What You Need to Know about Dental Insurance in Australia
Since I've talked about oral care in Singapore, here is the comparison with dental care in Australia. I'm limiting this to Melbourne but there shouldn't be too much difference in different parts of the country.
Dental care in Australia is generally built-in to the health insurance; it's not a rider unlike in Singapore if you're on an expat insurance. Some health insurance provider have an overseas visitors health insurance for those on bridging or working visa. Coverage generally includes optical, dental, doctor / specialists visits (outside of the hospital), and emergency transport. Of course, you can opt for the basic cover which would normally be a hospital and emergency transport, no doctor or dental or optical covers. These would fall under extras.
All Australian permanent residents and citizens residing in Australia are required to have their own private health insurance by the time they hit 30. If they fail to do so, they will pay an additional 2% on their premium for every year after aged 30. This is part of the Lifetime Health Cover initiative of the government to encourage people to take and maintain health coverage.
For dental care, there is a waiting period where you cannot use your insurance to pay for visits to the dentist. That means if you have to visit the dentist within the waiting period, you'll need to pay out of pocket. Speaking of out-of-pocket, you can also opt to have minimal or no gap. No gap means you don't have to pay anything (after the waiting period) for any visit to the dentist. Sometimes, this would mean a higher premium. I picked no gap but you have to make your own choices.
There is a cap to how much you can charge against your insurance. Some insurance companies have a flexi bonus. For each year you stay with the health insurance, you are given a dollar value in your flexi bonus. You can use that flexi bonus to get reimbursement if you've used up all of your cap for the year.
Some dentists don't work with insurance companies so you'll have to do some research. You'll also have to do a bit of trial and error. Unlike in the US, it's relatively easy to transfer clinics if you're not happy with your dental care. We started with a dentist but changed clinics after a year. We were much happier with our second dentist.
Our second dentist (Dr. Melissa) had modern facilities, was amiable, explained things clearly, and discouraged me from doing any procedure which she believed to be unnecessary or if costly, gave me alternatives. We were sad when we left but I found her in LinkedIn and reconnected with her.
What is Dental Care in Australia
Dental care in Australia means you can expect care from your dentist. This is assuming your dentist cares about you as a person and won't simply treat your mouth as a source of income.
Below is what to expect when you visit a dentist in Melbourne:
Announce yourself to the reception and wait until you're called. In Melbourne, our dentists (in the first and second clinic) always came out to greet us.
Two people will be in the main room with you, the dentist and the dental assistant. The dentist will do all the work, x-rays, checking, and cleaning. It's unlike in the US where there is a dental hygienist who does the above and when everything is done, the dentist comes in to do a check.
The dental assistant in Australia sanitizes the tools and holds the suction hose. At no point will she be doing any procedure in your mouth.
If your dentist has modern tools, you wouldn't have to deal with teeth being cleaned using those surgical-looking tools. Usually, unless there are hardened plaques, there should be only water blasts and soft scraping.
Fluoride is already included. It's not a separate cost. If you don't want fluoride as part of your dental care, you can tell your dentist.
For general cleaning, your appointment should generally be about 30 to 40 minutes unless other patients are running late.
When you're done, the reception who can sometimes be the dental assistant, will take your insurance card and print out the breakdown and cost of the procedures. The insurance part will already be deducted. Unlike in the US, there is transparency on how much the insurance will pay. Unlike in Singapore, at least in the clinic we visited, prices are set, there is no range.
For procedures requiring specialists, your dentist will recommend them to you. Otherwise, you can buy whitening teeth gels from your dentist or have mouth guards done by your dentist.
Dental car in Australia is a relatively painless procedure, depending on your sensitivity and pain tolerance. The hardest part I've experienced is getting an appointment. When we first moved to our second dentist, we could get an appointment in a week's time. As the years went by and the clinic became more popular, I had to book a month in advance since my dentist worked at the clinic on certain days.
If you've experienced frustration in your country having your teeth looked after, chances are you'll get better treatment in Australia. =)