Traditional dental insurance is often perceived as the best way to pay for
dental expenses. And while dental insurance is an excellent option when
sponsored by your employer, it may not be very cost effective when you are
paying for it.
Most individual dental insurance plans require you to satisfy waiting
periods and deductibles before having major and sometimes even minor
restorative work done. Discount dental plans help make maintaining good
oral health a lot more affordable. And, with no waiting periods or
complicated coverage procedures, dental discount plans are about as simple
as you can get.
discount dental plans work? As we become aware about our oral health,
there has been a demand for affordable dental care. Discount dental plans
are the newest option for those without coverage. These dental discount
plans are much cheaper than traditional dental insurance, and also offer
almost equal coverage for all dental work, even cosmetic procedures not
covered by standard indemnity dental plans.
The catch is that dental discount plans are not really insurance at all.
They work more like club memberships, where the cost of membership (your
"premium") earns a steep discount on any club service (dental work) you
buy. The discount normally applies to all dental office services performed
by an approved "plan" dentist, but no procedure is covered completely.
the ins and outs of discount dental plans? When it comes to dental
discount plans, the good news is afford ability, breadth of services, and
immediate coverage. The bad news is greater financial risk and
responsibility on your part.
the monthly cost of most discount dental plans is very low compared to the
price of a traditional dental insurance or indemnity insurance policy,
there's more allover financial risk with a dental discount plan. No care
is totally covered, so an expensive procedure will mean a big
out-of-pocket expense, even with the dental plan. And even when undergoing
a low-cost service (like cleaning), you'll still be expected to pick up a
part of the cost.
on the plus side, discount dental plans are effective immediately - so are
many procedures you need now will be covered as soon as you buy the dental
discount plan. Traditional indemnity and/or insurance dental plans usually
impose a waiting period of between 6 and 18 months for any major
procedure. The last "pro" is that all good dental discount plans should
come with a money-back guarantee.
of dental plan pays the dental office (dentist) on a traditional
fee-for-service basis. A monthly premium is paid by the client and/or the
employer to an insurance company, which then reimburses the dental office
(dentist) for the services rendered. An insurance company usually pays
between 50% - 80% of the dental office (dentist) fees for a covered
procedures; the remaining 20% - 50% is paid by the client.
plans often have a pre-determined or set deductible amount which varies
from plan to plan. Indemnity plans also can limit the amount of services
covered within a given year and pay the dentist based on a variety of fee
schedules. Some typical features of these plans:
deductibles before coverage begins (well-designed plans don't apply the
deductible to preventive services)
Probationary periods on certain procedures that last up to a year
dollar limit on benefits
your own dentist
average monthly cost: $15 to $25
Companies selling these plans are regulated by state insurance
insurance plans, also known as "capitation plans," operate like their
medical HMO cousins. This type of dental plan provides a comprehensive
dental care to enrolled patients through designated provider office
(dentist). A Dental Health Maintenance Organization (DHMO) is a common
example of a capitation plan. The dentist is paid on a per capita (per
person) basis rather than for actual treatment provided.
Participating dentists receive a fixes monthly fee based on the number of
patients assigned to the office. In addition to premiums, client
co-payments may be required for each visit. Some typical features of these
premiums (some require you to prepay a year's worth)
Co-payments for office visits
preventive or routine care
must select from an approved network of dentists
have an initial enrollment fee
average monthly cost: $5 to $15
Companies selling these plans are regulated by state insurance
Preferred Provider Organizations
true insurance plan, a Preferred provider organizations ( PPO) falls
somewhere between an indemnity plan and a dental HMO. This plan allows a
particular group of patients to receive dental care from a defined panel
of dentists. The participating dentist agrees to charge less than usual
fees to this specific patient base, providing savings for the plan
If the patient chooses to see a dentist who is not designated
as a "preferred provider," that patient may be required to pay a greater
share of the fee-for-service. A group of dentists agrees to provide
services at a deeply discounted rate, giving you substantial savings — as
long as you stay in their network. Unlike the more restrictive DHMO,
though, you can go out of network and still receive some benefits. Some
typical features of these plans:
must stay within the approved network of dentists or pay higher
deductibles and co-payments
average monthly cost: $20-25
Companies selling these plans are regulated by state insurance
of dental plan is not insurance. The managing organizations have
negotiated with local dental offices to establish a set price for a
particular dental procedure and offer deep discounts (some up to 70%) off
the regular ADA pricing code.
has several advantages over traditional dental insurance plans, namely,
there are no exclusions for pre-existing conditions. This allows a patient
to receive immediate coverage for work without meeting any waiting period
care plan now coming into vogue is the direct reimbursement plan. This is
a self-funded benefit plan — not insurance — in which an employer pays for
dental care with its own funds, rather than paying premiums to an
insurance company or third-party administrator.
You, the patient, pay the
full amount directly to the dentist, then get a receipt detailing services
rendered and the cost, which you show to your employer. The employer
reimburses you for part or all of the dental costs, depending on your
Your company might reimburse 100 percent of your first $100 of dental
expenses and then 80 percent of the next $500, and 50 percent of the next
$2,000, with a total annual maximum benefit of $1,500. Or it might
reimburse only 50 percent of your first $1,000, resulting in a $500 yearly
Some typical features of a direct reimbursement plan:
you nor your employer pay monthly premiums
to choose any dentist
employer cost: depends on the number of employees and benefit
Benefits usually capped at $500 to $2,000 annually.
