For self-employed, father-of-three Steve Less, the price of traditional dental insurance was tough to swallow.
"The cost was excessive on a monthly basis and when you added it up, it just didn't make any sense," he said.
According to the National Association of Dental Plans, 97 percent of dental insurance benefits are offered through employers. For the self-employed and unemployed, that leaves few options.
Now, a growing number of consumers are eating up info on discount dental plans.
"With the economic downturn, discount dental plans are one of the only products that have been available to individuals to purchase on their own," said Evelyn Ireland with the National Association of Dental Plans.
They're marketed directly to you on sites like dentalplans.com, brighter.com, and dentalsave.com, and operate similar to warehouse clubs. You pay a yearly membership, typically between $75 and $200.
"The dental plan negotiates the discounts with the dentist, but the dentist gets the full fee, or their payment at the negotiated discounted rate, from the consumer at the time of service," Ireland said.
That discount rate can range anywhere from 10 percent to 60 percent. Jenn Stoll is with dentalplans.com, which lets you compare the cost of more than 30 different dental savings plans.
"Dental savings plans allow people to save on typical procedures such as cleanings and x-rays, root canals, crowns, and even dental implants," Stoll said.
Many also offer discounts on cosmetic procedures and orthodontics. After Less was quoted around $6,000 for his son's braces...
"Through dentalplans.com, we actually hooked up with a terrific orthodontist. It came in with a little under $3,000," Less said.
Is a discount dental plan for you? Think about the coverage you need. While there are no co-pays, deductibles or annual limits...
"It's important to note that only about 3 percent of the population that has dental benefits reaches that annual maximum," Ireland said.
Also, understand that savings vary considerably.
"By plan, by network, by dentist, by procedure and even by ZIP code," Stoll said.
So call your dentist beforehand to confirm prices. Between oral exams and braces, Lee feels like he really cleaned up!
"The plan's paid for itself, you know, I'd do it again in a heartbeat," he said.
About 65 percent of the dentists that are in private practice do participate in discount dental plans.