Dental Savings Plans
Separating Fact from Fiction for Dental Discount Plans, Dental Discount Cards, & Discount Dental Programs
Dental savings plans, whether advertised as a "program" or a "card," have membership fees 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 savings 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 participate in the discount plan’s network. Over one hundred thousand dentists accept dental savings plan enrollees across the United States.
A dental savings plan typically offers discounted prices for the same dentist services covered by comprehensive dental insurance. These services include:
- Annual oral exams
- Teeth cleanings
- Amalgam fillings
- Composite resin fillings (ie. white fillings)
- Periodontal maintenance
- Simple tooth extraction
- Surgical tooth extraction
- Root canal
In this way, a dental savings plan distinguishes itself for lost-cost insurance where only preventive or preventive and basic dental care is covered. Additionally, dental savings plans do not have waiting periods that delay access to expensive dental procedures.
Services Often Uncovered in Traditional Insurance May be Covered in a Savings Plan
One of the lesser known advantages of a dental savings plan is that the program may include discounts on services often uncovered by traditional dental plans. Examples of such services include:
- Teeth whitening
- Braces (adult as well as child)
- Dental implant
The savings on these services alone may justify the cost of the discount plan.
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 a dentist’s retail prices. 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.
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 maximum benefit limits on insurance spending
- No restriction on the number of times a service may be 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 Savings Plans
Dental savings plans have many names that refer to a similar value proposition. These names include:
- Dental discount 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 local and convenient to visit)
- The services to which the discounts apply
Four percent of dental benefits are provided through dental savings plans, according to the American Student Dental Association (ASDA). Many industry watchers expect these 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.