Dental care in America can be expensive and time consuming. As a result, a new industry has popped up in developing countries to offer cheaper, faster dental care. Who wouldn’t want a beach vacation and cheap dental care all rolled into one? This new trend has been dubbed “Dental Tourism” But before you book your tickets, make sure you consider all the risks and any hidden costs of this new trend.
Why Would Someone Consider Dental Tourism?
- Reduced costs of the procedure: many places have branded themselves for medical tourism by collecting medical professionals in one location where the cost of living is much lower than the United States. Because of this lower cost of living, and sometimes because they use different medicines or materials, treatments can be offered for much cheaper prices than you might find in the US, even accounting for airfare. Dental tourism may offer a cheaper alternative.
- Shorter waiting periods: Some professionals at home are quite busy and may have long waiting periods for appointments or specific procedures. Traveling to a city that has a high density of care providers can help you get care quicker.
- To experience a new place: People sometimes see dental tourism as a way to get more for their money. They think they can spend the same amount of money and get two things. They get their care, but use some of the savings from their cheaper care to take a small vacation.
Risks of Dental Tourism
The materials used for different dental procedures are slightly different in other countries because of regulation. The US government tightly regulates materials that can be used in dental fillings, crowns, and appliances. Anesthesia medicines may vary as well. While some materials used in other countries may still be safe, they may not be tested as rigorously as those approved by the FDA. There have been documented cases of medicines approved in other countries as safe for use that ended up having unintended side effects. Keep this risk in mind when considering dental tourism.
Other countries have their own systems for training dental professionals. There is no worldwide standard for approving dentists. Different isn’t necessarily substandard, but it may be less thorough. Some professionals have a narrow focus and may not understand the holistic impacts of their work. Unfortunately, there are also places where regulation of dental professionals is so slack it’s easy for untrained professionals to practice. It is possible to receive excellent professional care, but it can sometimes be hard to know the difference between competent and fraudulent when the industry is unregulated.
You should always watch for travel advisories from the US department of State before leaving the country, no matter the purpose of your trip. Dangers to US citizens can be political, physical, or health related. Dental tourism can bring this added risk that you don’t need to face if you choose to stay in-country.
Risks of Infection
Many other countries don’t have regulation on proper equipment sterilization and quality. Lack of regulation has lead to outbreaks of serious diseases such as different strains of Hepatitis as well as HIV in many countries.
Lack of Follow-up
Many dental procedures take time to implement and may need adjusting over time. Dental tourism makes it difficult to be able to get the follow up care you need. In your mouth, hundredths of an inch can make a huge difference. Crowns or fillings may feel fine when you get them, but over a couple weeks tenderness and headaches may reveal that they are too high and throwing off your bite. Dentures can change the shape of your jawline and may need refitting a few times to be comfortable. These types of adjustments take only seconds in the chair, but if that dental chair is thousands of miles away it makes it impractical to get adequate follow-up care.
Conclusion: Is Dental Tourism Worth the Risks?
Please know that there are good and bad dentists everywhere. However, you should consider how much regulation weeds out dentists who are improperly trained or using unsafe practices. Wherever you receive your dental care, research the professional and see what other professionals and patients are saying. If a professional is making you uncomfortable with their lack of professionalism or skill, it’s always ok to decline service, even after you’ve sat in the chair. Treat your teeth with care and respect; you only have one set of mature teeth! The adage, “You get what you pay for” is true more often than not. Cheap care may lead to further unforeseen expenses or irreversible consequences.