Going to the dentist can be unpleasant. Setting up an employee dental plan doesn't have to be, according to proponents of dental preferred provider organizations (PPOs). Using a concept already popularized by medical PPOs, dental PPOs establish regional or national networks of dentists who contract with a third party -- frequently an insurance company or trade association -- to offer a wide range of services on a discounted basis.

In theory, companies whose employees choose PPO-approved dentists should end up paying lower premiums to their insurer for two reasons: First, claims submitted by employees using a PPO will be for smaller amounts, because of the discounts. Second, employees who use a PPO dentist will most likely get full, rather than partial, coverage for a range of procedures. This, say PPO proponents, will encourage employees to take better care of their teeth. For the company, that means fewer claims submitted to the insurer. Notes Mary Ellen Schindler, a consultant at New England Mutual Life Insurance Co., "We anticipate companies will save about 10% in insurance costs over the long run."