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Discount Dental Plans Are Something to Smile About

They're an alternative to dental insurance

What discount plans offer

Dental discount plans differ in several ways from dental insurance plans:

• Discount plans generally cost less than traditional dental insurance.

• You have to pay for the service in full, or negotiate a payment plan with the provider. And "you are not going to get a reimbursement for any portion of the procedures that they have done," says Ireland.

• There is no claim paperwork to fill out, since there is no reimbursement.

• There are generally no restrictions on how many procedures you can get at a discounted price in a given year. Insurance, however, typically limits coverage to about $1,200 to $1,500 annually.

• Discount plans generally run for one year, so you can switch plans as your needs change. If you have a dentist already, you should ask whether he or she will accept the plan. Otherwise, you'll need to find a provider who does.

• A number of discount dental plans include elective services, which are often not covered by insurance plans. Cosmetic dentistry, for example, is almost always excluded by insurance, but cosmetic procedures like tooth whitening are included in many discount plans' schedules of services.

• Discount plans may throw in freebies. "Many come packaged with vision plans, hearing plans or chiropractic plans," says Johnson.

For Tabbi, the advantages of the dental plan are big, so big that she is leading seminars in senior housing centers in her town for others who want a less-costly way to take care of their teeth. The greatest thing about belonging to a discount dental plan, she explains, has been having access to a fee schedule so she knows what every procedure will cost. "There are no surprises," she says.

Tamara E. Holmes is a Maryland-based journalist who writes about health, wealth and careers.

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