Does Discount Dental Care Really Mean Low Quality Care?

June 28, 2017

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“You get what you pay for,” is a well-known adage, and it’s been proven true over and over again. For instance, if you were of driving age in the mid- to late-1980’s, you probably remember the short lived journey that was The Yugo.

Yugo Nowhere

The Yugo was a family of subcompact cars that appeared suddenly on the American automobile scene in 1985 and enjoyed fairly good sales for 3 years, primarily due to its incredibly low price. To this day, its $3,990 retail price is the lowest MSRP (inflation adjusted) for any car ever sold in the U.S. In today’s economy, you could drive a brand new, stock Yugo off the lot for just $9,067.

By 1989, however, the Yugo had become a widespread joke with a reputation for poor quality, shoddy manufacturing, numerous mechanical problems, and even safety issues. The fictional car model Yugo Nowhere came to represent the epitome of a lemon — a car that has so many problems, it’s no longer worth fixing. And by 1992, sales in the U.S. had dropped so dramatically, the Zastrava corporation stopped importing it in that year.

Looking at this one famous example, it’s easy to understand why something that’s marketed as discounted or inexpensive can be suspect in our minds. We carry a natural level of doubt if a deal sounds too good to be true.

But, in reality, this isn’t always the case. For example, discount dental care, as offered through a discount dental program, isn’t low quality at all.

How a discount dental plan works

A discount dental plan is a membership program designed as an alternative to traditional dental insurance, which many Americans are either unable or unwilling to afford. A dental discount plan offers a percentage off the normal retail cost of services in exchange for a small monthly or annual membership fee.

The list of participating dentists who have agreed to accept patients using a discount plan are the same dentists who work with traditional insurance programs. So, the dentists and the services they provide are no different through a dental discount plan. The only difference is that these dentists have agreed to accept discounted fees for patients who are members of the discount plan.

Why do top quality dentists accept dental discount plans?

Dentists, orthodontists, and other oral health specialists are highly-trained, licensed professionals who are able to charge significant fees for the services they provide. Many dentists may run their own private offices or work in larger practices with set revenue expectations placed on every hour they work.

"The list of participating dentists who have agreed to accept patients using a discount plan are the same dentists who work with traditional insurance programs."

As a result, dentistry is a competitive business and many providers are open to growing their list of active patients willing to return. Often, joining the network of dentists who accept a discount plan makes good business sense for these professionals: they gain access to people who otherwise would not become patients, and they make back the difference of their normal retail fees in both volume and repeat business.

Since patients save significantly by working with these dentists, it becomes a win-win for everyone involved.

The twist ending of the Yugo legend

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Despite what you think you may remember about the ultimate lemon, there are some aspects of the Yugo legend you may not know.

The Yugo was manufactured in the former Yugoslavia, and was intentionally designed and put together as simply and inexpensively as possible to appeal to cash-strapped drivers that would otherwise have to settle for a used car. Since Yugoslavian drivers prided themselves on doing their own mechanical work and meticulously maintaining their vehicles, the Yugo proved to be an excellent buy: cheap to purchase, cheap to maintain, easy to work on, and consistently reliable.

In fact, although the original Yugo stopped being produced in the former Yugoslavia in the early 2000’s, over 60,000 are still on the road today in those countries, most with well over 100,000 miles on the odometer.

One reason the same car was less successful in the U.S. is likely due to our heavier reliance on professional mechanics for maintenance or repair of vehicles. Drivers who paid so little for their Yugo tended to ignore the manufacturer’s recommendations for regular maintenance, and instead overworked and exhausted the car — a process that sometimes took just two years or less, as the design of the car made careful routine maintenance a requirement.

What lesson can we learn?

When it comes to obtaining quality dental care, the old adage, “you get what you pay for” can be misleading. Discount dental services, obtained through a licensed dentist using a reputable plan, are not of lower quality or less likely to help you maintain your oral health.

Additionally, in conjunction with discount dental services, savvy patients will treat their teeth much the same way conscientious drivers in the former Yugoslavia treat their cars — careful to perform routine maintenance so that professional intervention is minimal — in order to enjoy a healthy lifespan for their teeth and gums.

If the “famously infamous” Yugo can run reliably for decades under the right conditions, then the combination of economical, quality dental care and smart oral health home care habits can do wonders too.

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