To most people, a course of root canal work is even less welcome than a heavy dose of influenza. And with NHS dentists in shorter supply and the NHS offering less and less financial support, much dental treatment is often painful on the wallet, too.
Words by Ben West
Booking a holiday to obtain such treatment at a fraction of what you would routinely pay in Britain has therefore become increasingly popular. People are routinely heading for places like Hungary, the Czech Republic, Albania, Greece, Croatia, Romania, Poland, Turkey, Bulgaria and even The Philippines, India, Dubai, Peru and Thailand.
Dental tourism clearly has two big benefits: not only do you save a considerable sum having dental work done abroad – even when the flights and accommodation are taken into account – but you can get a great holiday into the bargain, too.
Unsurprisingly, for these reasons as well as increased financial pressures due to the downturn, dental tourism has grown considerably in recent years. It will continue to grow, especially considering the ageing population.
Techniques and technological advances spread quickly, allowing dental providers in less affluent countries (and with lower staffing, fixed, insurance and surgery costs) to provide dental care at extremely competitive rates.
For example, a dental implant – a metal screw placed into the jaw bone to hold a replacement tooth or bridge – costs around £1000 to as much as £2000 in London but from £400 upwards in Hungary and as little as £120 in India.
Reassuringly, levels of expertise are easy to standardise in many parts of the world. For example, The Association for Dental Education in Europe has worked successfully to harmonize European standards.
While procedures abroad may be cheaper, there are a number of things you’ll want to consider before traveling internationally for dental care. Firstly, it is important to ascertain whether there would be adequate recourse should something go wrong. Is there a governmental ministry of health or an effective national procedure for complaints, for example?
Would you need to return for follow-up treatment or if problems arise (fillings fall out and crowns become loose, for example) or could this be carried out in your home town? Dental implants, as an example, require repeat visits, typically an initial visit to set the base and the provisional crown, and a second procedure, usually around four to six months later, after the implant has stabilized in the bone. Quick, simple implants are available but have a higher failure rate.
Repeat long haul visits may swiftly eat away at the savings you make having dental treatment abroad, so be sure to research the cost benefits thoroughly.
Bear in mind that although accrediting agencies and professional societies set standards, compliance can vary greatly. Therefore ask for evaluations from previous patients, and ask to see proof of competence before you make an appointment.
Once you have selected a clinic, it is a good idea to telephone and discuss the procedure required and the price. Remember to enquire not only about the dentist, but any other relevant professionals such as orthodontists and periodontists. You want to be sure that your dental procedure can be safely completed abroad in a relatively short, ‘holiday-sized’ time period.
Standards can vary greatly around the world. For example, in Mexico, general practitioners are able to complete a dental implant course and then start placing dental implants without further training. Therefore a certified specialist should always be sought, especially for more complicated treatments.
Select local dental practices affiliated with UK, American or other western organizations, and dental staff certified by such organisations, and through international bodies such as the International Federation of Esthetic Dentistry.
You don’t have to stick to private, independent clinics. Although most top international dental hospitals do not advertise, many, such as Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, and Hospital San José Tec de Monterrey in Mexico, regularly treat non-locals.
Clinical tourism websites whatclinic.com and treatmentabroad.com provide instant guide prices of dental clinics worldwide as well as client reviews of dentists, while listings at patientsbeyondborders.com only admit clinics that have passed a stringent vetting process.
As there may be delays during the dental work, it is a good idea to plan a few extra days at your treatment location. And don’t underestimate the recovery time you’ll need: it may not be a good idea to hit the beach or sightsee immediately afterwards, as you may require a period of rest before embarking on holiday activities.
Top dentistry destinations
Hungary is Europe’s premier destination for dental tourism – indeed it boasts more dentists per capita than any other country. It has a large choice of state-of-the-art facilities and highly skilled dentists at a much lower cost than you would pay in Britain. This is so even in rural areas. The small town of Mosonmagyaróvár near the Austrian border, for example, has more than 150 dental offices alone.
The cost of dentistry has lowered considerably in Spain and Greece as economic woes in those countries have taken hold in recent years. The Czech Republic is another very popular dental destination, especially historic and attractive Prague, which is well-served by low-cost airlines.