Dental care is quite
different than medical care. Major illness can strike at any time and
the costs can be enormous. Most dental disease is preventable and
treatment is predictable. Regular checkups and professional cleaning
can help maintain your oral health and so dental benefits are written
to encourage patients to seek preventative care in order to prevent
more serious dental problems.
What do you
look for in choosing a plan?
Does the plan
give you the freedom to choose your own dentist or are you restricted to a
panel of dentists selected by the insurance company?
If you have a family dentist with whom you are satisfied, consider the
effects changing dentists will have on the quality or quantity of care you
receive. Because regular visits to the dentist reduce the likelihood of
developing serious dental disease, it's best to have and maintain an
established relationship with a dentist you trust
Who controls treatment
decisions--you and your dentist or the dental plan? Many plans
require dentists to follow treatment plans that rely on a Least Expensive
Alternative Treatment (LEAT) approach. If there are multiple treatment
options for a specific condition, the plan will pay for the less expensive
choose a treatment option that may better suit your individual needs and
your long-term oral health, you will be responsible for paying the
difference in costs. It's important to know who makes the treatment
decisions under your plan. These cost control measures may have an impact
on the quality of care you'll receive.
Does the plan cover
diagnostic, preventive and emergency services? If so, to what extent? Most dental plans
provide coverage for selected diagnostic services, preventive care and
emergency treatment that are basic for maintaining good oral health.
the extent or frequency of the services covered by some plans may be
limited. Depending upon your individual oral health needs, you may be
required to pay the dentist directly for a portion of this basic care.
Find out how much treatment is allowed in any given year without cost to
you, and how much you will have to pay for yourself.
Examination----once per dentist
Examinations----twice per year
x-ray survey----once every three years
bite-wing x-rays----once per year
teeth cleaning----twice per year
treatment----twice per year
those under age 18
corrective treatment is covered by the dental plan? What share of the
costs will be yours? While preventive care
lessens the risk of serious dental disease, additional treatment may
be required to ensure optimal health. A broad range of treatment can
be defined as routine. Most plans cover 70 percent to 80 percent of
such treatment. Patients are responsible for the remaining costs.
Examples of routine care include:
care - amalgam and composite resin
fillings and stainless steel crowns on primary teeth
- treatment of root canals and removal of tooth nerves
- tooth removal (not including bony impaction) and minor surgical
procedures such as tissue biopsy and drainage of minor oral
- treatment of uncomplicated periodontal disease including scaling,
root planning and management of acute infections or lesions
Prosthodontics--repair and/or relining
or reseating of existing dentures and bridges.
major dental care is covered by the plan? What percentage of these costs
will you be required to pay? Since dental benefits encourage you to get
preventive care, which often eliminates the need for major dental work,
most plans are not generous when it comes to paying for major dental work,
most plans cover less than 50 percent of the cost of major treatment.
plans limit the benefits--both in number of procedures and dollar
amount--that are covered in a given year. Be aware of these restrictions
when choosing your plan and as you and your dentist develop treatment best
suited for you. Major dental care includes:
care--gold restorations and individual
of impacted teeth and complex oral surgery procedures.
of complicated periodontal disease requiring surgery involving
bones, underlying tissues or bone grafts.
including retainers, braces and/or diagnostic materials.
Implants--either surgical placement or
Prosthodontics--fixed bridges, partial
dentures and removable or fixed dentures.
Will the plan
allow referrals to specialists? Will my dentist and I be able to
choose the specialist? Some plans limit
referrals to specialists. Your dentist may be required to refer you to
a limited selection of specialists who have contracted with the plan's
third party. You also may be required to get permission from the plan
administrator before being referred to a specialist. If you choose a
plan with these limitations, make sure qualified specialists are
available in your area. Look for a plan with a broad selection of
different types of specialists.
If you have children, you may prefer a
plan that allows a pediatric dentist to be your child's primary care
dentist. Since specialized treatment is generally more costly than
routine care, some plans discourage the use of specialists. While many
general practitioners are qualified to perform some specialized
services, complex procedures often require the skills of a dentist
with special training. Discuss the options with your dentist before
deciding who is best qualified to deliver treatment.
see the dentist when you need to, and schedule appointment times
convenient for you? Dentists participating in closed panel or capitation
plans may have select hours to see plan patients. They may schedule
appointments for these patients on given days, or at specified hours of
the day, restricting your access.
dentist's fees for seeing you on weekends or during emergencies are high
than those the plan allows. You may be required to pay additional costs
yourself. If you select these types of plans, have a clear understanding
of your dentist's policies as well as the plan's dentist-to-patient ratio.
It's the best way to ensure your access to care is not unduly restricted
and that you are not surprised by higher fees the plan does not cover.
Insurance companies do their best to ensure that their policyholders
understand their plans and benefits, but it is up to an individual to
make sure that they are making informed choices. The
differences in the various plans you can choose from are:
type of third party funding the plan.
Methods of selecting a dentist.
Compensation of the dentist's services to you.
calculations of benefits and payments.
Understanding these differences will enable you to make an informed
decision when selecting a dental plan that is best for you or your