Dental discount plans -- what's the catch

So I’m way WAY overdue for some basic dental care. To give an idea, I haven’t had dental insurance since high school, except for all of a month where my dental kicked in a couple days before I got laid off – and of course every dentist I called had a waiting list at least 2 months long.

Anyway, I’ve noticed some gum recession on one tooth, and I suppose a professional cleaning might be in order before it gets much worse. (As a side note, is there anything I can do at home other than brushing daily which I always do? Is it reversible short of surgery?)

So I’m trying to find out how much this might cost me, and I run across these dental discount plans, which frankly sound too good to be true. A relatively small monthly or yearly fee, plus 60-80% off for most dental procedures. This seems like a money-loser for the plan administrators – even including the membership fee, it costs a lot less than straight-up out-of-pocket, unless I’m missing something. And what’s to stop me from signing up for a month, getting my deeply discounted cleaning, and then canceling?

So, going by “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” what’s the catch I’m missing? Where’s the hidden cost? Would it make more sense to try to set aside enough to pay out-of-pocket instead?


I had AFLACK for a while when I worked for an employer without a dental plan. They are a larger player in this independent dental insurance market. It sucked. They only gave small discounts for certain procedures and many weren’t covered at all. Only certain dentists took it. The premiums were expensive and I think it cost money overall. There is no way you are going to get a good deal by buying independent dental insurance. Almost all dental insurance would be a money loser for the consumer if not for the fact that employers often pick up most of the tab. If you can’t get it that way, it is better to just negotiate with your dentist, find a cheaper dentist, or start your own dental savings plan.

I think you have to go to one of “their” dentists, who I assume jack up their “regular” prices to accomodate a discount. Try to get the cost of services in an actual dollar amount from them, and compare it to see if you could work out a cash discount for your local dentist. The similar "health insurance’ cardsyou see advertised on cheap signs everywhere aren’t worth the paper their printed on, basically some healthcare providers will give you a discount with them, wheras typically you can negotiate some kind of cash discount with health providers anyway.

I am a dentist. Discount plans are not dental insurance. You pay for the plan they give you a list of dentists that will do a list of procedures for a set fee, hence discount. Some plans are better than others. Usually dentists agree to the plan as a type of marketing to get patients. Some dentists treat discount patients differently than full fee ones. (less desierable appointment times, refering out patients to specialists instead of doing the work even though they do the procedure on other patients etc.) Most dentist treat discount patients fairly.

I use Avia Dental Plan for general dentistry; meaning cleanings, exams, fillings, x-rays and all that. A couple of emergency crowns too, The only catch they have is that unless you want to be auto-renewed, you have to return your physical discount card to them 30 days before your coverage is due to renew along with your cancellation request. As long as you do that, no problem. To get coverage again, you can sign up online and be covered again in minutes so you can have a break in coverage. There is no pre-existing condition exclusion.

I have saved a lot of money using Avia, and my regular general dentist is on their list. Having all my wisdom teeth pulled cost me about half of what it would have cost without the Avia discount. With Avia, a cleaning, exam and full set of x-rays runs around $100. Without Avia, it would be closer to $300. The prices are not “jacked up” for non-Avia patients, and I know that because my regular dentist had been my dentist for at least 12 years before I heard of Avia. I needed some emergency work done and money was tight at the time, so when I called to make the appointment I asked if any of the dental discount plans were for real and they mentioned Avia. Now I don’t even need to have Avia any more, they just give me the Avia price when I go in.

To clarify, I’m not talking about dental insurance, which I know works the same as medical insurance and is a for profit enterprise by insurance companies. Where the insurance companies are making their payday is fairly obvious.

I’m talking about dental discount plans – the not-insurance kind. According to their advertising, you pay a membership fee, you get steep discounts, and that’s it. I find it hard to believe that anyone would go to the bother of creating this membership plan if there’s no money in it; yet as far as they seem to admit to, it would cost me less than self-pay and therefore the dentist and the plan administrator are, apparently willingly, making much less money off me than they could. This does not make any sense. Why would they do that?

In other words, I understand that these things exist, but I don’t understand why, I don’t understand how either the dentist or the plan administrator benefits from it, and I want to know what the catch is. Even as low-cost marketing – why would a dentist want to attract a customer worth less than half of a regular one, particularly one that will never be paying regular price? Where’s the hidden cost to me?

