Bright smiles without an empty wallet

By Mir
September 18, 2006

Momsy writes:

Dear Mir,

Pretty?!? You’re gorgeous! Especially your smile . . . which leads to my question. Is a privately purchased dental insurance policy worth the money? We’ve got a lot of teeth in this family and dental bills without insurance are pretty steep. I’m looking for the basic help pay for cleanings/filling/cavities and heaven-forbid-crowns-and-root canals. I’ve always worried that dentists who accept these insurance policies are pretty hard up for clients.

What is your take? Pay full price (eek!) for dental care or try a private dental insurance policy?

I recommend working for someone who offers dental insurance. Or, you know, marrying someone who does. Hahahaha!

Oh, right. That’s not actually what you asked.

Okay, assuming that you don’t have a low-cost group policy available to you through work, you are assuming that you have only two other options: Pay full price, or go for a private policy. There’s actually another option, which is to put your bargaining skills to use.

Most dentists (health care practitioners in general, actually) offer all sorts of payment options for those without insurance coverage. At the very least, most will give a percentage discount for cash payments. Ask and find out.

There’s also something called CareCredit, which is a program through which you can arrange interest-free financing. Not everyone accepts CareCredit but many, many practitioners do (because they get paid immediately), so check them out if financing will help you shoulder your expenses.

In terms of getting private coverage, you actually have a couple of choices there, as well. You can go for a full policy (check out and input your zip code for a comparison of plans in your area) or you can go for one of those “discount” cards where—for a monthly fee—you are supposedly entitled to a price break on services.

Honestly, I doubt that either of these options makes much sense. The private dental policies I’ve looked at are all quite expensive, with plenty of fees (still) for services rendered. The discount cards have limited participation and not a very good reputation for savings, though certainly do your own research to see if a local program might work for you.

Once again, I’m happy to defer to The Dollar Stretcher for further advice. It looks to me like the responses are mixed. Bottom line: You have to do your own research and see what the options are and what they cost. If you typically have a lot of dental work done, keep in mind that many policies will exclude conditions they can classify as pre-existing. If you typically just have your cleaning every six months, you’re probably better off just working a deal with your dentist and paying out-of-pocket.

Lastly, allow me to throw in a plug here for preventive care. Buying a really good electric toothbrush such as this one from Oral B is a great investment in your dental health, and a lot cheaper than having a cavity filled. I bought a sonic toothbrush a few years back and my dentist is still raving about how great my teeth are, each time I go in. An even cheaper way to strengthen your teeth is to use a flouride rinse. With anything like this (a fancy toothbrush, rinse treatment), it may seem a bit of an extravagance if you consider it alone… but when you compare it to the cost of having work done on your teeth? A bargain. Strive to spend your dollars preventing the problems, rather than repairing them.

I hope this helps. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go brush my teeth again.


  1. We tried out the Aetna Vital Savings discount plan. About $100 per year. Money-back guarantee for a month or so.

    It’s paid us back already, after only a month or so of having it.

    The deal with it is that you pay negotiated insurance rates for dental services. You present a card, the dentist enters the number (or calls it in), and Aetna tells them what you’re supposed to pay. From the dentist’s perspective, it’s your portion of a covered expense. Since it’s an Aetna plan, it’s accepted at a LOT of dentists.


  2. is fantastic in getting you a list of plans, but that is only the beginning of the work. You CAN find a decent dental plan, but it is going to take some work and research (and phone calls).

    The “Discount Dental Plans” in my experience are absolute garbage. Even if you can find a dentist that accepts one of these gimmicks, either they are somebody that you would rather not go to in the first place (which is why they are accepting it), or you have to wait forever and a day to get an appointment. These fall under the heading of “you get what you pay for” type of thing.

  3. The “Discount Dental Plans” offered by the insurance companies like Aetna look like insurance as far as the dentists are concerned. If they accept Aetna plans, then they’ll accept Aetna’s discount plan. I had no problems finding a dentist to take Vital Savings. The provider search at Aetna’s site doesn’t differentiate, either.

  4. I think it depends on the teeth.

    We have 6 kids and a family plan covers any amount of kids so YES it is worth it!

    We are on Blue Cross Blue Shield. My husband is self employed.

    It has saved us SO much money!

Bargain Hunt





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