range from accident and emergency care to treatment for cancer.

What are the origins of group dental plans?

National Dental Plan (NDP) was the UK’s first corporate dental insurance scheme in 1987.

Where can employers get more information and advice?

From the British Dental Health Foundation. Employers can also get more information from employee benefits consultants or healthcare intermediaries.

Which providers have the biggest market share?

The corporate dental market has traditionally been split equally between four providers: Bupa, Cigna HealthCare, Denplan and NDP. Other providers include Dencover, Health Shield, Medicash, Munroe Sutton, SimplyHealth and Westfield Health.

What are the costs involved?

Costs vary depending on the level of cover required, the way a scheme is funded and the number of employees covered. Accident and emergency cover can cost from £3 a month per employee. The average cost of dental insurance is £10-15 a month per employee.

Any legal implications?

There are no legal implications around offering staff dental benefits.

Any tax implications?

Dental perks are classed as a benefit in kind, so are subject to tax and national insurance. Employers must also be aware they are required by law to fill in a P11D (expenses and benefits) form.


63% of employees without a dental plan would consider one if their employer offered it (Denplan dental benefits survey, January 2013).

2.2% was the increase in dental insurance subscribers in 2012 (Health cover UK market report, Laing and Buisson, 2013).

7% of employers offer dental insurance to all employees (Employee Benefits Healthcare Research 2013, published June 2013).

18% of employers offer dental insurance for employees and their dependants on a voluntary basis (Employee Benefits Healthcare Research 2013, published July 2013).

10% of UK adults have not been to the dentist for five to 10 years (Dental Survey 2013, SimplyHealth, published April 2013).

28% of UK adults said they don’t go to the dentist more often because they can’t afford it (Dental Survey 2013, SimplyHealth, published April 2013).

5.8 million is the total number of PMI dental policies, both individual and company-paid (National Smile Month survey, British Dental Health Foundation, 2013).

According to the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) report Adult dental health for England, Wales and Northern Ireland 2009, published in March 2011, 12% of respondents said the cost of their dental care and treatment was covered by a pre-payment plan or insurance scheme, and the report said there was “clear evidence” that some people have private treatment because they cannot not find an NHS dentist.

The British Dental Health Foundation survey Is your smile at risk?, published in May 2012, revealed that only 57% of employers allow their staff to take paid time off to visit the dentist. The same survey showed that 93% of employers do not give staff occupational health information on the importance of good oral health.

The growing demand for group dental plans is also reflected in more recent research. The 2013 Denplan dental benefits survey, published in January 2013, shows that 63% of employees without a dental plan would consider one if their employer offered it.

National Dental Plan (NDP) says two out of three new employers it works with have not offered dental insurance before. It also says dental benefits offered under private medical insurance (PMI) are one of the most claimed employee benefits, with 97.5% of NDP’s members making use of the insurance plan.

The Health cover UK market report 2013, published by Laing and Buisson in July 2013, showed that at the start of this year there were more than three million employer-paid PMI schemes and 367,000 employer-paid dental insurance plans.

One reason for the rise in demand for group dental plans is the forthcoming 2014 NHS charges review, which employee benefits providers expect to result in a rise in charges for NHS dental services.

The NHS currently offers three levels of charges for dental treatment for all patients, unless they are exempt. Exemptions currently cover pregnant women and nursing mothers with children up to 12 months old, students in full-time education up to age 19 and discretionary exemption up to aged 23, plus recipients of various benefit payments and allowances. The lowest NHS charge is £18 for dental treatments such as X-rays and scaling and polishing, the next level is £49 for treatments such as fillings, and the top charge of £214 covers treatments such as crowns and inlays.

Although dental cover can be included in PMI schemes, a less costly trend emerging is for group dental plans to be offered through flexible benefits. NDP says 66% of the employers it works with offer dental insurance through a flex scheme. Providers have noticed that the costs and complexity of pensions auto-enrolment has caused employers to rethink how they offer other benefits, such as dental perks. Many are now allowing staff to choose voluntary arrangements for dental care, with a view to moving to flexible arrangements at a later stage.

Providers have also noticed an increase in the number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) offering dental benefits via flex, and new schemes are appearing. For example, in July 2013 Bupa launched a dental care product specifically aimed at SMEs, providing cover for routine treatments.

The provider market has seen more recent changes. For example, Axa PPP Healthcare has launched a dental plan for employers to provide to staff. The plan offers a choice of six levels of cover of staged reimbursements per treatment. Employees will have telephone access to dental nurses, and can also obtain information about how to maintain good dental health through an online dental health centre.

In addition, NDP has launched a new percentage reimbursement dental care product. Its Radiant product, which provides 100% reimbursement for preventative and minor treatments and 80% for major treatments, will go live for employers in September 2013.The product is designed to complement NDP’s existing product, Clear, which provides a fixed level of reimbursement. Radiant includes an option for employers to offer tailored covered alongside five core options, which have different pricing levels and benefits.

Two factors for employers to take into consideration are the fact that the retirement age will increase to 67 in for 2026-28 and life expectancy in the UK now stands at 80. Senior employees are much more likely to need treatment partly because they grew up in an environment when there was no fluoride toothpaste and older employers suffer much more from decay and subsequently require more dental work.

Demand is also increasing for cosmetic dentistry, including teeth whitening. Providers say this is an ‘Americanisation effect’, with employees no longer seeing dental benefits just for health purposes, but also to improve their image.