Advances in medical care mean that we should all be getting healthier, but this is pie-in-the-sky for large swathes of the world’s population, especially when it comes to dental care. Even residents from countries considered to be the cornerstones of highly-developed healthcare systems are only going to a dentist when they absolutely have to – by which time a relatively minor issue could well have turned into a much bigger, more expensive problem. It’s one of life’s conundrums that dental health is deteriorating in the so-called developed nations because of the struggle to meet the ever-increasing costs required to maintain good dental health.
Recent surveys have suggested only around 60% of adults in the United States have visited a dentist in the last year, with Australian figures reporting a similar story and 40% of the population admitting to not going for regular check-ups. In the UK it’s even worse, with around 55% of the adult population not visiting a dentist in the last 2 years. These figures become poorer for people with lower incomes, suggesting that dental care is just too expensive. The irony is that by saving money on foregoing regular check-ups which can prevent dental disease taking a hold, inevitably, by the time some people do see a dentist they need major work, which often costs considerably more than what they would have spent on regular maintenance.
How much can you save?
So, faced with a huge dental bill, options are limited and people are forced to look at more creative ways of getting the care they need, or suffer the consequences of discomfort, pain and tooth loss.
The internet has opened up a global marketplace and it is just as easy to search, find and book and book an appointment with a Thailand dentist in Bangkok as it is to order a takeaway from your local Thai restaurant. Prices for dental work in some countries are around 70% less, and it is little wonder the dental holiday has become popular in countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica, Turkey, Croatia, Thailand and the Philippines.
Unsurprisingly, a whole industry has sprung up to accommodate these dental patients, known as dental tourists. Websites putting patients in touch with overseas providers across the globe are the new millennium’s equivalent of the package holiday brochure, but infinitely more flexible. No matter how stretched people’s budgets are, foregoing their annual holiday is one thing they will try to preserve. It stands to reason that combining their holiday with their dental care means they’ll get the best of both worlds, which is why you’ll find savvy dentists have set up clinics in the heart of major tourist areas, such as Cancun in Mexico and Phuket in Thailand.
How long do you have to stay?
Dental patients come in all shapes and sizes, as do conventional travelers. Going abroad for most people is not a once-a-year experience. We think nothing of going on a weekend city break abroad, or squeezing in a week’s ski-ing in winter, as well as traveling for business. It may never have occurred to you to visit a dentist while overseas, unless there’s an emergency, for example a broken filling, but it is something more and more of us are factoring in to our trips.
There is quite a range of dental procedures that can be carried out in a relatively short time and ideal for visitors who don’t have too much time to spare. Obviously, check-ups and general maintenance, such as teeth cleaning or fillings would fall into this category, but so too would a number of cosmetic dentistry procedures. Laser teeth whitening only takes an hour or two to transform your smile, and even dental veneers, an effective but expensive way of disguising all manner of aesthetic problems, can be turned around in a day by clinics with CAD/CAM technology. They typically cost at least 50% less at clinics overseas, and given that the average price of one veneer in the United States is around $800 (UK £500; Aus AUD $1,100), this is a great saving if you are considering 6 or 8 veneers to transform your smile.
Depending on the nature of your treatment, you can stay as little or as long as you want. In fact, Americans living in the southern states in particular, are regular day-trippers into Mexico for cut-price dentistry, some returning on a regular basis for all their dental care.
The world is your oyster
Good-quality dental care at lower prices is available practically anywhere in the world, but you do need to do a little research to make sure you’re happy with the credentials of the dentists and the clinic facilities. Online dental tourism companies can help in this respect, but again you will need to find one you can trust, but if you do you’ll be able to look after your oral health and your smile for a fraction of the cost.
Amanda Duffy is an expert in the field of dental tourism and has been writing on the subject for a number of years. She is currently a key figure in the editorial team at Dental Departures, a company specializing in dental tourism that help patients save money on their dental care by matching them up with the right clinic.