Dental Discount Plans VS Dental Insurance

Compare the options side-by-side and see what saves you more

Many people think dental insurance is the best way—the only way—to make dental care more affordable. But there’s another option: a discount plan like DentalSave, which negotiates reduced fees from participating dentists and passes them on to members.

For many people, DentalSave turns out to be the better deal. Keep reading to learn more about how dental discount and insurance plans stack up.

Insurance and discount plans defined

Dental insurance and dental discount plans work in completely different ways.

Dental insurance follows a familiar model that resembles health insurance—to a point. Discount dental plans are more like warehouse clubs, where joining up provides access to members-only savings:

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    Dental insurance

    You pay a regular premium (usually monthly). In turn, the insurance company covers part of the cost of dental treatment. You’re charged co-pays for many services and are responsible for any charges that exceed an annual cap (usually $1,000-2,000, far less than caps for health insurance).

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    Discount dental plans

    Instead of a premium, you pay an annual or monthly membership fee, which entitles you to discounts of 20-50 percent from participating dentists. You pay discounted rates directly to the dentist, but there’s no annual cap—you save big on every procedure you need.

The combination of premiums and low annual benefit caps make dental insurance look more like pre-payment plans than traditional insurance. It’s not always a great deal.

Similarities between insurance and discount plans

Though they operate on different models, dental insurance and
dental discount plans are alike in some ways:

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    Both involve participating dentist networks

    With DentalSave, you pay discounted rates directly to your dentist rather than having them routed through an insurance company. That’s one reason dentists like discount plans—they get paid right away with no paperwork.

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    Both set prices for their members

    Whether you have insurance or a discount plan, participating dentists will probably charge you a lower fee than they’d charge anyone who walked in and paid out-of-pocket without a plan.

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    Both require annual renewals

    Both kinds of plans need to be renewed annually. Insurance premiums, especially, may change every year as insurers seek to clear more in premiums than they pay out in claims.

Differences between insurance and discount plans

Though they operate on different models, dental insurance and
dental discount plans are alike in some ways:

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    Discount plan members pay dentists directly

    With DentalSave, you pay discounted rates directly to your dentist rather than having them routed through an insurance company. That’s one reason dentists like discount plans—they get paid right away with no paperwork.

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    Discount plan members pay for exactly what they use


    With dental insurance, it’s not uncommon to pay more in premiums than you get back—most people just don’t get that much dental care in any given year. Discount plan members pay directly for the services they receive rather than paying premiums to an insurance company.

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    Discount plans apply to all dental care

    All procedures are included under dental discount plans – from root canals to braces. No exclusions for cosmetic procedures or specialty care. And there’s no annual cap with discount plans—you save on your first dollar all the way through to your last.

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    DentalSave offers other discounts, too

    Every DentalSave membership also entitles you to discounts on vision care, hearing care, and prescription drugs.

Consider this comparison of features:

Feature DentalSave Insurance
Open to anyone Yes No
Immediate activation Yes No
No annual cap Yes No
Pay for what you use Yes No
No paperwork Yes No
Savings on every dental service Yes No
Savings on vision, hearing, and prescription services Yes No
Annual fee/premiums (individual) $99 $1,200

Choosing insurance, a discount plan, or both

So, how do you decide which option is right for you? Here are some things to consider:

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    How much care do you need?


    If you don’t expect to go to the dentist often or to need much care, you might save money with a dental discount plan. The same holds true if you need a lot of dental care and might surpass an insurance plan’s annual payment cap.

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    Do you have employer-provided dental insurance?


    Your personal costs for dental insurance are lower when an employer pays all or part of the premium. But you still might want to look at a discount plan for additional savings—again, especially if you need extensive or specialty care.

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    Can you use both?


    Some dentists will accept both your insurance and dental discount plans. Policies vary from clinic to clinic, so ask.

Side-by-side savings might surprise you. In a typical year, you could pay significantly less with DentalSave than you pay for insurance, even when the insurance company pays the full bill for your dental services:

DentalSave Insurance
Annual fee/premiums (individual) $99 $1,200
Two annual exams $57 $0
Two annual cleanings $102 $0
One filling $181 $0
Total $439 $1,200

Choosing insurance, a discount plan, or both

Only you can decide which route makes sense for you. Do a little research, crunch the numbers, and don’t take it from us: See these Nerdwallet and Lifehacker posts about dental discount plans vs dental insurance.

Once you decide on DentalSave, it takes only a minute to become a member and never pay full price at the dentist again. The savings start right away—all you do is show your card.