When paying for dental care, there are three primary options: making a claim with dental insurance, paying cash, or using a dental savings plan. If your health insurance doesn't include dental care, or you're uninsured and you'd like to save money at the dentist, a savings or discount plan could be the answer. Learn how these plans work, to help decide if they are right for you.
What Is a Dental Savings Plan?
A dental savings plan, also referred to as a dental discount plan, isn't health insurance. Instead, it's a benefit program that allows you to take advantage of savings and discounts when paying for dental care. Similar discount programs cover health care services beyond dental care.
Rather than paying premiums as you would with health or dental insurance, you pay a membership fee to join a dental savings plan. This fee is typically less than $150 per year for a family.
Each time you visit the dentist, you show the health care provider your savings card to receive a discount on eligible dental care services.
The terms of a dental savings plan, what's covered, and the amount of discount you may be eligible for can vary greatly, depending on the plan. For example, services may be grouped into one of three categories:
- Preventive treatments, such as cleanings and dental exams
- Basic treatments, such as fillings, extractions, and X-rays
- Major treatments, such as implants or orthodontia
Dental savings plans can be offered by insurers as an alternative to dental insurance. Humana, for example, offers a Dental Savings Plus Plan that offers 20% to 40% paid coverage on preventive care services, with discounted fees for basic and major care services obtained through an in-network provider.
You can purchase a dental discount plan directly from a plan provider but it's also worth checking your employee benefits package. Your employer may offer a dental savings plan as an alternative to dental insurance.
Makes dental care less expensive
Can fill gaps for those without dental insurance
No waiting period to use for treatment
No deductibles or copays
No caps on number of dental visits per year
Doesn’t cover 100% of the cost of any service
Limits on whom you can seek care from
Pros of Dental Savings Plans
The chief advantage of joining a dental discount plan is saving money on dental care. The amount of money you can save depends on the plan and what's covered. Making dental care more affordable is important if you don't have dental coverage as part of your insurance plan. According to the Centers for Disease Control, only 50.2% of adults aged 18 to 64 have private health insurance that also includes dental coverage.
There are also other reasons why you might consider a dental discount plan instead of dental insurance. For example, unlike traditional dental insurance, there may be no waiting period before you can begin exercising your benefits through a dental savings plan.
There are no deductibles or copays to worry about, as you might with dental insurance. Additionally, you may have unlimited access to services throughout the year with a dental savings plan, while a dental insurance plan might cap the number of covered visits you can schedule.
Read the fine print carefully in a dental savings plan agreement to determine whether cosmetic dentistry or emergency dental repairs are covered.
Cons of Dental Savings Plans
While there are some good reasons to consider a dental discount plan, there are some potential downsides.
First, these plans typically don't cover 100% of any service, including preventive care. That's different from dental insurance, which may cover you for two cleanings and check-ups per family member enrolled in the plan each year. That means you'll need to budget for how you'll make up the difference in what's owed once the discount has been applied.
Second, you may be limited on whom you can seek care from, depending on the plan. If you purchase a dental savings plan from an insurance company, for example, it may restrict you to seeing dentists in its network. Or, if you enroll in a dental discount plan that's offered by your dentist’s office, you may not be able to transfer the discount plan to another dentist if you decide to change providers.
Who Should Consider a Dental Savings Plan?
Dental savings plans may be a better fit for some people than others. If you're wondering whether you should try a dental savings plan, here are some scenarios in which one might make sense:
- Your dental care needs are minimal: If you have good oral hygiene and don't need care beyond check-ups and cleanings, then you could save money with a discount plan option.
- You have extensive dental work: A dental discount plan could also work for you if you have dental insurance but it doesn't fully cover all of your care needs. Having both dental insurance and a dental savings plan could help you save money when it comes to paying out-of-pocket expenses for dental care.
- You need dental care while you're between jobs: If you become unemployed and lose your dental insurance, then a discount plan could help fill the gap until you're eligible to enroll in your new employer's insurance plan.
- You're on Medicare: Medicare covers medical care but not most dental care. If you're on Medicare and need preventive care, basic, or major dental services, a dental discount plan could help keep your costs to a minimum.
Do Your Homework on Dental Savings
If you think a dental care discount plan could work for you, compare savings plan options carefully. Check the fees, the range of services covered, and the providers allowed by the plan, as well as the estimated discount amount for preventive, basic, and major services. This can help you narrow down which dental savings plan might work best for your needs and budget.