Comparing Dental Insurance and Dental Savings Plans

When it comes to dental care, there are many different ways to pay for your services.

The most common option is to enroll in a dental insurance plan, often available with health insurance coverage through an employer. These insurance plans vary widely and involve factors like copays, deductibles and reimbursement claims. Dental savings plans are another option, though they function more like discount programs than insurance.

Both of these options can help you lower the costs of your dental procedures, though there are a few important differences between them. Depending on your circumstances, one option may be better for you than another. It is important to compare insurance and savings plans thoroughly before you decide to enroll, as you are generally locked into your choice for the whole year. Learn more about these two dental coverage options below.

Dental Insurance

Dental insurance plans operate very similarly to health insurance plans. This means that each month, you agree to pay a premium in order to receive more affordable rates on dental services.

The exact rates offered and services covered vary depending on the type of plan you select. In general, any preventative care visits, such as yearly cleanings, are completely free under health insurance plans.

With many plans, the insurance company pays the dentist on your behalf for these services. However, some options require you to pay out-of-pocket and submit a claim to the insurance company for reimbursement.

Additional visits or services often involve copays or other fees. Likewise, more extensive services may require you to pay all or a portion of the cost until you reach your deductible, much like with health insurance. Some plans have a set maximum that you pay, while others agree to pay a percentage of your expenses.

The exact details of your dental insurance coverage depend on the type of plan you enroll in. In general, the three most common plan types include:

  • Healthcare maintenance organization (HMO) plans.
  • Preferred provider organization (PPO) plans.
  • Dental indemnity plans.

Types of Dental Insurance

HMOs, PPOs and dental indemnity plans all operate fairly differently. These differences can greatly affect the monthly premiums you pay, the procedures covered and even the doctors you are allowed to see. For example, HMOs are often considered the more affordable options, but they are much more restrictive about the doctors covered.

When you enroll, you must select a dentist within the insurance provider’s established network. Any visits you make to out-of-network providers is paid out-of-pocket. These plans also include a set copay for different procedures.

PPO plans also work with a network of dentists. Yet unlike with HMOs, you are not limited to this network when choosing your doctor. This means you can continue seeing your current dentist and still receive coverage, even if he or she is out-of-network. However, you can expect to pay higher copays and fees for out-of-network care.

This is because in-network dentists are locked into certain prices for services, which are negotiated by the insurance provider. As a result, you are likely to receive care at lower costs than if you stick with your out-of-network dentist. Either way, the insurance company agrees to pay a percentage of your dental costs depending on the doctor you see and the type of procedures you receive.

Dental indemnity plans also allow you to seek treatment from any dentist. These plans are designed to cover a percentage of basic dental services. However, any costs that are over the plan’s maximum must be paid out-of-pocket. Since these dentists are not contracted into a network, they are allowed to set their own prices.

It is important to compare the details of each type of dental insurance in order to decide which, if any, is right for you. Some plans are better suited for individuals, while others work best for families.

Employers frequently offer more than one option in order to let you find the best coverage. However, you may find that none of these options are ideal for your situation. In this case, you may want to consider an alternative, such as a dental savings plan.

Dental Savings Plans

Dental savings plans are often referred to as discount plans because their main purpose is to offer discounted rates on a variety of dental services. They do not pay any dental expenses on your behalf. In fact, they operate more like membership discount programs than insurance plans.

This also means that they do not include premiums, deductibles or any of the other hassles insurance plans do. Savings plans typically cost between $100 and $150 annually for enrollment and earn you between 10 and 60 percent discounts on your dental care.

This payment option can be highly beneficial, especially if you know you will need several procedures over a small period of time. It allows you to receive discounts on the care you need without paying expensive premiums throughout the year. However, it is important to find out what your local dentists charge for various services. That way, you can determine how much a savings plan can actually save you, and decide if this is the best option.

Other Ways to Save on Dental Care

The dental insurance and savings plans are not the only ways to afford the care you need. Some dentists also offer their own discounts when you agree to biannual visits, refer your friends and family or pay in cash. New patients often receive certain discounts as well.

For example, preliminary x-rays are often free because the dentist needs an overall picture of your dental health in order to provide accurate care. It is beneficial to talk to your dentist about what he or she is able to offer you, in order to maximize your savings during each visit.

If you live near a dental school, you can also seek out discounts there. Dental students gain valuable experience from practicing different procedures on willing patients. In return, they offer these services at highly discounted rates. Some communities also offer discounts on dental care for low-income residents as well.