Are Discount Dental Plans Worth The Expense?

Copyright 2006 Donovan Baldwin

To tell the truth, there is not one good answer to this question. There are a lot of good answers and a lot of bad answers, depending on your situation and point of view.

Here's what I mean.

If you have really great dental coverage already, a discount dental plan is worthless to you. It would be throwing money away to buy one. If you have some coverage, but not that great, a discount dental plan may actually save you money when combined with your coverage. Not always, but it CAN happen. If you have no dental coverage at all, then not having some sort of dental plan can be like playing Russian roulette. I have a lot of friends who sell discount dental plans, and most can come up with a story about someone who held on to the info (brochure, business card, flyer) for months or even years, not doing anything about it until they had a toothache or needed dental surgery. Suddenly they rummaged through the kitchen drawer until they found the information and called the broker. The dental plan which had not been of value until then suddenly became priceless.

So, let's accept the fact that for SOME people, not everybody, but some, a discount dental plan MIGHT be of value. Let's see if we can find some ways to see if it's something we might like to have, and what would be its value.

First of all, a discount dental plan is NOT insurance. In most cases, certain dentists have chosen to have themselves listed under the particular plan. In return for having their listing regularly shown to a large list of potential patients, they agree to offer reduced rates on their services. They consider this to be a form of advertising in a way. If someone has the plan, they will look through a list of dentists which is smaller than the list in the phone book. If they like the service, they will probably bring their immediate family members in or recommend the dentist to friends or other family members.

How big are the discounts in these dental plans?

Frankly, that is something that will vary from plan to plan, but savings up to 75% or 80% are not unusual for SOME services. Be aware, however, that NOT EVERY service the dentist provides will be discounted that deeply. Some services may have much smaller discounts. The upside to this is that under many of these plans, some services, such as an annual checkup, may be free, and services such as an annual teeth cleaning may be free or at extremely low rates. The value of this lies in the fact that many people, particularly if they are strapped for cash or have large families, may put off such services because of the expense, and wind up paying huge fees later for fillings, extractions, root canals, or other oral surgery. Some people may feel that just heading off expensive problems as a result of being able to afford preventative measures may make almost ANY discount dental plan worth the expense.

Most people, however, want to be able to place some sort of dollar value on the services. Since they are dealing with the potential costs of something that MIGHT happen, and have no real way of knowing what procedures might be required in various situations, it is difficult to say what actual out-of-pocket expenses might be in the future.

It IS possible to see what a discount dental plan will cost and figure out exactly what the out-of-pocket expense will be. If a given plan costs $10 a month, obviously the annual cost is going to be $120.00. You will have to balance this against the possibility of having to use the plan, in which case your out-of-pocket costs will be the $120.00 plus the fees you actually pay. Again, some people will see the ability to afford checkups and cleanings as a means of decreasing the total possible costs due to the ability to catch problems at the root…no pun intended…before they become big, expensive problems. This will almost certainly be a factor for families with children.

The bottom line is, that after reviewing the costs and looking at the possibilities of having to hand out large sums of money for dental services, plan will be compared to plan based on what each can provide the person paying the membership fee.

Since discount dental plans are a business, many have improved their position by adding such services as vision care, prescription cards, and other services, usually at no increase in the membership fees. A potential purchaser will want to take this aspect into account as well. Although they may be paying more for plan B, they may be getting more services than with plan A.


As pointed out, under a discount dental plan, member dentists have merely agreed to discount their normal fees by whatever the agreed upon percentage is which is offered by the plan. Some dentists will charge more or less for some services than other dentists, but the discount will be the same, so some shopping for dentists or other providers may be needed.

Purchasers of discount dental plans simply buy the right to get those discounts. They will still be responsible for all the fees to the dentist after the discount has been deducted. Since most reputable plans require a dentist to register his or her fee schedule, it can often be easily detected if a dentist is overcharging under the plan.

Since discount dental plans are simply discounts on cost of services, most will not have any problem stepping in right in the middle of an ongoing dental problem. There may be some exceptions to this, however. In particular, braces are normally priced on the expectation of a time being involved, and most discount dental plans will not require a new dentist to offer a discounted rate for a procedure of this type that was not originated in his or her office.

Also, since discount dental plans simply offer a discount at the dentist's office, there is usually no paperwork to file, and there are no qualifications to be met other than paying the fee as it comes due each month.

Another beneficial feature of discount dental plans is that many allow members to include other household members, no matter the relationship. This is of great benefit to those who are not in traditional “married” status, or who are not immediate family members. Adding a member to some plans can be as simple as sending a letter to the plan's office. All of this varies from plan to plan, however, so be sure to check out the plan's information.

Discount dental plans are easy to understand and applications are simple. Where filling out an insurance form can be confusing, and the coverage even more so, discount dental plans usually require a minimum of information, and the benefits offered are easily understood, as they are usually just a list of treatments, and the fee or discount associated with that treatment.

Whether or not a discount dental plan will be of value to an individual will be based on a lot of factors, but the most important one will be how well that particular plan suits the needs of the member.

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