Is dental insurance worth the cost?

Waits are a drawback to individual plans

One disadvantage if you're considering buying any individual dental plan is that they often come with waiting periods that typically don't apply to patients in group plans.

For example, most individual plans won't cover fillings for the first six months of a policy and may not offer coverage for certain other procedures for up to 18 months, says McLean.

"The reason individual plans have waiting periods is because they're not going to decline you, so what they do to stop you from getting the plan, getting a root canal and dropping the insurance is to have a waiting period," McLean says.

Insurance alternative

Anyone exploring dental coverage may want to consider forgoing traditional insurance in favor of an alternative: a discount dental plan. You pay an annual fee in exchange for receiving certain services at a set rate or at a discount.

One example is Quality Dental Plan, created by Oregon dentist Dr. Dan Marut. He says patients pay an average of $249 a year for the preventive services typically covered by dental insurance -- two exams, two cleanings and X-rays -- as well as a teeth-whitening treatment that insurance rarely pays for. Members also can obtain additional procedures, such as fillings and root canals, at discounted rates.

"Lots of people don't go to the dentist until something hurts -- by that time, it's already a problem," Marut says. "Our goal is to get people in earlier."

There are no waiting periods, and there’s no maximum on how much savings you can tally each year. But the services included in these plans vary widely, and the choice of dentists can be very limited. Figures supplied by Marut show his plan has a network of fewer than 200 dentists spread over 47 states.

Can you name your own price?

If you ultimately decide against buying dental insurance, or even if you're already covered, you might ask your provider to take a bite off the bill by reducing the overall fee or your out-of-pocket costs.

"It's always a good idea to get out of your comfort zone and negotiate," McLean says.

If you're paying completely out of your own wallet, ask to set up a payment plan. If you can pay in full, request a 10 percent discount.

"Dentists will work with you, especially if you've seen them for a long time," she says.


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