How and why discount dental plans work

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Copyright 2006 Donovan Baldwin. The first thing to know about discount dental plans is that they are NOT insurance and cannot be viewed in quite the same way. That having been said, you should be aware that some states may choose to treat them under much the same rules as insurance, and that may blur the differences between them.

WHAT ARE DISCOUNT DENTAL PLANS?.A discount dental plan is what its name implies. It is a plan, or group, that can be voluntarily joined by you, the customer, and by the providers, i.e. dentists and/or oral surgeons. You will generally be charged a fee, usually monthly or quarterly, for your right to continue to participate as a member of a plan. This membership will entitle you to discounted services at the offices of the dentists or other providers who have agreed to offer their services to members at those discounted rates. While the discount is generally shown as a percentage off of the provider’s standard fees, some plans may include set prices for some procedures. A reputable plan should be able to provide members with a comprehensive list of procedures and discounts (or prices) along with a list of providers.

NOTE: If selecting a discount dental plan, it is important to check their list of providers to find out if service is even available in your area.

NOTE: Since most savings are in the form of discounts applied to the provider’s normal fee, some shopping around among providers may be of value. Providers often offer services at rates that may be higher or lower than the dentist down the street. They have merely agreed to discount their “usual” charges.

WHY WOULD A DENTIST OFFER DISCOUNTED DENTAL SERVICES?.Although we would like to think of dentists and other health care providers as part of the “medical profession” and subject to lofty ideals and codes, they are also small business owners. However, such professions often have some ethical or legal restrictions on how they may advertise, and advertising is the lifeblood of any small business. By joining a discount medical plan as a service provider, a dentist can increase his or her immediate exposure to a group of potential clients that might otherwise have passed them by. A side note on this is that if the plan member is satisfied with the services they receive, they will probably return to that provider again and again, and will also possibly recommend the dentist to friends and neighbors who are not plan members.

WHEN ARE FEES DUE UNDER DISCOUNT DENTAL SERVICES?.Unlike some forms of insurance where claims are filed, percentages and deductibles are reckoned and a final patient cost arrived at, under most discount dental plans the financial transaction consists of an immediate discount on the normal fee with the member paying the dentist the due amount at time of service. While any dental fee, even a discounted one, can be pretty hefty, there is no waiting and no uncertainty as to probable final cost.


Let’s face it. Dental services are expensive. Many of us have experienced the time in our lives when we put off even basic dental services simply because we did not think we could afford it at the time. For many of us, this proved to be the wrong decision because a small problem which could have been caught and repaired early at a relatively “cheap” cost later became a big, expensive problem. For families with children, this scenario is not at all uncommon. Most discount dental plans will allow for relatively inexpensive checkups and services such as teeth cleaning. This will allow families, particularly large families, to keep their costs down by catching small problems before they become big problems.

One additional value is that these plans are often billed month-by-month and can be entered into and dropped as needed should your health benefits position change.

NOTE: A drawback to these plans is that not all dentists are members. If you have an established relationship with one dentist, he or she might not be on the plan and you may have to begin all over with a new dentist. Also, in some areas there may be a large selection of dentists, but only a relative few on the plan. Again a reminder – do your homework and check out the availability of providers before putting money into any plan.

IS A DISCOUNT DENTAL PLAN WORTH IT?.That IS a tough question. Like insurance, investments, and annuities, there is no way of knowing what the future will bring. While the actual out-of-pocket cost of the plan itself is easily calculated, cost to savings evaluations cannot be made until after the fact. A discount dental plan is usually purchased with the idea that the membership costs are relatively small in relation to the amount of money which might be saved should the historically expensive services of a dentist be needed.

ARE THERE OTHER CONSIDERATIONS THAT WOULD IMPROVE THE VALUE OF A DISCOUNT DENTAL PLAN?.Some discount dental plans have bundled their plans with other services. These may be offered for additional fees, or may be included in the price of the plan itself. This may vary from plan to plan, and it would be the task of the consumer to compare the benefits of any plan before making a commitment.

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