The skyrocketing cost of dental care at home is leading more and more Australians to consider options further afield. Former vacation spots in South-east-Asia are fast becoming attractive destinations for fun and fillings.
But the question that often lingers is:
Is it really worth it?
Read on to find out more about these alternatives, and if you are seriously considering dental tourism as an option, we’ll tell you how to do it right.
Why Is Dental Tourism So Attractive?
With dental costs on the rise, Australians in increasing numbers are avoiding visits to their dentist because they find it cost prohibitive to do so. A 2014 report titled “Oral health and dental care in Australia” produced by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) states:
"…cost of dental care remains a barrier for some. According to the National Dental Telephone Interview Survey, from 1994 to 2010, there was an increase in the proportion of adults avoiding visits to a dentist due to costs, from about 25% to 30%...”
However, the age old economics principle of costs being determined by demand and supply hold true in this case too. Australians are increasingly looking for affordable options elsewhere to deal with their dental care needs.
This is especially true for more expensive dental procedures such as root canal therapy or cosmetic dentistry implants as such procedures cost a hefty amount by nature and are generally not covered by dental insurance providers in Australia.
Dental tourism is therefore becoming an attractive choice for many.
Popular destinations like Thailand, Philippines and Vietnam are attracting dental tourists from Australia in growing numbers.
While the cost of dental procedures abroad certainly attracts the attention of Australians, what makes travelling there more alluring is the idea that one can conveniently combine a quick vacation, and squeeze in a dental visit or three while there.
Yes, the holiday aspect of it can be exciting, but considering the risks involved, is it really worth it?
Weighing The Costs
When cost conscious Australians do the math, dental tourism seems like a great deal:
- Here at home, a full-mouth reconstruction will set you back by $35,000 – but you’d pay only 22% of that amount (roughly $8,000) in the Philippines!
- While a crown in Thailand will cost you around $700, you’d pay almost 215% more (nearly $1,500) in Australia
- Looking for bridge work? Prepare to pay around $4,500 for 3-unit bridges at home, but expect to pay from $300 to $800 for bridges in Vietnam
Once a niche service, dental tourism has now gone mainstream. Australian health insurers are keen to cash in on the needs of the nearly 25,000 Australians who travel overseas each year as medical tourists, with almost 10,000 of them being dental tourists, creating a nearly $300 million annual market for the service.
One of Australia’s reputed insurance providers, GoInsurance, even offers special Dental Tourism policies that provide:
- Emergency Overseas Dental Treatment
- Trip Cancellation in the event that the procedure is cancelled or rescheduled
- Additional Transport and Accommodation if there are complications with the procedure or if a companion needs to accompany the patient
- Return Travel and Accommodation for remedial dental treatment in the event that the initial procedure isn’t successful and requires a re-visit overseas
It's also important to remember that many dental treatments may require rectification works for minor issues,and that they most require ongoing maintenance. Since materials and procedures differ from Australian clinics, your local dentist may not be able to service your ongoing needs.
Evaluating The Risks
While the costs might look attractive at first, there’s more at stake when making the decision to seek medical treatment of any type abroad, including dental procedures. Because it’s your health on the line, you should never make the decision to go abroad for dental treatment solely based on the costs.
The Australian Dental Association (ADA) warns that there could be serious risks associated with the growing trend of dental tourism, including:
- Procedures carried out by practitioners who, under Australian law, would not be allowed to perform such procedures
- Procedures performed under health and safety standards that are far below those mandated in most developed countries
- Cultural and language barriers that could lead to miscommunication or result in incorrect procedures being performed
- Procedures (like root canals and crowning) being performed without proper interval – primarily because these must be completed during the “medical vacation” timelines to avoid revisits
- Legal recourse (such as filing a complaint with regulatory authorities) may not be available to patients treated overseas under health care laws that don’t provide for such options
The bottom line is: the above risks serve as a warning for patients looking to take advantage of dental tourism, however keep in mind that they exactly that: warnings. With careful planning, research and dental tourism insurance, the risks can be greatly mitigated.
But before you go ahead and start your research or book your appointment, get your dentists advice with a proper consultation and diagnosis.
Dental Tourism – How To Do It The Right Way
Like any purchase decision, one needs to conduct appropriate due diligence before making a decision to undergo a specific dental treatment overseas. In fact, you should aim to conduct detailed research; after all, its your dental health that's at stake.
Making the right inquiries before scheduling the trip is absolutely essential.
Here are some points to consider before boarding that flight:
- Does the institution have a good reputation? Don't rely on their own marketing material for recommendations or testimonials as advertising laws may not be the same as they are here in Australia. Forums are a good place to start (e.g. this forum for cosmetic dentistry tourism in Thailand)
- Who are the dentists/surgeons and support staff that will be performing the procedure? note their names and qualifications down and do a little further research to see what you can uncover. If they are legitimate, you will not have trouble finding information about them online.
- What are their qualifications/ experience?
- Where have they been trained (preferably at reputable western institutions)? If you find that they HAVE been trained in a Western institution, go ahead and get in contact with that institution and ask them about the specialist in question.
- What kinds of medical governance standards does the country have to guarantee high-quality dental care? A quick search on a government website should reveal policies and procedures.
- Where does the institution source its medical equipment, materials and supplies, and what quality standards do they apply to ensure they only use materials of the highest quality?
- What sorts of guarantees, and for how long, do they offer?
- What happens if you develop an infection (or there are complications) upon your return to Australia? It's a good idea to run this scenario by your health care provider to see if they will cover you.
While a lot of this information can easily be garnered through careful internet searches and perusal of the institutions website, before signing up for a procedure prospective dental tourists must insist on:
- Speaking in person (via Skype or other media) with senior management – preferably with the professionals that will conduct the procedure - at the institution
- Receiving and reviewing (preferably with an Australian solicitor) all of the medical and legal documents you may be required to sign
- Getting the names of other Australians (where privacy laws allow) who may have undergone similar procedures at that particular institution – and then speaking with them about their experiences
Online forums are a great place to start your research, and often you will find reviews from patients who have actually undergone dental work in a certain country. Here are a few notable threads:
- The Lonely Planets dental tourism thread
- Trip Advisors dental tourism in Thailand thread
- Trip Advisors medical and dental tourism patient experiences thread
Following these steps will go a long way in ensuring that you not only have some fun while you’re at your vacation destination, but that your dental procedures will be conducted by qualified and highly trained professionals in a safe and healthy environment.