When I left my job to freelance full-time, my teeth were not high on my priority list.
I had previously visited my dentist every six months on the dot for regular cleanings. But leaving my job also meant leaving my dental insurance. My teeth would just have to hang in there until I figured out what to do. (And thankfully, they did.)
Sure, I would commit to regular brushing and flossing. But anything beyond that just seemed too expensive. Now that I was on the hook to cover my own health costs, even routine visits to the dentist seemed like a luxury.
What’s a self-employed girl to do? Become an expert on dental plans, that’s what.
After a Dental Hiatus, I Drag Myself to the Dentist
More than a year into self-employment, I finally decided to take my teeth to the dentist for a cleaning.
I consulted freelancer friends to see how others handled dental care. It seemed no one bought dental insurance because it was far too pricy. So what did most people do? Everyone I spoke to paid out of pocket.
I figured I’d have to do the same. I called my dentist’s office and was told a cleaning would be $140. Ouch.
While scheduling my appointment, I crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t have any cavities after so much time away from the dentist’s chair. I couldn’t bear to ask how much fillings might cost.
The tooth fairy must have known what was up. Just a couple of weeks before my appointment, I found out about :DentalPlans. (That colon before the name is part of their logo; it looks like a smiley face. Fun, right?)
Even though I didn’t fully understand what dental savings plans were about, I was game. Why? Because allegedly, their plans could cut the cost of every trip to the dentist in half.
So… What’s a Dental Savings Plan?
First, what a dental plan is not.
It’s not insurance, which covers routine services (usually a couple cleanings a year) and up to a certain amount if you need other work done. My last dental insurance covered $1,000 of additional work.
With a dental savings plan, you pay an annual fee, then get a 10-60% discount on most dental services such as exams, cleanings, fillings, root canals and crowns. You still pay out of pocket for those services, but you pay significantly less than you would without the plan.
Here’s a simple way to look at it: You essentially pay the membership fee to be part of a club. And the club perks are steep discounts on dental services.
I visited :DentalPlans to look into their options (they give Penny Hoarder readers 15% off and two months for free when you use the code “HOARDER”). When I searched for my dentist and compared plans, the Careington Care 500 Series rose to the top as the most affordable. For $144.96 a year and a $20 processing fee, the discounts were huge: a whopping 74% savings on a routine check-up, and 70% on a cleaning.
Even though I’d have to pay to join the plan, the amount I would save on some of these procedures would make it worth my while. If my math was correct, the plan would pay for itself after just two cleanings. :DentalPlans even offers a 30-day money back guarantee, so I had no excuse not to give it a shot.
The percentages and prices displayed on :DentalPlans appeared to be an estimate or average of all the dentists who accepted the plan, so I called my dentist to double-check. Did they accept Careington Dental Plans? Did they really give these huge discounts? They sure did, and they assured me that I’d save a bunch if I became a Careington dental plan member.
So I signed up, which only took a few minutes, and printed out my membership card. I didn’t need to be pre-approved or share my dental records or anything of that sort.
Still Too Good to be True?
I brought my Careington Dental Plan Card to my appointment, still apprehensive this little slip of paper would slash my bill in half. As my dentist snapped on his gloves, he told me I was one smart cookie for buying into the plan. He assured me I would save tons of cash.
He may have regretted bringing it up, as this comment opened the door for me to bombard him with questions.
While I understand you probably shouldn’t talk as someone is poking your teeth with a periodontal probe, I was curious, and still not convinced. I needed to know more about these dental plans. Before I allowed my dentist and the hygienist get to work, I asked lots of questions.
Do dentists pay to be a part of the plan?
Why would a dentist agree to be a part of the plan and offer a discount when it’s better when people pay full price?
To bring in new clients who might not have come in otherwise.
Can anyone join the plan to get these discounts?
What was the catch here?
None, he said. It’s a great way for someone who doesn’t have insurance to save a whole bunch of money at the dentist. He told me twice there is absolutely no catch.
And I asked one more question because I was legitimately curious: Do people ever fall asleep while they get their teeth cleaned? If so, do they keep their mouths open?
Yes, I learned many people do indeed doze off and in the process close their mouths. So the dentist either has to wake them up or prop their mouths open.
Let’s Talk Final Numbers
Once I had asked every question I could think of, I let the dentist get back to polishing my pearly whites. My cleaning was over in a jiffy, and I had zero cavities. Phew!
The grand total for my exam and cleaning came to $140, but I only had to pay $46. The exact numbers are as follows:
To recap, I paid $144.96 for the plan, plus a $20 processing fee. And just one cleaning in, it had already saved me $94 off the cost of my appointment.
So it still has a ways to go before paying for itself — technically, I’m still down $70.96 — I’ll come out ahead after my second cleaning. Plus, if I’m unlucky enough to need further dental work, it’ll be even more worthwhile.
It still seemed too good to be true, so I kept my Sherlock hat on and asked the receptionist even more questions. She assured me that the Careington Dental Plan is simply a great way to save money at the dentist. She even has the same plan herself. With the family plan (a bit more at $199.95 per year), she gets discounts on dental care for her whole family.
We rely on our teeth all day long to chew our food and help us enunciate our words. It’s ridiculous that great dental care is so expensive. So few Americans regularly visit the dentist because many can’t afford it.
But after my experience, I’ve got hope for those of us who are self-employed or don’t have dental insurance. Our teeth can finally get the attention they deserve.
You can sign up by calling DentalPlans at 1-855-423-9414. Or you can click here to sign up online. Use the promo code “HOARDER” to save 15% and get the first two months for free.
Your Turn: Have you tried using a dental savings plan to save money on visits to the dentist?
Sponsorship Disclosure: A huge thanks to :DentalPlans for working with us to bring you this content and for providing the discount code.
Betsy Mikel is a Chicago-based freelance copywriter. She loves biking all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria.