Is Dental Tourism Taking a Bite Out of Dental Bills?
It is a sad fact dental care is so expensive to many patients in the so-called developed world they are turning to dental tourism as a means of affording necessary treatment.
In America, the Institute of Medicine estimates there are around 130 million Americans who lack dental insurance, and even those that have insurance end up paying around 30% of their costs out-of-pocket. This 30% can soon add up to a substantial sum costing hundreds of dollars or more, which is probably why many choose not to bother with insurance coverage at all – if you’re in for a dime you may as well be in for a dollar.
It is not just Americans who are playing a game of Russian roulette with their dental health. A similar story can be found in Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand with patients foregoing even the most basic dental check-ups until, eventually, they are forced to take action when they are in pain, or start to lose their teeth.
At this point, dental care may still be unaffordable at home and so the search for a cheaper alternative begins.
The Nature of Dental Tourism
Dental tourism isn’t new. In particular, citizens from countries with shared borders have traveled to neighboring countries for dental care for centuries – Americans to Mexico; Ireland to Northern Ireland; Austria to Hungary. Although dental tourists may travel abroad for a number of different reasons, the main consideration is usually financial.
Although it is hard to put precise figures on how many people are actually traveling abroad specifically for dental treatment, it is clear that numbers are increasing as the world becomes a smaller place with accessible, low-cost flights to practically anywhere on the planet.
While there are a few good dental tourist hotspots across the globe, the majority of dental patients still tend to go to countries on the same continent – Americans and Canadians to Mexico and Costa Rica, Aussies and Kiwis to Asia, and Europeans staying in Europe. This may be for cultural reasons as patients may be more comfortable in a country they are familiar with, or it may be financial – taking a long-haul flight if your budget is limited is going to eat into any savings.
Are the Financial Savings That Good?
Ask any dental tourist who has successfully completed treatment abroad and the overwhelming answer will be ‘yes’. Most patients typically save 60% on their treatment overseas, and in some cases it can be as much as 90%. For patients who are having major work, savings are significant, in some cases in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Typical prices for a dental crown, for example, may be:
- In the United States: $1,150; at a clinic in Mexico: $160 (savings of more than 80%)
- In the UK: £715; at a clinic in Turkey: £143 (savings of around 80%)
- In Australia: AUD $1,150; at a clinic in Thailand: around AUD $150 (savings of 90%)
What About the Quality?
This is, understandably, the main concern of not just patients who are traveling abroad, but also healthcare professionals. Undoubtedly, there are dentists who have had to deal with the results of bad dental care on patients who have traveled abroad. We recommend to patients to always do some research, and the internet provides plenty of information which allows them to ascertain for themselves whether a particular dentist or clinic is reliable.
These days, traveling to a dentist abroad for treatment is not the hit-or-miss affair it once was. Patients are savvier, and dentists who do offer care to international patients tend to make sure their credentials stack up.
There is no longer a vast divide on the standard of dentist training from country to country. Cross-border training and the establishment of international professional organizations goes some way to creating a measurable international standard. It isn’t unusual for a dentist in Mexico to be a member of the American Dental Association, which offers patients a quantifiable identifier as to the reliability of their services.
Long gone are the days of backstreet dentists in antiquated premises offering cheap quality. Dental tourism is a business and provides a symbiotic relationship between patient and dentist. Clinics that provide high-quality work will attract more overseas patients, bringing in more money, which is often re-invested into the business. This way, good quality clinics will continue to offer higher-quality services which will continue to attract patients.
(Dental 4 U – Chiang Mai Thailand) (Access Smile Dental Clinic – Budapest Central Hungary)
Clinics usually have English-speaking staff, and offer guarantees or warranties on their work as standard, and are located in tourist resorts and major cities that make them easily accessible for those on vacation as well as business travelers.
There are Joint Commission International (JCI) accredited facilities, such as the Bangkok International Dental Center (BIDC), which offers a 7-story purpose-built complex housing more than 70 dentists, a bank, a shop, a restaurant and a boutique hotel. Delivering not just on dental care, their customer care is often extraordinary, providing additional services that patients didn’t even know they wanted, such as accommodations, spa treatments or tourist itineraries.
Is Dental Tourism Worth It?
It certainly is if patients do a little research to find out about their dentist and clinic before they book.
Unfortunately, there will always be facilities providing unreliable services, just interested in making a fast buck. We use a four-stage approach to determine the trustworthiness of dentists and clinics abroad, which includes:
- Criminal and legal background checks
- Verification of qualifications and training as well as professional affiliations
- Patient reviews
- Site visits
In a global marketplace where affordability is key, there is no reason why patients should expect inferior quality if they travel abroad for their dental care. Now more than ever patients have a choice, and if they make an informed decision they are more likely to find that they will have a fulfilling experience, as well as saving a great deal of money on their dental bills.