What Is a Dental Discount Plan?
Dental discount plans, also known as dental savings plans, are membership-based programs that provide individuals and families with access to dental care at reduced rates. While this may sound like insurance, these savings programs more closely resemble grocery stores or wholesale memberships.
With a discount card, you can only secure modest dental savings on pre-named services from compliant dentists. Though they vary from plan to plan, applicable discounts can range from preventative techniques like cleanings and exams to complex dental procedures like crowns, braces, or even teeth whitening.
Table of Contents
The Importance of Affordable Dental Care
While routine dental care significantly reduces the likelihood of cavities, gum disease, and other major health issues, the ACA does not require employers, Medicare, or other insurance providers to offer dental benefits. Therefore, many Americans who want comprehensive dental coverage must purchase standalone insurance plans out of pocket.
Private dental policies typically cover 100% of preventative care and charge modest copays for routine restorative procedures. However, due to the high price of premiums and deductibles, the CareQuest Institute for Oral Health estimates that nearly 91.4 million lower-income adults may lack dental coverage by 2024. Without alternatives like discount programs and community health centers, many people would not have affordable access to essential dental services like cleanings, exams, and fillings.
How Do Dental Discount Plans Work?
After purchasing a dental savings plan, you will receive a membership card valid for partially discounted services at participating dentist’s offices. Whereas insurance companies reimburse dental bills on your behalf, discount plan members pay dentists directly out of pocket for each covered service.
These programs do not impose deductibles, copayments, annual limits, or waiting periods and often offer additional perks not found in traditional dental coverage. However, available benefits will vary depending on your specific plan and personal eligibility.
You must complete an application and pay an annual membership fee to get a dental discount plan. While most applications get approved, you should still sign up for a plan with coverage in your service area or at a preferred dentist’s office.
To continue receiving benefits, you must apply and pay for another discount plan when your current one expires at the end of the year.
Though benefits vary from plan to plan, dental savings programs can provide anywhere from 10% to 60% discounts on the following services:
- Preventative: Routine cleanings, X-rays, and exams to monitor and maintain proper oral hygiene.
- Basic: Minor procedures like fillings, extractions, or periodontal scaling to treat cavities and gum disease.
- Major: Complex and lengthy procedures that often require anesthesia or surgery, such as crowns, implants, or impacted wisdom tooth removal.
- Orthodontic: Smile and bite-correcting hardware like braces and retainers.
- Cosmetic: Non-medical procedures like teeth whitening and veneers that only serve aesthetic preferences.
- Add-on benefits: Some plans include “lifestyle” perks like roadside assistance, prescription discounts, and wellness programs.
What’s Not Covered
Unlike standard dental insurance, dental programs will never cover 100% of routine preventative care. Likewise, your dentist will only reduce costs for procedures explicitly named in your membership contract. Savings plans also tend to set more stringent provider networks than dental HMOs or PPOs, leaving members to pay full price for any out-of-network dentist or specialist care.
How Much Do Dental Discount Plans Cost?
Average dental discount plans charge an annual membership fee between $100-$200 and require no deductibles or copayments for covered services. By comparison, standard dental insurance policies can cost between $400-$600 in yearly premiums and impose pre-coverage deductibles, coinsurance, and annual maximums on benefits.
However, dental insurance policies pay a much higher percentage of covered services, usually around 100% for preventative care and 80% for restorative dental treatments like fillings. In contrast, dental savings plans only cover a modest percentage of their listed benefits.
For example, if you needed a $200 filling and your discount plan offered a 30% discount, you would still need to pay your dentist $140 directly out of pocket.
Should You Get a Dental Discount Plan?
Before purchasing a dental discount plan, weigh all the potential benefits and drawbacks to ensure one suits your unique needs.
- You already have relatively healthy teeth and gums. People who require minimal dental care would likely save money by choosing a discount program over insurance.
- You need more dental treatment than your insurer will provide. Purchasing a secondary discount plan will ensure some continuation of benefits if you exceed your insurance policy’s annual maximum.
- You are older than 65. Since Original Medicare does not include dental coverage, some recipients purchase specific dental discount plans for seniors to access affordable care.
- You cannot afford dental insurance. Discount plans still help reduce the cost of essential dental procedures for a fraction of the annual cost of traditional insurance.
Dental discount plans offer many of the following benefits:
- Reduce dental costs without charging monthly insurance premiums.
- No benefit waiting periods.
- No annual maximums or deductibles.
- No set coinsurance or copayment.
- No paperwork or claims to file.
- You can choose between different savings programs, each with a unique list of dental discounts from various providers.
- Some plans include additional benefits like roadside assistance, identity protection, wellness programs, and prescription discounts.
- You use a dental discount plan to reduce the cost of services not included in your insurance policy or that exceed its annual coverage limit.
- Some plans include coverage for cosmetic dentistry, such as teeth whitening and contouring.
However, before purchasing a dental discount plan, consider the following drawbacks:
- You must pay an annual membership fee.
- Unlike dental insurance, discount plans only partially cover preventative care.
- Dental savings programs only reduce costs on preapproved procedures from participating dentists.
- You have to pay dentists directly out of pocket for every discounted service.
- If you require more than just routine exams or cleanings, discount programs could ultimately cost more than paying annual premiums on a more conventional insurance policy.
- Plans expire at the end of the year.
- Dental discount plans tend to set more stringent provider networks than conventional dental insurance.
How to Get a Dental Discount Plan
Follow these steps to secure a dental discount plan that aptly suits your needs:
- Research and compare plans online. Consider your unique dental priorities and budget and look for a plan with an affordable membership fee, access to preferred dentists, and discounts on your required services.
- Talk to a licensed insurance agent. These professionals can help answer questions, offer second opinions, and point you toward favorable policies you might have yet to discover.
- Fill out your application and pay your annual membership fee. After clearing your payment, you will receive a dental discount card. Present it at any participating dentist’s office to immediately begin receiving reduced-cost services.
Alternative Ways to Reduce Dental Care Costs
If you cannot afford a dental discount plan or insurance, explore the following cost-saving alternatives:
- Dental schools: Many colleges and universities offer discounted or sliding scale rates on services provided by practicing dental students.
- Negotiating with your provider: Politely explaining your financial situation can occasionally result in a dentist discounting your bill or allowing you to pay in installments.
- Community health centers: These local institutions offer sliding-scale medical and dental care to lower-income people in underserved areas.
- Health Savings Accounts: HSA contributions earn tax-deferred interest and can pay for eligible health and dental services, such as fillings or wisdom tooth extractions.
- Emergency funds: Having a little money set aside can help ease financial stress in the wake of unexpected dental expenses.
All in All
For a small membership fee, dental discount plans can help pay for many of the same services as dental insurance without the monthly premiums, copayments, or deductibles. However, if you require frequent or complex dental care, these saving programs could ultimately cost more out of pocket than the annual cost of traditional dental benefits.
Before settling on a plan, talk to your preferred dentist or a licensed insurance agent to ensure you secure coverage that aptly suits your unique needs and budget.