Dental Tourism: One of Medical Travel's Biggest Money-Savers

Posted on 23 October 2014 by Josef Woodman

Treatment Room, Sunset Dental, Cancun, Mexico. Photo Credit: Dental Departures


Editor's note: Patients Beyond Borders maintains the Medical Tourism and Wellness Travel site for about.com. We invited Dental Departures CEO and founder Paul McTaggart to pen the site's first guest blog, re-published below. Thanks, Paul!

 
Dental tourism is the result of patients traveling abroad to obtain the dental care they are unable or disinclined to get at home. Patients are motivated to cross borders for dental care either high costs of care in their home country, or limited access to quality dental care where they live.

The advent of low-cost air travel, a willingness to go further afield and access to information on the internet is putting the responsibility for dental health firmly back in the hands of healthcare consumers. Over half of all medical tourists travel for dental care, more than any other type of medical care. For the vast majority who make the decision to go abroad, the outcomes are overwhelmingly positive.

What Nationalities Travel Abroad for Dental Tourism?

Access to high-quality, affordable healthcare is rising across the globe, and dentistry is no exception. Healthcare consumers in industrialized nations, including the United States, Canada, the UK, Japan, Australia & New Zealand have found dental care becoming increasingly expensive in their home countries, even for those with insurance.

For those without dental insurance – in the United States recent estimates put this figure at more than 120 million – even a simple root canal procedure or crown can be prohibitively expensive and puts treatment out of the reach of millions.

When faced with the additional pain of a large estimate, patients from these countries have sought cheaper alternatives and discovered dental tourism.

What are the Most Popular Countries for Dental Tourism?

Although most people’s idea of dental tourism is to travel to some exotic, far-flung place halfway across the globe, in reality most patients tend to stay closer to home—usually within a four-hour airplane or overland ride from their homes. Americans and Canadians tend to travel to Mexico and Costa Rica; Europeans and Russians stick to low-cost Eastern European countries, including Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Turkey; Aussies and New Zealanders travel to Southeast Asia, with Thailand the preferred destination.

Are the Savings on Dental Tourism Really That Great?

Yes – typically costs of dental procedures are around 60% less than those found in industrialized nations.  In some cases—such as restorative dentistry--the savings may be as high as 85%. Patients may travel for:

  • One-off, acute, expensive procedures, such as root canals
  • Other expensive procedures, including implants, dentures, crowns
  • Routine dental care including fillings, deep-cleaning and root planing
  • Cosmetic dental procedures, such as veneers and laser teeth whitening
  • Restorative work involving extensive surgery on multiple teeth
  • Emergency treatment while already abroad, for example fillings

The good news is that whether you are located in the Americas, Australasia or Europe you will find a nearby destination that offers high quality care in tandem with substantial savings on nearly any type of dental care you may require.

For example, a patient considering travel abroad for a dental implant might expect to pay as follows:

 

Where Are the Best Clinics Located? Are They in Tourist Areas?

Yes – many clinics are in easily-accessible tourist destinations and resorts. In Mexico, for example, established resort towns such a Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas are obvious choices for a dental holiday, while historic Tlaxcala offers an inland alternative to the beach resorts—in a safe region of the country.
 
As dental tourism becomes ever more popular (and necessary!) you will find more clinics springing up in less obvious places, which is great if you are willing and able to combine your dental care with a holiday off the beaten track. In fact, one small town in Northern Hungary serves patients from Central and Western Europe with more than 160 clinics!

Mexico’s long border with the US also provides day-trippers from large US population centers in California, Texas and Arizona an opportunity to conveniently cross the border to undergo treatment and head back—often the same day! Towns such as Los Algodones (on the northwest border near Yuma in Arizona) have become self-styled dental centers, with dozens of dental clinics within just a few blocks.

Further East, city destinations, including Bangkok and Phuket in Thailand, Seoul in South Korea and Istanbul in Turkey are popular dental tourism destinations.

What about the Quality of care? Is it as Good as at Home?

Western, English-speaking countries no longer hold a monopoly on producing excellent dental specialists and high-quality, accredited work.  Other countries boast a long tradition of extensive dental education where dentistry is considered to be a top profession and its practitioners proud of their work. Cross-border training means it is much easier for patients to compare qualifications, as dentists may opt to travel overseas for their post-graduate, specialist training.

Dentists who treat international patients are keen to demonstrate they are trustworthy and reliable. Their income is often dependent on their international clientele, and you will find the most popular facilities modern and high-tech, often besting dental offices in the patient’s home town. The service culture is much in evidence, with some clinics looking and feeling more like boutique hotels than dental offices.

The vast majority of clinics also offer warranties or guarantees on their work, something which may not be standard at home.  

Some Cautions on Vetting Your Clinic and Dentist

While there are many good-quality dentists abroad, unfortunately facilities of lower integrity will gladly take your money and provide you with inferior service.  Before you book, it always pays to do some additional research to learn more about your dentist or clinic.

Seek out local and international accreditation of specialty and ambulatory facilities and look for board certifications of individual dentists. Check out patient-generated reviews or other online appraisals. Online dental tourism companies that specialize in dentistry now provide reliable services with dentists who have been background-checked. If you book with a trustworthy provider and follow the rules of the road, traveling abroad for dental tourism is a safe and rewarding experience, and can save you a great deal of money.

Originally posted on about.com's Medical Tourism and Wellness Travel pages


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Last updated on 23 October 2014

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