Should You Use Discount Dental Plans?

dental work on dental patient in dental office

Discount dental plans (sometimes called a dental savings plan or membership plan) are great alternatives for people who don’t have dental insurance coverage and still want to save money on their regular dental services. And there are a lot more perks than you probably realize.

What Are Dental Discount Plans?

 A dental discount plan is basically a replacement for dental insurance. It is a specific type of program that certain dentists choose to offer with specific carriers, eliminating the “middle man” of a 3rd party dental insurance company.

When patients enroll in a dental savings plan, they get immediate access to discounted services and treatments from their participating dentist’s office. But there are even some big advantages of dental discount plans over traditional dental insurance plans because there aren’t usually any deductibles to meet or “annual maximums.” In other words, you never run out of discounts regardless of how much treatment you do or don’t need.

Dental discount plans may be nationwide and accepted by multiple dental offices, or they can be a private membership plan that’s only offered through that independent dental practice.

What Types Of Dental Services Are Covered?

Although dental discount plans can vary from one company or practice to the next, they typically include 100% coverage on all preventative services (like cleanings, exams, and X-rays) and a flat percentage-based discount on restorative, surgical, or elective procedures. Keep in mind that the terms may be different depending on which type of dental savings plan you enroll in.

For the most part, once you pay the enrollment fee you don’t pay anything extra for your checkup appointments. But if you do require specific treatments or want a smile makeover, the dental office applies the discount to your treatment plan right then and there. You don’t have to worry about insurance claims, estimates, or surprise bills coming in the mail. Everything is clear-cut and easy to understand, which can make working with a dental discount plan even easier than traditional dental insurance.

You can use your dental plan for:

 Who Uses Dental Discount Plans?

 National and private dental savings plan programs are great for just about everyone. Since they are different from dental insurance, they’re easier to enroll in and understand the benefits. You won’t need someone to interpret the fine print for you.

Anyone can enroll in or use a dental discount plan. Well, almost anyone. They’re made for people who don’t have dental insurance or who need better coverage than what their insurance policy currently has to offer. Just note that you usually can’t combine both of them or pick and choose which one covers what; it’s one or the other.

If you don’t have insurance coverage through your employer and are thinking about enrolling in a private insurance plan, you’ll probably have better luck saving money with a national or private discount plan instead.

Typically, you’ll have one of these categories to enroll in:

1. Individuals Benefits

Regular/Preventative

For preventative care appointments, if you have healthy gums and no history of periodontal disease. It includes checkups, preventative services, and discounts on any upcoming treatments.

Periodontal

For people with a history of gum disease or who currently have periodontal infections. This option usually costs slightly more than a regular individual plan.

2. Families Benefits

This option is like a regular individual benefits plan but for multiple people living in the same household. Family benefits include checkups for adults, children, access to preventative care, and discounts on restorative, cosmetic, or therapeutic treatments. There will likely be a fixed fee per household member, depending on the size of your family, their ages, and the type of plan you’ve selected.

3. Seniors Benefits

If you’re retired or qualify for senior benefits, you may be able to enroll in a discounted membership plan for your dental care. Not all dental discount plans offer senior packages, so you may need to enroll in a regular individual benefits program in some cases. Senior benefits may have added savings for dentures or similar treatments that you can’t get under Medicaid.

Dental Discount Plans vs. Dental Insurance 

 From a big picture point of view, sometimes it’s easier to use a dental savings plan than it is dental insurance. Especially if you don’t have any type of coverage and are considering enrolling in dental benefits. Since a dental discount plan includes a flat discount on your appointments, you can actually save more money if you need a lot of dental work. On the other hand, an insurance policy will eventually max out, where you use up all of your coverage even if there is a treatment that still needs to be performed.

But can you use a dental discount plan if you already have insurance? Only if you don’t have dental coverage. You typically cannot combine them because of the ways insurance laws work. Every state is different, so just be sure to ask your dental office for a specific yes or no answer.

7 Benefits Of Discount Dental Plans

 There are plenty of advantages when it comes to using a dental savings plan over a traditional insurance policy. For the most part, they can save you plenty of money. It’s a win-win for you and the dental office because they aren’t contracted with an insurance carrier. And when they aren’t contracted with insurance companies, they can pass the savings on to their patients without the “oversight” of an insurance provider saying what is or isn’t covered by the patient’s plan. That means you can get the same discount on dental veneers that you would on dental fillings, and you don’t have to cross your fingers that you’re meeting deductibles, waiting periods, or staying within your annual allowance amounts.

Best of all, you don’t need your insurance company’s permission to get the treatment you need. 

1. Your Network

National discount dental plans have participating dentists throughout the country who accept their discounted packages. Instead of locking in with a certain dental insurance company, the dentist can become a network provider for the savings plan and pass those savings on to their patients. And if you move, you can get the same discount at any other participating dental office without having to re-enroll or change your coverage. Some specialty practices also participate, so you have a long list of dentists to choose from.

2. No Waiting Period

With traditional dental insurance plans, coverage on dental care may not be available for up to a year. With dental saving plans, you can use your benefits right away without any waiting period.

3. Lower Member Prices

The fee you pay to sign up for a dental discount plan is sometimes called a membership fee. It’s basically an annual fee, or it can be broken up into small monthly payments for individuals or families. Once you’re enrolled as a member, you immediately get lower prices on all of the dental procedures from your participating dentist’s office. Everything has an added discount, which is NOT available to people who are NOT members of the plan. It’s like secret hidden savings on all of your dental work.

