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Discount Dental Plans

By Insurance Industry Expert & Author
Updated on

Separating Fact from Fiction

Discount dental programs, whether advertised as a “plan” or a “card,” have prices so low that it gives many a consumer hesitation because their prices seem “too good to be true.” For example, there is one discount dental program (Careington 500) that charges only $8.85 a month. But what would such a small amount of money really buy? Is it fair to assume low-cost means low-quality?

We'll answer those questions along with:

  • Dental services covered by discount programs
  • The rate of discount for participating dentists
  • The differences between discount programs and a dental insurance plan

A dental discount plan is not insurance despite many people assuming it is. Instead, it is a fee-based membership program that allows enrollees to obtain dental services at discounted rates from a group of dentists who belong to the discount plan's network.

Dental Services Covered by Discount Programs

Discount programs typically offer discounted prices for the same dental services covered by traditional dental insurance plans. These services include:

  • Annual exams
  • Teeth cleanings
  • X-Rays
  • Amalgam fillings
  • Composite resin fillings (ie. white fillings)
  • Periodontal maintenance
  • Simple tooth extraction
  • Surgical tooth extraction
  • Root canal
  • Crown

Services Often Uncovered in Traditional Service May be Covered in a Discount Plan

One of the lesser known advantages of dental discount cards is that the program may include discounts on services often uncovered in traditional dental plans. Examples of such services include:

  • Teeth whitening
  • Braces (adult as well as child)
  • Dental implants

Discounts on these services alone may justify the cost of the discount plan.

The Rate of Discount for Participating Dentists

Price reductions for dental procedures vary by discount plan. Depending on the plan and the particular service, you may save 20 percent to 60 percent from the retail cost. Dental costs are normally paid at the time of service unless the patient has worked our a payment arrangement with the dentist.

It should be noted that dental PPO plans, which is the most common form of dental coverage, often determine their out-of-pocket costs by charging an enrollees a percentage of the total cost of the service. For minor services like a filling, the percentage may be low such as 20 percent. For a major service such as a crown, the charge may be 50 percent of the service cost or higher.

The Difference between Discount Programs and Insurance

Aside from not being a form of insurance, discount programs have many differentiators from the majority of dental plans. For example, discount plans have:

  • No deductibles
  • No waiting periods
  • No plan maximums
  • No restriction on the number of times a service is used during a year

With respect to waiting periods, it is interesting to note that access to discounted dental services may be available in as little as two days after enrollment within the discount plan.

These features make discount plans especially appealing to consumers requiring immediate major dental work or who expect to have many procedures during the course of a year.

The Many Names of Dental Discount Programs

Dental discount plans have many names that refer to a similar value proposition. These names include:

  • Dental discount plan
  • Dental savings plan
  • Discount dental plan
  • Dental discount card
  • Discount dental program

What matters more than the name of the coverage are the:

  • Price reduction percentage
  • The location of the dentists (in other words, are they convenient to visit)
  • The services on which the discounts apply

Concluding Thoughts

Four percent of dental benefits are provided through dental discount programs, according to the American Student Dental Association (ASDA). Many industry watchers expect dental discount plans to increase in popularity as product awareness increases, more dentists join these networks, and plan maximums on traditional dental insurance continue to resist growth.