As a veteran, you may have relied on Veterans Affairs (VA) health care for the bulk of your medical needs. But what about your oral health? Veterans need dental care, too – and not all veterans may qualify for dental care from the VA, whether they realize it.
If you’re currently looking for dental insurance for veterans of the Army, Marines, Navy, or Air Force, you typically have three main options: VA dental care, VA Dental Insurance Program (VADIP), or individual dental insurance. Each of these options can help veterans and their families pay for routine and emergency dental care, but their costs, coverage amounts, and eligibility requirements vary.
Dental care through VA health care
VA health care typically covers health exams, health education, and immunization along with inpatient hospital services like surgeries and kidney dialysis¹. Those who qualify for VA health care also may have access to services like home health and elder care, along with prosthetics, prescriptions, and medical equipment. Some may also qualify for dental care benefits.
Veterans that qualify, can get free VA health care for number of illnesses or injuries determined to be related to their military service². Some veterans that qualify, may be exempted from paying copays based on their income level, or other special eligibility factors. Visit the Veteran Affairs website for more details.
Who’s eligible for VA health care benefits?
You may be eligible for VA health care benefits if you³:
Served in the active military, naval, or air service and didn’t receive a dishonorable discharge
Served 24 continuous months or the full period for which you were called to active duty (if you enlisted after September 7, 1980, or entered active duty after October 16, 1981) OR were discharged for a disability, hardship, or early out
Are a current or former member of the Reserves or National Guard, who were called to active duty by federal order, and completed the full period for which you were called to active duty
Does VA health care include dental?
Even if you do qualify for VA health care benefits, you still may not be eligible for VA dental care. The VA has strict requirements about who qualifies and who doesn’t and you are encouraged to contact their nearest VA medical center or clinic to find out if they qualify for dental care benefits. Legislation that would help provide more access to dental care for veterans is currently in the works, but right now only about 8% of veterans qualify for dental care through the VA⁴.
If you do qualify for VA dental care benefits, you may be able to have some or all your dental care covered through VA. Your eligibility depends on various factors, including your military service history, your income, and your current health, and living situation.
You may qualify for certain dental care services if:⁵
You have a service-connected dental disability or condition for which you receive compensation
You’re a former prisoner of war
You have one or more service-connected disabilities rated 100% disabling
You’re unable to work and you get disability compensation at the 100% disabling rate due to service-connected conditions
Veteran are encouraged to contact their nearest VA medical center or clinic to find out if they qualify for dental care benefits.
How to apply for VA health care benefits
If you believe you meet all or some of the eligibility requirements, you can apply for VA health care benefits online or in person at your nearest VA medical center or clinic. Here’s what you’ll likely need⁶:
Social security number
Copy of military discharge papers
Financial information for you and your dependents
Most recent tax return
Account numbers for any health insurance you currently have, including Medicare, private insurance, or employer-provided insurance
Dental care through the VA dental insurance program
Those who do not qualify for VA dental care may be able to purchase dental insurance at a reduced cost through the VA Dental Insurance Program (VADIP)⁷. This is a private dental insurance option available only for eligible veterans.
VADIP offers discounted private dental insurance coverage to veterans and their dependents who meet certain requirements. Unlike VA dental care, enrollment is voluntary and VADIP enrollees are responsible to pay any applicable copays and premiums.
Still, not all veterans are eligible to purchase VADIP plans, either. To purchase dental insurance through VADIP, you must either be enrolled in the VA health care or are the current or surviving spouse or dependent child of a veteran or service member, and you're enrolled in the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the VA (CHAMPVA)⁸. If you’re a veteran who’s ineligible or not enrolled for VA health care, you won’t be able to purchase a VADIP plan.
Even if you are eligible for a VADIP dental insurance plan, there are a few things to consider before enrolling. VADIP dental insurance program typically offers a limited number of plans to choose from.
Dental care through individual dental insurance
Veterans who don’t qualify for VA dental care or VADIP dental insurance can still purchase affordable dental insurance. In fact, some veterans who do qualify for those other options may still benefit from opting for individual dental insurance instead.
Individual dental insurance gives veterans the freedom to shop around and choose a plan to suit their needs. It’s a quick, straightforward process that’s easy to navigate. Here are a few reasons you may want to consider purchasing individual dental insurance:
All veterans can purchase individual dental insurance. It’s a quick, straightforward process that requires little paperwork to enroll. If you purchase individual dental insurance through Guardian Direct®, you could get approved for a policy within minutes.
2. Coverage amounts
Individual dental insurance coverage varies from plan to plan, allowing you the flexibility to choose a plan that best suits your budget and the level of coverage you’re most comfortable with. You’ll also be responsible to pay your monthly premium and any co-pays and co-insurance costs that may apply.
3. Choice of dentists
Individual dental insurance plans often have large networks of dentists to visit. If you choose to purchase private dental insurance, you’ll have the option of choosing a Dental Preferred Provider Organization Plan (DPPO). This type of dental plan allows you to see almost any dentist and still receive full or partial coverage for applicable services. This may be a good option if you and your kids have a favorite dentist you’d like to continue visiting.
4. Dependent coverage
Depending on the plan, individual dental insurance plans will typically cover an individual and the rest of their immediate family, though at an additional cost.
Dental problems that affect veterans
Although veterans are more likely to seek preventative care than civilians, smoking rates among veterans are higher than among civilians⁹. Smoking can lead to various oral health problems. Despite being at a generally lower risk for poverty, veterans are at greatly increased risk for homelessness compared to the general U.S. population¹⁰. This can also negatively affect oral health. While good oral hygiene practices are the same for veterans and civilians alike, oral diseases and dental problems to watch out for include:
Anyone can get cavities, but veterans tend to have more risk factors for developing cavities because of their service. While on active duty, many tend to neglect a healthy oral hygiene routine involving regular teeth-brushing and flossing. Depression and PTSD are two of the most common mental health issues former service members face, which can cause them to grind their teeth. That grinding can weaken tooth enamel and cause small cracks that can turn into cavities when bacteria and plaque get inside of them¹¹.
Dental problems that occur with age
Veterans like civilians, also need regular access to dental care as they age. The natural aging process takes a toll on people as they get older and can lead to significant dental problems. Adults over 65 are more likely to develop tooth decay, gum disease, tooth loss, and oral cancer¹².
What is the best dental insurance for veterans?
If you’re a veteran who doesn’t qualify for VA dental care, dental insurance can help you reduce the cost of taking care of your oral health. This can allow you the flexibility to choose your dentist, access emergency dental care when you need it, and enjoy high-quality dental coverage for your entire immediate family.
This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.
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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice.(exp.09/22)