Dental tourism: Is flying overseas for your smile your best bet?

woman in dental clinic getting her teeth treated

Why do people go overseas? Common reasons include for holidays, work or to visit family abroad.

Another reason that may sound strange to some people is for an appointment at a hospital or dental clinic. This phenomenon is called medical tourism, and it is gaining popularity among first-world countries.

Dental tourism: a booming industry

Each year, thousands of tourists from first-world countries such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand and throughout Europe seek dental treatment abroad in lower income countries.

Research carried out in the Journal of Tourism Management showed that 90 per cent of dental patients go to Thailand, followed by India and Indonesia. Tourists either seek a clinic on their own or sign up for a travel agency that offers dental care in their holiday package. There are no data on how much is spent on dental procedures, but patients usually seek cheap dental implants, crowns and bridges, and cosmetic dental surgery.

The pitfalls of going overseas

Despite the affordability, the implications of treatment overseas need careful consideration. Dentists in New Zealand, for example, discourage people from going abroad to seek dental operations. The standards of dentistry overseas are different. Education, training and practice of dentistry in other countries may be less stringent, with procedures that would fall below the country’s level of excellence.

There could also be issues with cleanliness and the risk of infection. While some treatments are successful and coupled with an enjoyable tourist experience, there are some instances in which treatments fail, and patients have to seek remedial work upon their return home.  According to a 2016 survey by the University of Otago, 96 per cent of NZ dentists encountered dental tourists once or twice a year, requiring remedial work for botched treatment abroad.

Bad dental treatment is not always repairable − hundreds of different brands of dental implants are available, some of which may not be available in the home country. This means that a dentist may not have the correct resources to fix the issue and need to start over.

Still want to seek dental treatment abroad?

dentist showing information to his patient

When seeking dental treatment overseas, research on the country thoroughly. Check the accreditation with the country’s dental association of the clinic you want to visit and find out if it is in good standing with the local governing body. Always ask for dental qualifications and certifications before booking an appointment.

Once you’ve arrived in the country, head to the clinic in advance, so you become familiar with the practice and gain an impression of the facility. Look at how dental equipment – such as surgical handpieces, spatulas and forceps – is cleaned and sterilised. Ask about the procedure: how long will it take, are there any hidden or additional costs, and what guarantee or warranty do they offer for their work?

Remember that no matter how skilled the dentist is, there’s a chance that things won’t go according to plan. Ask if post-procedure maintenance can be done when you return home. Also, look for insurance policies in case you end up with a botched treatment.

The cost of dental care at home has driven many to seek treatment overseas. However, with cheaper options come increased risks. Should you opt for dental treatment abroad, remember to do your homework to make sure your smile is lasting.

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