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Dental Insurance vs Discount Dental Plans

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Dental Insurance vs Discount Dental PlansYour teeth are an important part of your appearance and health.  Sadly, I recently read that over 40% of Americans don’t have dental insurance.  Many don’t have discount dental plans either.

Dental services are normally not covered by a traditional health insurance plan or Medicare.  Additionally, in an effort to cut costs, many employers have either gotten rid of or reduced the dental insurance benefits they once provided their employees.

Dental care can be very expensive, especially as people get older.  It is therefore very important to consider your dental options and obtain appropriate care for you and your family.

Fortunately, there are options for people with no employer provided dental insurance or an employer provided plan that’s not quite up to scratch.

The most common options are:

1.  Obtain an individual dental insurance plan

2.  Use discount dental plans

Dental Insurance Plan

Dental insurance, whether purchased on your own or obtained through your employer, isn’t really your typical insurance.  It’s probably closer to a maintenance plan than real insurance.

For example, with health insurance, you generally pay for a certain amount of your annual medical expenses in the form of a deductible before the health insurance company pays a dime.  After your annual deductible is met your health insurance company then covers most or all additional medical costs incurred that year and you pay little more, if any, out of pocket.

With dental insurance, it’s the opposite: the insurance company pays for semi-annual cleanings, xrays, and other costs up to a certain annual maximum dollar amount (usually a very low amount, in the $1,000 to $2,000 range), after which you pay for everything out of pocket (or wait until the following plan year for the additional care).

One serious drawback of dental insurance plans, whether individually purchased or provided by your employer, is that they have a relatively low annual maximum payout, oftentimes $1,000 to $2,000.  These maximum payouts haven’t changed in decades and would likely be in the $5,000 to $8,000 range had they kept up with inflation.

An expensive dental procedure or two could easily exceed this amount, and you would have to pay the difference out of pocket.  For example, a root canal could cost $1,000, and a crown could set you back $1,500.  People with a low $1,000 maximum annual payout could easily be paying money out of pocket if either or both of these procedures were required.

Insurance is generally used to hedge against events that although rare are financially devastating when they do occur.  Dental insurance does not give you that kind of protection since you are only covered up to $1,000 to $2,000.  To be fair though, there isn’t as much danger of being wiped out financially by dental costs as there is with health costs, death, disability, long term care, etc.  Additionally, only a relatively small percentage of people with dental insurance exceed this maximum payout each year.

You can compare a number of different dental insurance policies and find the best one for you at eHealthInsurance.

Shopping around for dental insurance can lead to some significant savings.  Make sure you compare all your options and find the most appropriate plan for you.

Discount Dental Plans

Discount dental plans are an increasingly popular alternative to traditional dental insurance.  With discount dental plans, you generally pay an annual membership fee in the $75 to $200 range (or alternatively, small monthly fees) in exchange for access to discounted care from participating dentists.  Discounts generally range between 20% and 60% on services such as cleanings, root canals, implants, teeth whitening, and crowns.

There may be several advantages to using discount dental plans over traditional dental insurance.

  • They may allow for discounted services on treatment that normal dental insurance does not cover, such as cosmetic procedures.
  • There is generally no cap on benefits with discount dental plans.

You can compare a number of discount dental plans at DentalPlans.com.  

Although there are definitely some discount dental plans that are best avoided, there are some really good ones out there too.  Do your homework and find a good plan that is appropriate for you.  Make sure you understand what services are discounted and which aren’t.  Also make sure you are happy with the selection of participating dentists in your area.

Traditional Dental Insurance or Discount Dental Plans?

This decision will depend on a number of factors, including the amount of dental services you need each year.  Compare how much the dental service you require will cost you using dental insurance vs. a discount dental plan.

There are other factors to consider as well, such as the selection of dentists and your preferences.

Dental insurance might be most appropriate for people who have healthy teeth and gums, won’t max out their dental insurance benefits, and can afford the copayments.

Discount dental plans are probably most appropriate for people who want to be eligible to receive discounted dental services in exchange for a small annual payment.

Only you will know which is more appropriate for you.  Consider your dental needs, compare all your options, and then go with the best option for you.

What are your thoughts on dental insurance and discount dental plans?  Which do you think is more appropriate for you and why?  Leave a comment below!

Image: michaeljung/bigstock


{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Devan December 13, 2012, 7:42 pm

    Right on point. Great post. Most people don’t know about this critical thing.

    • LD December 14, 2012, 6:58 am

      Thanks for the comment Devan. I completely agree with you. Many people don’t understand all of their dental options, especially discount dental plans. People without employer provided dental insurance may think they are out of luck, but there are other options out there.


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