Should I Bill Dental or Medical?

While you likely find yourself focusing on fewer patients and more emergency care, it’s a good time to understand how medical billing can allow patients with active infection in the oral cavity to seek the treatment they need.

Forms need to be filled out correctly, and you must carefully follow each insurer’s rules and processes. Within those rules, you must also learn how to paint a compelling picture of medical necessity.

To receive reimbursement from medical and dental insurers, you need to make a case that proves that dental treatment is necessary for patients’ health and well-being. To make your case, you need to explain your decision process in terms that a medical/dental insurer can understand, using International Classification of Disease Version 10 (ICD-10) codes, Current Dental Terminology (CDT) codes and Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes. Quality radiographs and legible written documentation are necessary for insurers to make an accurate benefit determination. Professional reviewers will request diagnostic or postoperative radiographs concerning other procedures to assist them in making their benefit determinations. Only clinical notes are acceptable legal documentation for clinical review. If you use abbreviations, please make sure you have an original template with all of them listed in your compliance manual.

To succeed in your medical billing claims, you’ll need to document:

  • The primary presenting situation.
  • Any secondary, supporting diagnosis.
  • The diagnostic code for the treatment you plan.
  • Surgical preauthorization.
  • Medical necessity, in the form of a letter of medical necessity (LMN).
  • Support from the patient’s primary care physician, in the form of a supporting letter of medical necessity.
  • The procedures performed at each surgery location.

You give the medical insurance company a complete picture of the care you’ve provided with this information. It makes a compelling case that the issue you treated was a medical issue, not simply a dental one, and that it should be eligible for reimbursement by the patient’s medical insurer.


You’ve probably dealt with preauthorization in your own life, with your own family. It’s usually fairly easy to contact the insurer by phone, explain the procedure and the date and receive preauthorization for treatment. While some insurers will provide retroactive preauthorization, the surgeries you’re performing don’t happen on a moment’s notice. Have your office call for preauthorization when the surgery is scheduled. Being proactive about preauthorization will save headaches for you and your patients later on and can make the difference between the acceptance and rejection of a medical claim for dental surgery.

When you contact the insurer, you should also collect information on what coverage your patient has and how the insurer will reimburse for surgery. It’s essential that you get information about copays and deductibles up front, so you can help your patients plan for their part of the cost.

The letter of medical necessity

In the LMN, you have a chance to outline your case for treatment. You must use ICD-10 codes properly in this letter, or the insurer won’t accept your reasoning and will not pay for the surgery. In general, you should limit yourself to four diagnostic codes in the letter. List the codes in order, from the most important to the procedure to the least important. For instance, you might start with periodontal disease, but also mention the patient’s heart disease and type II diabetes, since these conditions both complicate the surgery and make treatment more urgent.

You can also expand, in writing, on other contributing factors from the patient’s medical history. For instance, root canal treatment may be related to an earlier auto accident, or tooth loss may be complicated because of a history of cancer.

The process of choosing codes can be confusing, but often it’s simply a matter of telling a clear, accurate story. For instance, consider implants. The insurer wants you to answer two main questions about medical necessity. First, you have to explain why the patient lost the tooth. In general, the cause is either going to be an accident or bone loss. Then you need to explain why the tooth must be replaced. Usually the reason is either that they’re experiencing a loss of function or that tooth replacement is necessary because of some other medical condition, such as cancer.

In addition to your LMN, it can be helpful to get a supporting letter signed by your patient’s primary care provider. This provides the insurance company with more evidence that your procedure is necessary. Remember, you’re trying to build an ironclad case for your treatment plan, so that the insurer understands that treatment is necessary and that your treatment addresses the patient’s problems.

Filling out a claim form: tricks of the trade

When you reach the point where you need to fill out the medical claim form, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it, and it’s not covered in the form’s instructions. Insurers pay claims for procedures at a given surgical site in the order they’re listed on the form. For instance, the first procedure listed may be paid at 100% the second at 75% and additional procedures at 50%. So, if you list the procedures in the order they occurred, you may lose money.

Instead, list the procedures for each surgical site in order from the most expensive to the least expensive procedure. This will help you maximize your reimbursement from the insurer.

Always double-check your codes before submitting a form. Take the time to read over the patient information as well. Typos and other errors can cause the insurer to reject your claim and delay your reimbursement.

Include supporting documentation with your claim. Laboratory reports or diagnostic imaging can help prove your case. Send copies of your LMN, any medical review results and preauthorization. It doesn't matter if the insurer already has these documents somewhere in the system. Submitting them with your claim can speed up processing.

Medical billing is an art, a science, and a learnable skill

You and your office staff members may benefit from training so that you can get the most from your medical billing efforts. A crash course in anatomy, medical terminology and surgical modifiers and qualifiers will help your billing department prepare and proofread claims so that insurers accept them and reimburse in a timely manner.

Your patients deserve to receive the treatment they need when they need it. Learning to work with medical insurers can be an important step as you strive to protect their health and improve their lives.

About the author

Ms. Taxin shares her expertise in dental to medical cross-coding, advanced dental billing, code and fee positioning errors and administrative and wellness systems through lectures and workshops, as well as her consulting company, Links2Success. A former practice manager and hospital department administrator, she is also an adjunct professor at New York University College of Dentistry. She can be reached through her website at