AFLAC sucks in general. Their coverage is crazy expensive and you only win if you lose. They have a cancer plan that’s great if you get cancer within a few years of paying premiums and die quickly. And the cancer coverage has its own premium of $32 per month or something. Same thing with catastrophic injury. You have to be injured early to wind up ahead of the game and you have to have the $28 per month catastrophic injury plan. AFLAC does not offer lifetime benefits, unless your life ends very soon after your claim. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but the premiums are ridiculous. The older age bracket you’re in, the higher the premium, in all cases.

If insurance is betting against yourself (and it is), then life insurance, major medical, homeowner/renters and auto insurance are equivalent to regulated gaming in Las Vegas. AFLAC is Three-card Monte in a back alley. Fuck AFLAC.

I have a “required” AFLAC meeting next month where they “treat” us to pizza and soft drinks before they get the opportunity to one-on-one us for the hard sell. I’m planning to boycott, but if I’m really forced to attend, I’m not eating their food or buying their bullshit. I’m in sales and I consider their tactics immoral and their “product” wretch-worthy. AFLAC will never see a goddamned red cent of mine. Fear-mongering, profiteering parasites, in my opinion. Fuck you and your “free” pizza AFLAC, I can afford my own lunch.

The sad thing is, the few people I asked last year all signed up for at least the most basic level, which was something like $30 a month and certainly didn’t cover anything dental. It was like, “If you get hit by a bus and incapacitated for life, we’ll give you $100 a week for up to 26 weeks! In cash!” Just once more for good measure, FUCK AFLAC! Wretched vermin.

Well plans make money by getting the monthy fee from the patient. If you sign up a million patients at $9.95 a month that is a lot of money. They don’t do much else other than provided the names to the dentists and the names of the dentists to the patients. Dentists accept the discount because it brings in patients that they otherwise wouldn’t have. The theory is that if you aren’t 100% booked a discounted patient is better than no patient. Hope that makes it more clear than my first post.

Without knowing your current age, that gives us fuck-all of an idea how badly you need dental care. Are you 60? 30? Just graduated high school last year?

Hi @Kaio-

I’ve been using discount dental plans for nearly 4 years now. There really is no catch. Dentist’s participate in plans as a form of marketing. People use sites like to search for dentist’s in their area and they are 10X more likely to see a dentist that accepts dental plans instead of paying full price. Performing discounted dental work is better than having no one to perform dental work on. On the site mentioned, you can find one of 100,000 dentists who accept your choice of 30 different plans. Discounts for each service vary and it’s always best to confirm with the listed dentist before making the appointment. They will actually do that for you over the phone. Hope this helps!

Where I live, the trick is it costs $800 a year, for $500 in coverage.

If you have the discipline, start a separate dental savings account. Slap some chunks of your pay in there, till you have nearly what you project your costs will be. After that, just determine to put $5-20 in weekly, and you’ll be set, in future.

And if you don’t have the discipline, now is a great time to learn an important and valuable skill that will serve you extremely well, the rest of your life. You will be patting yourself on the back, and feeling pretty darn smart, for years to come, (maybe even a little superior!) You can’t buy that for gold.

I had careington when I was in college and I thought it was great. I spent about $60-90 for an exam and cleaning, and it cost me about $45 to have resin fillings done. I had a full root canal for $800 ($400 for the root canal, $400 for the crown).

Now that I have dental insurance the prices I am being quoted are 3x what I paid under the discount plan. Plus I was told the dental insurer does not negotiate down prices (this was told to me by my dental rep when I asked if I could combine a dental discount plan with my dental insurance). One dentist wanted $220 per filling, when I have had fillings done on a discount plan, like I said, for $40-70. I don’t get how dentists make money doing that.

But yeah, I liked the plan I used. I looked at several and careington had the best prices. Plus many plans also offer discounts for vision, chiropractic, Rx, etc. The only problem is you may have to drive 30 miles to find a dentist.