4. Renewals

If your savings plan works out for you, you can easily renew it each year. If you don’t like it, you can sign up for another one! No contracts are forcing you to stay enrolled in the program, so if your dentist changes or you move, you can just try out a different plan. And if, for some reason, you decide you like your old insurance better than a discount dental plan (which is highly unlikely), you can cancel your renewal whenever you want.

5. Procedures Covered

Although each company is different, most discount dental plans cover every single service. If you need orthodontic treatment or want elective dental veneers, you can save on those services. In contrast, people using insurance can’t use their benefits to cover cosmetic treatments. If you want a specific type of treatment like Invisalign or All-on-4 implants, just make sure to ask your dentist if it’s included in the savings plan before you sign up. It probably will be, but you want to make sure (especially if it’s a private membership plan.)

6. Annual Limits

Here’s a big one: maximum annual allowables. That’s the catchphrase for “Your insurance company won’t pay any more than $1,500 for treatments within a calendar year.” If you have a discount or membership plan, there are no limits to consider. You can plan a $200 teeth whitening treatment, a $3,500 Invisalign case, or a $10,000 smile makeover and get the same discounted rate on every service without worrying about your benefits “running out.”

7. Coverage Cost

The price you pay for dental procedures with a discount plan is about the same amount that your insurance company pays the dentist if you’re using insurance. But it costs you less because you’re not paying co-pays, deductibles, or extra fees. You’re enjoying the immediately discounted amount right then and there, knowing exactly how much of your treatment is covered. More than likely, you’ll save money from the moment you use your plan for preventative services.

8. Amount of Paperwork

This benefit is worth a million bucks in and of itself. There are NO insurance claims to file. You don’t have to wait for your dentist to call your insurance company, “estimate” what’s covered, or get billed for the difference when your insurance decides they won’t pay for something. The billing and insurance claims process can easily drag out for weeks or months, depending on the type of procedure you’re getting.

Having a membership program or dental savings plan is like an immediate coupon that you use when you check-out at your appointment. Insurance can be a huge headache, especially if you need a lot of dental treatment or have “bad teeth.” A membership program takes the pain out of the process.

How Do Dental Savings Plans Work?

Let’s say you’ve already picked your dentist's office and are ready to enroll in their private dental discount plans, OR you choose a provider who accepts a national dental savings plan. Now what?!

1. Buy A Dental Plan

Pay the enrollment fee and put in all of your family’s information. Once you’ve purchased the package, you’re ready to get started. The hardest part will be deciding which one to buy! If you have a favorite dentist who offers a membership plan through their office, the hard part is already done for you. Otherwise, compare national savings plans and see which dentists are on their list of providers.

2. No Waiting Period

Now that you’re enrolled, you have immediate discount privileges. You don’t have to wait for 90 days or six months before you schedule your treatment as many insurance companies require. Book your appointment whenever you want to, as soon as you’re ready.

3. Only Pay For The Treatments You Need

Your flat discount will be applied to any treatments you need to schedule. They can be medically necessary like periodontal care or elective like porcelain veneers. Your dentist then automatically applies the discount to your treatment plan (the paper that lists out the services you need), and you pay the reduced amount. 

4. Never Run Out of Benefits

Unlike your dental insurance plans, you don’t have to worry about maxing out once you hit a certain dollar figure. If you need additional treatments, your plan will still cover them. 

Perks Of Discount Dental Plans 

Certain national dental savings plans also have partnering benefit packages that include services for vision and hearing. So, if eyeglasses or hearing aids aren’t included in your insurance package, you may be able to get a discount on those as well. This perk is usually only applicable if you enroll in national plans since private memberships from your dentist’s office can only be used there and nowhere else.

Adding vision or hearing coverage to your dental discount plan might be automatic, or it could include a small additional fee to upgrade the program you’re already enrolled in.

You won’t have to wait as long to get treatment if you’re using a dental membership plan. Some insurance companies make you wait for a pre-approval or prior authorization letter before you’re even allowed to have the treatment performed!

What Is The Best Discount Dental Plan?

The best types of dental discount plans are those that include your preventative services, all general treatments, and even specialty services. Specialty treatments can be things like braces and Invisalign, root canals, periodontal treatments, wisdom tooth removal, and pediatric dentistry, among others.

Keep in mind that if you’re enrolling in a private dental membership plan (available through your dentist’s office) you’ll only be able to use your discount at their office. If they don’t offer the type of specialty procedure that you want or need, you’re up a creek without a paddle.

On the other hand, if you’re enrolled in a national dental discount plan, there may be specialty practices that also participate in that program. 

Ultimately you need to do your research when it comes down to

  1. Which type of dental care you want/need
  2. The dentists in your area who participate in that dental plan

In that sense, it’s a little more like insurance than you might have thought.

Are Dental Discount Plans Worth It?

Absolutely. If you don’t have dental insurance or are thinking about dropping your coverage because it hardly pays for anything, dental discount plans can save you a boat load of money. Especially if you’re planning on a smile makeover or need a lot of dental treatment. The easy-to-understand discounts take the guesswork out of insurance claims, and you never run out of benefits. Plus, you usually get 100% coverage on your checkups, similar to a traditional insurance policy. Many dental offices are converting to private dental savings plan programs because it’s a win-win for both them and their patients.