MORE BANG FOR YOUR BUCK: Affordable dental care

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Maintaining healthy teeth and gums is vital to our well-being, but many people forgo the dental care they need due to high costs.

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 it just didn't…when you added it up, it just didn't make any sense," said Less.

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 purchasing 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 for the National Association of Dental Plans.

Sites like,, and operate similar to warehouse clubs.

You pay an annual membership fee, 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.

That discount rate can range anywhere from 10 percent to 60 percent. Jenn Stoll is with, a site that allows you to 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," said Stoll.

Many also offer discounts on cosmetic procedures and orthodontics. Steve was quoted around $6000 for his son's braces.

"Through, we actually hooked up with a terrific orthodontist. It came in with a little under $3000," said Less.

There are no co-pays, deductibles or annual limits but individual savings can vary considerably.

"By plan, by network, by dentist, by procedure and even by zip code," said Stoll.

Between oral exams and braces, Steve feels like he really cleaned up.

"The plan's paid for itself, you know, I'd do it again in a heartbeat," said Less.

Copyright 2012 WWBT NBC12.  All rights reserved.