A dental discount plan may be worth considering if you don’t have dental insurance. These discount plans aren’t dental insurance. They are a type of membership, similar to a warehouse club, but rather than getting bargains on food or clothing, you get discounted prices on dental services.
With discount plans, members pay an annual fee up front instead of monthly installments or premiums like traditional dental insurance. You are given a dental discount card, which you present at each dentist visit to get the lower prices on services.
These plans don't reimburse the dentists as regular insurance does. Instead, you pay the dentist directly. But remember, you must use a dentist in your plan’s network in order to get any discounts. Otherwise you’ll pay full price.
What sort of discounts can you expect with a dental card? Of course it will depend on where you live and which plan you choose.
Since the services are provided by a network of dentists who have agreed to charge less, you could get discounts on services. However, all services may not be available with these plans, so be sure to compare the list of services against any other plans you’re considering.
With insurance, cleanings and exams are typically covered at 100%. For any other dental work, you’ll pay a percentage of the service out of pocket, often between 20% and 50%. All services count toward your annual limit.
An advantage to a discount plan is that there is no limit to the amount of care you can get during the year. You will pay out of pocket for every discounted service, but you can use as many services as you like each year.
For people with few dental problems and a relatively healthy mouth, a dental discount plan may save money over traditional insurance. But if you have ongoing dental issues, or a medical condition that affects your teeth or gums, you may end up saving more with insurance. (As long as you stay under your plan’s annual limit.)
Only you can decide. But if you fall into one of the following categories, you may want to consider a dental discount card:
- You need very little dental work
If your mouth is healthy and you only need your twice-yearly cleanings, you may save money with a discount plan.
- You need more dental work than is covered by an insurance plan’s maximum limit
If you need a lot of dental care and know it will be more than your current plan’s maximum limit, you could join a discount dental plan to help cover those extra costs. This means you may have to pay for both plans, but in the end, you may end up saving money. Do the math first.
- You have health issues that can be complicated by dental problems
People with certain health conditions may need to be especially careful with their dental care. For example, untreated gum disease can worsen health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.1 A discount plan may be better than no coverage at all.
- You are older
Medicare doesn't cover most dental care, so if you’re 65 or older and have Medicare, discount dental plans for seniors may make sense, especially if you’re on a tight budget. More than 70% of those age 60 to 79 have some form of cardiovascular disease,2 so getting some type of coverage may be a good idea. Plus, the risk for severe gum disease or periodontitis increases with age.
If you're able to pay the annual fees up front, and fall into one of those categories, a dental discount plan might mean the difference between a healthy smile and an unhealthy one.