Discount Dental Programs

Discount dental plans may offer attractive cost-savings on dental services, but what are they, how do they work, and are they worth it?

What are discount dental plans?

Discount dental programs, sometimes called dental savings plans, are annual, fee-based plans you buy outright. They are offered by some insurers, like Cigna, as well as separate vendors. They are not dental insurance. These discount programs work like a membership program to offer you discounts/savings on various kinds of dental services. They may also come with added other benefits.

How does a discount dental program work?

Discount dental programs are annual fee-based membership programs. They may help you save on dental costs, depending on your needs and your family’s needs. Here is how a discount dental program, or dental savings plan, typically works:

  • You choose from a variety of dental savings programs. They can vary by cost and types of discounted dental treatments. There are also programs that cover an individual vs. a family.
  • Once you have bought a discount program, you can schedule dental care right away. There is no waiting period.
  • Many programs will offer you a network of dentists to choose from.
  • If your program provides you with an ID card, you will show it when you visit the dentist.
  • You pay for each service you receive, at a discounted rate based on the program you bought. For example, you may pay a part of the cost for your oral exams, teeth cleanings, routine X-rays, each cavity filling, and so forth.
  • Often, claims are done for you—saving you the hassle of paperwork.
  • At the end of the year, the program expires.

Are discount dental programs worth the money?

When you’re considering how to spend your money on dental care, it’s important to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of discount dental programs.

  • Pros: May help you save money. No waiting period for dental services. No paperwork. You have a wide choice of dentists to choose from, discounts on a range of dental procedures, and a few different types of programs to choose from. They often come with additional “lifestyle” benefits, such as identity protection, roadside assistance, and wellness programs. You can also buy a discount dental program in addition to traditional dental insurance to help cover treatments not covered by your dental insurance or to help save if your dental insurance benefits reach their limit.
  • Cons: “Discount” doesn’t mean free. You pay an annual membership fee to join the program. Each dental service you receive may cost you out-of-pocket, even if it comes with a discount, but programs vary. Depending on the dental care you receive you could end up spending more in a year than you would with a traditional dental plan, sometimes called “full coverage dental insurance.”

What’s better--a discount dental program or traditional dental coverage?

It depends on your situation and needs. Here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to buy a discount dental program vs. traditional dental plan.

  • Who are you covering? Is it just yourself, or is it your whole family?

    Costs add up. If your whole family is going to need all their preventive care, as well as other services like teeth extraction and fillings for cavities, you’ll want to do the math. Remember, “discount” doesn’t mean free.

    With a full coverage dental insurance plan there is no upfront annual fee—you’ll pay a monthly premium, instead. This may be a per person monthly premium if you’re covering a family.

  • What kind of dental care do you expect to need in the upcoming year? Is it simply preventive (oral exam, cleaning, routine X-rays)? Or is it fillings for cavities, crowns, root canals, or cosmetic?

    The type of dental care you will need may make a big difference in your out-of-pocket costs between a discount dental program vs. a full coverage dental plan. 

    A traditional dental plan covers your preventive dental 100%, in most cases. This is one of the benefits of traditional dental insurance. There are various types of traditional dental plans that may provide coverage for other kinds of dental care, as well.

  • How do the costs compare between a discount dental program and full coverage dental insurance?

    Discount dental programs require you to pay an upfront membership fee. The programs are good for a year. In addition, you will pay an out-of-pocket cost for each dental service you receive. Some or all of those services will be discounted, depending on the plan you buy.

    With traditional dental insurance you pay a monthly premium. The premium can vary based on the plan and amount of coverage. If you need a plan to cover just the basics like preventive dental, your monthly premium will be lower and most preventive dental care is covered 100%.

    Dental insurance that covers more than preventive may also come with a deductible and coinsurance. Even then, if it comes with a provider network, the cost of dental care and procedures is already discounted. It’s been negotiated between your insurer and dentists in the network. Even after your monthly premiums, deductible, and any coinsurance, the discounted rate from your insurance plan may be lower than what you’d pay using a discount dental program.

  • Do you need dental care right now?

    Discount dental programs come with no waiting period. This means you can buy into the program and immediately start using it to get dental care.

    Some full coverage dental plans include a waiting period, especially for dental services that are complex and costly. There may be no waiting period for preventive dental care.

Can you use a dental discount program with dental insurance?

Discount dental programs are not insurance themselves, they are a fee-based membership program. That means you could buy a discount dental program even if you have dental insurance. Here are two examples:

Let’s say you buy a traditional dental insurance plan from an insurer like Cigna and it covers you for preventive as well as some restorative dental services. But perhaps you want some cosmetic dental work done, such as teeth whitening, or veneers. Your traditional dental insurance plan will typically not cover cosmetic procedures. In this case, you might decide to buy a discount dental program that offers you discounts on costly cosmetic dental services.

Or, let’s say you need a lot of dental care during the year. Buying a dental discount program in addition to your dental insurance may be a good financial move for you. It may help you continue saving money if you use up the total annual benefits from your dental insurance plan before your plan year ends.

When deciding if a discount dental program is worth it, be sure to add up the costs along with your expected dental needs.

For more information on a Cigna dental discount programs, visit us at, or call 1 (800) 240-2035.

This information is for educational purposes only. It is not medical advice. Always consult your dentist for appropriate examinations, treatment, testing, and care recommendations. Any third party content is the responsibility of such third party. Cigna does not endorse or guarantee the accuracy of any third party content and is not responsible for such content. Your access to and use of this content is at your sole risk.