Recently we have had several patients question us about dental tourism, asking what it is and if it is worth doing. We thought it was worthy of a discussion to let you know exactly what you need to consider before you sign on.
What Is Dental Tourism?
Not many people have heard of this particular term before. Dental tourism basically consists of someone hopping on an airplane, usually to a “travel destination” (most commonly Mexico, The Philippines, Costa Rica or India), and combining a vacation with getting their needed dental care (most commonly dental crowns, implants, root canals or dentures) completed.
How Many People Actually Do This?
It is more common than you may think. According to data published by the medical publisher Patients Beyond Borders, in 2012 over 400,000 Americans crossed international borders to receive dental care.
What Is the Benefit Of Dental Tourism?
For the most part the biggest benefit of dental tourism is the potential for cost savings on needed dental treatment. If you can get quality care and there is a potential for savings, then dental tourism can be worth it, but there is a large emphasis is on the “if.” We have seen so many patients who have traveled out of the county for cheaper dental treatment who return with dental treatment that is questionable at best. Another common sight is a patient who has come from another country with poor dental work that’s been done at very low costs. There have been cases in which we see an “adequate” or “passable” level of treatment, but unfortunately what we most commonly see is very marginal to grossly unacceptable quality level dental work often done with extremely inferior materials.
What Should I Consider If I Am Interested In Dental Tourism?
Training and Certification
Making sure the dentist you are traveling to see has proper training, certification and experience is one of the most important things to question right away. Ideally, you should look for a dentist who has a United States board certification. Dentists who train in the United States have:
- a minimum of 4 years of undergraduate college education
- a major in the sciences
- 4 years of dental school
After all of that, they then must pass a board exam and a state license exam.
Unfortunately, many foreign countries only require 1 or 2 years of training beyond high school for dentistry to be practiced, which is actually their educational standard.
Make Sure You Know Not Only the Procedures but the Materials As Well
You should definitely have at least an idea of what you are having done before you go. Be sure to discuss all the needed procedures with your dentist as well as the one you are traveling to. Make sure you are certain you have a clear understanding of what is being done, the cost of everything, what materials will be used and that they are safe and of quality. This dentist should provide a thorough exam and take any needed x-rays to be able to give you a thorough treatment plan before beginning any procedures.
In the United States, we have strict standards for materials, which is not necessarily the case in other countries. If you are having an implant placed it is extremely important to know what the dentist will use. The brand, the size, and other specifications are important for you to make note of and keep in your personal records. Know that what is used here in the United States might not be what will be used in another country, so it may not be FDA approved. This increases the risk of future repairs. If that happens, keep in mind that dentists here may not have the necessary tools or parts to fix it, and you may have to travel back to the dentist that placed it to get it fixed.
Also, remember that crowns, dentures, and implants, usually require multiple appointments over an extended time period. Be sure to ask yourself if you are prepared to stay the length of time required to get the best care possible.
Dental Tourism Downsides
As stated above, one of the biggest potential drawbacks of dental tourism is that if you need additional care later on, your dentist may be several plane rides — and a few hundred or thousand dollars — away. If an emergency arises when you get back home it is very likely that you will need to arrange appointments and make a second trip which could be costly.
Your alternative is to seek care in the United States. In the case of implants as mentioned above, your dentist may not have the necessary tools or equipment to fix the problem. As it is challenging, if not impossible, to manage another dentist’s treatment, especially if it has been done using materials that are unfamiliar to us here, you could be looking at spending a lot more money in the long run by choosing to get your dental work done elsewhere compared to the initial cost of having it done here.
If something goes wrong with your procedure you can try to seek recourse but experts say that may not be easy, as options vary in every country. You should consider speaking to local regulatory bodies ahead of time to know if the country has a recourse system.
Other Costs to Keep In Mind
Depending on where you are traveling to, the cost of a plane ticket and hotel room on top of the cheaper dental work might actually even out or exceed the cost of having it done in your hometown. It is always extremely important to figure out your budget and compare the cost of doing the work here versus traveling for it. Remember when traveling overseas you will incur all the usual costs associated with travel. Be sure you budget for:
- hotels or hostels
- a VISA
- airline tickets
- gas/car rentals
You will also need to take into account some potentially lengthy stays due to the time needed to complete the dental care (see our services section that explains crowns, bridges, implants, dentures, and root canals, and also make sure to read our blog on mini implants and the concerns with that option). Once again, be sure to discuss all the costs with the dentist before you even leave the United States to start the care.
Keep in mind, too, that some places boasting of cheap dental care turn out to be in unpleasant or unsafe areas. If you are considering dental tourism, please, thoroughly research the location you are planning to visit.
Final Thoughts On Dental Tourism
Dental care is health care, plain and simple. It is important to your overall health, and many of these procedures are irreversible. You want to make sure that whatever dental treatment you are having done to enhance your health does not end up causing you further problems or future unexpected costs.
And even if your primary goal is dental care, remember to make sure to plan some fun during your vacation too!