What You Should Know About Dental Tourism
Have you heard about the trend of dental tourism or “vacation dentistry”? Many Americans choose to travel outside of the United States to access dental care. In very rare cases, the purpose of going to a foreign country for a dental procedure might be to see a specialist for a particularly complex oral surgery. However, dentistry is very advanced in the United States and many of the world’s top dentists and dental facilities are here.
Price is the Driving Factor in Dental Tourism
The most common reason patients travel to other countries for dental work is to save money. Various dental tourism sites regularly advertise prices that are as much as 70 percent less than the cost of similar procedures in the United States. Individuals who choose dental tourism may also feel this is an opportunity to “see the world” while getting their teeth fixed at the same time. For cosmetic procedures that may cause little or no discomfort, this might be a realistic goal. Of course, for major oral surgery, you’d need to get your sightseeing done before the procedure!
Common Dental Tourism Procedures
Cosmetic dental treatments are some of the most popular procedures tourists have done outside the country. This is largely because dental insurance will not pay for any dental procedure that is not considered necessary for oral and dental health. Dental veneers are a good example. These may cost $1,000 or more per tooth in the United States. Patients who want a full mouth of veneers may decide to have them done out of country so they can pay for treatment in a lump sum rather than on a payment plan. Tooth whitening is another potential treatment that can be accessed via vacation dentistry. It’s not that expensive in the United States, but someone living near the border might consider a short trip to Mexico worth it to save a few dollars.
Many patients also travel for higher cost procedures and dental prosthetics. Here are a few examples:
- Porcelain crowns, inlays and onlays
- Dental implants
- Orthodontics (braces)
- Root canals
- Wisdom tooth extraction
- Full-mouth reconstruction
Countries that Promote Dental Tourism
Most Americans who become dental tourists travel south of the border for their treatment. Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama are three of the top destinations. Prior to the new laws requiring a passport for entry into Mexico, dental tourism required less planning. Today, you’d need to add in the $135 fee for a passport and go through the application process including the wait time to receive your documents.
Additional dental tourism destinations include:
These vacation dentistry locations are more popular with European patients from places like Germany, Austria and Great Britain. However, there are some Americans who will fly internationally for major dental work.
Dental Tourism Carries Risks
Like medical tourism, dental tourism poses a number of risks – some significant. There are many skilled and well trained dentists operating in other countries. However, it is much more difficult to evaluate the qualifications of a dentist in another nation. In the United States, you can readily identify and verify specialists in every field of dentistry by checking their board credentials. You can also dig deeper and find out about any malpractice lawsuits against a given provider. Referrals and testimonials from long-time patients are easier to come by and likely to be more reliable. Simply having access to more information (and more accurate information) helps ensure that you are making a wise choice about who to trust with your treatment. If you are traveling to see a dentist in another country, you have little to go on besides online testimonials and marketing literature.
The lower costs of dental treatment in other countries are partly tied to the lower cost of labor. However, cost-cutting may also involve using less advanced technology and treatment techniques. The quality of materials and craftsmanship may also be sub-optimal. This isn’t true in all cases. For example, many foreign dentists do use the same brands of veneers and dental implants as those in the United States. However, you may not know this for sure until you’re already in-country and committed to the procedure. When you arrive, you may also find that there is a language barrier that keeps you from communicating effectively.
Lack of Follow Up
This is the area of dental tourism that is the greatest cause for concern. Ideally, patients should be able to see the same dentist for follow up as they do for their treatment. This holds the dentist accountable for providing the best quality of service. It also helps ensure that complications are caught and addressed early on. Improperly fitted dental prosthetics can cause substantial pain. They can also impair dental function and cause damage to teeth and gums. Dental tourists may not even realize there is a problem until they arrive back home. A same-day dental implant received in another country may fail after a few weeks or months. Even cosmetic treatments are not without risks. For example, improperly installed dental veneers can cause ongoing tooth sensitivity.
Hidden Costs of Dental Tourism
The all-inclusive pricing offered by many dental travel sites can be misleading. In addition to the cost of travel, hotel stay, and treatment, you may also find there are many additional costs. These may include:
- Cost of travel for two. You should never travel alone to have major oral surgery in another country. You need someone with you to make sure you are safe and to monitor you for complications.
- Cost of pre-treatment x-rays and evaluation by a U.S. dentist for you to send to your foreign dentist. Your out-of-country dentist will use this information to determine in advance how much your treatment will cost. You will also need to send your medical records.
- Cost of follow up care. You will need to visit a U.S. dentist when you arrive back home to check on your progress. This might include reshaping the bite surfaces of crowns or making other adjustments to dental prosthetics for a better fit.
- Cost of repair for faulty dental work or complications. Having problems associated with vacation dentistry fixed by a U.S. dentist could end up costing much more than simply having the work done by a U.S. dentist in the first place.