Edit: I think dental insurance is very very overrated anyway. They cap treatment at $1000 a year. If the non-negotiated cost of an exam and cleaning is $150 or so, two of those a year is $300. That only leaves $700 a year for all dental care and if the dentist is charging $200 for a filling, by the time you get to 4 fillings you are spending your own money. If you need a lot of dental work you will probably come out ahead with a discount plan than you would with insurance anyway. A root canal can cost 2k on insurance (again, assuming the prices aren’t negotiated down. I was told they weren’t by my provider). So you are on the hook for 1k after the insurance spends 1k. On a discount plan you can just pay 1k out of pocket, same difference.

Missed the edit window. Here is the plan I used. The prices have gone down since college on some services, up on others.

$24 for a comprehensive oral exam, $34 for a cleaning. The prices on resin fillings went up (when I was in college a resin and an amalgam was the same price, at least the dentist I went to charged me the same so I picked resin). Now fillings are anywhere from $46-155. Evenso, that is still cheaper than I was quoted with insurance.

It’s not a matter of discipline, it’s a matter of having no money. September was the first time in maybe a year that I ended the month in the black (and that only because my BF was able to bring a few hundred in). Normally I need at least a couple hundred from savings. I owe my mom something like $3000 for several months when I was over a grand short. If I had money, I’d probably have dental insurance; I’d certainly have gone to the dentist before this. I need to have pay before I can “slap some chunks of it” anywhere. The crap job I’m working just cut my hours. October is going to be a lean month, unless I can find a second (or third) job.

We’re still in a recession, folks. I’ve been in the ‘working poor’ economic class for almost 5 years. Not everyone is middle income, and there are fewer of those these days than before. Kindly remember that when accusing people of being lazy. :rolleyes: It’s been in the news for years, there’s really no excuse not to be aware of this.

BTW, I DO have an HSA, I just can’t afford to put anything in it.

Thanks for the link. So my question is, is there anything to stop me from making an appointment, and then only paying the fee for the one month wherein my appointment is scheduled? Is there a cancellation fee of some sort?

Cuz, you know, 7 bucks plus 60-80% off services sounds like a hell of a deal.

No one accused you of being lazy. You are not the only person experiencing the recession, nor are you the only person who is ‘working poor’. There is no need to get defensive when someone is offering you an honest suggestion.

Good Luck to you, regardless.

Dental plans are charged by the year, not by the month in my experience. For a single person it usually runs $70-130 for 12-16 months. So I don’t think you can get it for one month, I believe you have to get a one year plan. If you and your SO get one it is about $130 for a year for both of you.

So I guess that is a catch. Another catch is I believe you have to pay at the time of services (the dentist must save a bit by not having to deal with insurance providers).

Right. “Lacking discipline” and “lazy” are so far apart in meaning. You certainly did imply that the reason I don’t have money for dental care is because I “don’t have the discipline” to save money. If I didn’t have the discipline to save money I would have been homeless 4 years ago. I just currently have more immediate things to spend my savings on, like rent and food.

Hrm. The plans I’ve looked at (all of two, admittedly, although one was Careington) quoted a monthly fee as well. Buried, but findable if you dig. So I guess that’s something to ask the plan administrator about. I imagine they wouldn’t like a hop-on, hop-off member, so I imagine they have some sort of policy about it. Oh, and a processing fee, now that I look. I imagine that could add up if I hop on multiple times a year.

I don’t have a problem with paying at the time of services, I’d want to do that anyway. I have enough medical debt hanging over my head. I’ll have to see what happens the next couple months, if we have any left over to set aside for this.

I don’t think elbows or anyone else was commenting on you specifically when it came to the discipline part of the comment. That is just the standard form lots of financial advice is given in because so many people, even those who are not broke, have a problem following some strategies but not others. Financial advice that requires any type of savings or credit usually includes that because it works great for some people and not others and they usually know who they are.

Not everything is an accusation, you may be surprised to learn.

Very few people bother to actively develop the ‘discipline’ to put, even a little aside, routinely, regardless of how much money they make. As someone who has been ‘working poor’ all my life, I can assure you it is far, far more important a skill, for someone in my position, than someone who makes more.

It’s just a way to avoid such circumstances in future, stacking the deck in your favour, as it were. In my experience, unless you’re the rare creature without vices, it’s as easy as foregoing one; pack of cigs, movie, beer, drive thru window, starbucks, etc.

(But I have a feeling, I’m wasting my breath trying to explain this to you.)