High-quality care, a wealth of options, and great prices help make this healthcare necessity accessible.

If the mere thought of a dentist makes your teeth ache, you are not alone. Some experts estimate that as many as four in every five adults fear dental treatment to some degree, and only 20 percent of us see the dentist twice a year, as we know we should. Yet there’s reason beyond white teeth and a glistening smile to keep up with your dental care.

Why It Works for Medical Tourism | Where to Go for Treatment | Planning Ahead | Special Considerations | Home-Again Tips

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Studies at the University of Minnesota and other research centers have shown that taking care of your teeth may just save your life. How? The bacteria in dental plaque and unhealthy gums can cause platelets (tiny clot-triggering cells) in the blood to clump. Clumping leads to clotting, and if a clot ends up in the heart or brain, the result can be a heart attack or stroke.

There's an association with diabetes, too. If gum disease is treated, diabetes is more successfully controlled, which reduces the risk of heart disease. In fact, more than 80 percent of people who have both diabetes and gum disease develop some cardiovascular disease, compared with 20 percent of those diabetic patients who don’t have gum disease.

There’s more. With proper dental treatment, patients with rheumatoid arthritis can reduce swelling in their joints as well as morning stiffness. Gum disease is also a risk factor for osteoporosis, and according to studies at West Virginia University, good dentistry may even help senior citizens keep their memory sharp!

As compelling as those associations are, most people aren’t thinking about their overall health when they see a dentist. The more obvious problem may be pain, deterioration, or the unattractive appearance of crooked, pitted, stained, broken, or missing teeth. Such cases share much in common with aesthetic and reconstructive surgery. Patients want a restoration of function, a reduction of discomfort, and an improvement in looks and self-confidence. The way to achieve those goals is often an implant, a crown, dentures, some bridgework, or braces.

Why It Works for Medical Tourism

Did you know that dental tourism accounts for nearly half of all medical travel? Last year some 800,000 Americans crossed borders (mostly to Mexico and Costa Rica) for dental care, while more than 6 million patients worldwide traveled to destinations all over the globe to fix their choppers.

Most medical travelers who seek dental care outside their national borders have a single thought in mind: money. In North America, Europe and most developed countries, dental care is expensive, especially if extensive reconstructive or cosmetic work is required. Even in the most socially advanced countries,only the most rudimentary dental care is covered by health insurance plans. In the United States, for example, more than 150 million Americans are without dental coverage. With increasing strain on healthcare infrastructure and costs, patients everywhere can expect to pay out-of-pocket for extensive dental care.

As we age, our flesh outlives our teeth, often calling for extensive reconstructive or restorative procedures costing tens of thousands of dollars. Thus, savings is a real factor for a global population living 10-30 years longer than previous generations.

The good news is the traveling dental patient need not sacrifice quality to save money. Highly competent dentists welcome patients in a number of destinations known for excellence in dental care: Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Hungary, Mexico, Thailand and South Korea to name a few.

Dentistry also attracts what might be termed the "incidental traveler." Patients who take a vacation in a dental destination country may find that they can work some affordable dental care into their holiday plans. Business travelers whose work takes them overseas may arrange for dental care while on a business trip—saving on both oral treatment and travel costs.

Where to Go for Treatment

Dental patients who live close to an international border form the majority of dental health travelers. US citizens living in Arizona, California, and Texas can easily cross the border into Mexico, an hour's drive can save them thousands of dollars in dental costs. Canadians and US citizens along the East Coast, from Maine to Florida, are flocking to Costa Rica. The dental clinics of San José, Escazú and Guanacaste are only a short hop from Miami, and the dentistry is generally excellent, at costs 40-60% percent lower than in the US. Three to check out in San José are America's Dental Care, Prisma Dental, and Tabash Dentistry.

Europeans find similar advantages in hopping over to Hungary, where they are spoiled for choice among high-quality, low-cost dental clinics. Most people don’t realize that Hungary boasts more dentists per capita than any other country, and some of the best and least expensive clinics are found in rural areas. For example, the small town of Mosonmagyaróvár near the Austrian border is home to more than 160 dental offices! While it’s economical for Europeans to travel to Hungary for a dental checkup or a cleaning, most North Americans who travel to Hungary are looking for more extensive care, including cosmetic oral surgeries, full-mouth restorations, and implants. Such work can be had at less than half the US price, including travel and accommodations.

Travelers to Asia can often find excellent dental services in Thailand. Bangkok and Phuket in particular are peppered with dental clinics. A few cater specifically to international tourists. A good example is the Bangkok International Dental Center (BIDC), one of the most enduring and expansive of all international dental facilities. Most of BIDC's dentists have been trained and certified overseas, and a large number received their degrees in the US.

Although largely unadvertised, the top international hospitals, such as Bumrungrad in Bangkok, Thailand or Hospital San José Tec de Monterrey in Mexico have well-established dental departments with brisk business from expatriates.

Special Considerations

If you are prone to asthma attacks, dental travel may not be for you. The psychological and physical stress of a dental visit can precipitate an attack. If your asthma is well controlled, you may decide to go ahead, but make sure your dentist knows your medical history before your treatment. Ask whether nitrous oxide or conscious sedation may prove beneficial for you.

Patients with heart disease, kidney failure, or a transplanted organ need antibiotics to prevent infections that may arise as a result of dental treatment. Antibiotics protect against bacteremia (infection in the blood) and bacterial endocarditis (infection of the inner lining of the heart muscle). Antibiotics also reduce the risk of spreading hepatitis, which is often present in patients with renal failure. If you have any of these conditions, make sure your dentist talks with your physician before your dental treatment plan is written.

Planning Tips

Don’t assume that one dentist is as good as another. Although professional societies and accrediting agencies set standards, compliance varies widely. Slick ads and impressive websites aren't always the best indicators of dental competence.

Seek out evaluations from previous patients, and don’t forget to ask for proof of competence before you make an appointment. You are paying the bill. You have a right to know everything there is to know about your dentist’s training and experience. US citizens traveling across the border into Mexico should be particularly wary of unreliable clinics in border towns, where the sheer volume of patients has led to the rise of less-than-reputable "me-too" clinics.

As there are sometimes surprises in dental work resulting in delays, plan a few extra days at your treatment site. Some procedures, such as implants, require two or more steps with weeks or months in between. Find out in advance how many visits you’ll need and the interval between them. Ask yourself whether traveling twice or three times for dental care suits your budget and saves you money overall.

Home-Again Tips

Even with the best of dentists, bad things can sometimes happen after dental treatments. Fillings fall out. Crowns come loose. If something goes wrong after you return home from dental travel, you have only two options: get the problem fixed at home or travel again. Some overseas clinics will make repairs free of charge or at low cost, but you’ll still pay additional travel costs. Make sure you allow for possible return travel when you plan your dental travel budget, and be sure to keep your home town dental specialist informed of your medical travel decisions.

Top Facilities

Selected by Patients Beyond Borders' editors, the list below reflects a small group of facilities known for exceptional work in this specialty.

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Last updated on 8 September 2018