What Is a Dental Discount Card?

Definition & Examples of Dental Discount Cards

Dentist and hygienist examining a patient's teeth


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Dental discount cards are an alternative to dental insurance that can help you save on your dental care. Using one is more straightforward than insurance and may be a good option for some patients.

If you have extensive dental needs, dental insurance might not cover more than you pay out in premiums plus out-of-pocket costs. It is important to carefully look at how much a policy covers and how much you have to pay to get the most out of the benefits. Dental discount cards do not have quite the same limitations as dental insurance, but they also do not provide the same type of coverage.

What Is a Dental Discount Card?

Dental discount cards are widely available to consumers and can help to reduce the cost of dental procedures. There are a number of different discount plans available on the market. Many major insurers even offer their own dental discount memberships as an option you can choose in lieu of dental insurance. These programs result in instant discounts at participating providers 

How Dental Insurance Cards Work

The cards work through a network of dentists that agree to reduce the cost of their services to cardholders. This sets the rate of service and can reduce the rate considerably—anywhere from 10% to 60% on average. Some plans offer a percentage off of the amount the dentist usually charges while other plans set the fees for a specific amount of money.

Unlike many insurance policies, dental discount cards don't carry a deductible, copay, or out-of-pocket maximum. You'll simply have a flat discount and pay for services out of pocket.

You'll typically pay an annual fee for the discount card, often $150 at most. Once you've joined, your discounts are good at any dentist in the network for the following year.

How to Choose the Best Dental Discount Card

If you are considering a dental discount plan, look carefully at several different options and consider:

  • The discount network: Be sure your plan covers your preferred provider or at least one with a good reputation. Taking the time to look for dentists before you purchase a card can save you a lot of hassle later on and make it easier for you to receive the care you need.
  • Service costs: Some plans will reduce the cost of cleanings but increase the cost of X-rays or repair work. If you know you need a lot of dental work, look at the overall cost of the services you'll need before you purchase the plan.
  • Annual fee: If a plan charges an enrollment fee of $100, it may not be the deal that you thought it was.

Although you have to guestimate, try to add up your total projected costs for a year with several plan options, so you can choose the least expensive overall.

How to Use the Card Effectively

If you choose a plan that will discount the fees by percentages, take the time to compare prices. Some dentists will charge a lot more for work than others. A few minutes making phone calls can make a big difference in how much you pay out of pocket.

The nice thing about dental discount cards is that you can begin using them immediately. This means that you do not have a waiting period for major dental work, which you may have for some dental insurance programs. Additionally, adding family members does not usually cost as much money.

Another important strategy to use is to take good care of your teeth. In addition to regular brushing and flossing, go in for regular check-ups to catch minor problems and deal with them before they become larger and more expensive. As you age, you may experience more issues with your teeth, and it is important to have a solid plan in place so that you can deal with them cost-effectively.

Finally, since you'll be paying for your dental costs out of pocket, include the cost of dental care in your monthly budget. This will make it easier to afford dental care when you need it.

Dental Discount Card vs. Insurance

Dental discount plans and dental insurance are not the same, and you should carefully weigh both before choosing the best option for you.

Dental Discount Card Dental Insurance Plan
Small annual fee Larger monthly premium
No deductible, copays, maximums May have deductible, copays, maximums
Pay all costs out of pocket Pay only your portion out of pocket, insurance pays the rest
Offers services with flat or percentage-discounted rates Insurance might pay doctor directly or reimburse you
Effective immediately May have a waiting period

Alternatives to Dental Discount Cards

There are other ways to save on dental services besides discount cards or insurance plans. Many dentists offer discounts to new patients—or to any uninsured patient who is willing to pay in full upfront. If you have a dental school near you, it may even offer reduced rates on services. It helps to weigh all of your options before you decide how to cover your dental needs. A good rule of thumb is this: The more people you have in your family, the more insurance is likely to be a wise choice rather than a discount card.

Key Takeaways

  • A dental discount card provides you with discounted services at any provider within the discount network.
  • You'll usually have to pay a small annual fee for a discount card, which will be less than a dental insurance premium.
  • It's important to compare prices and fees across different discount plans, as well as any discounts your dentist already offers before making a choice.