Understanding The Risks of Travelling Overseas for Dental Work
What is Dental Tourism?
Also, known as dental vacations or dental holidays. They are planned travel excursions made by an individual who is seeking dental treatments outside their local healthcare system.
Travel arrangements are booked as part of leisure activities and sightseeing as well as dentist appointments for treatments.
Dental Vacation Packages
The rising popularity of dental tourism has resulted in the idea of dental vacation packages.
A package may include the dental care (x-rays, initial examination and the actual procedure) as well as accommodation and travel costs, such as airfares.
On the subject of vacations, I would like to describe to you two dining experiences I had while overseas in Italy with my family that I think parallels dental tourism…
Tourist vs Local
You would think when in Rome one of the culinary capitals of the world, you would have no trouble finding somewhere that serves good quality food. Not so. Check this out.
Dining in Piazza Navona – feeling weary after a long day of site seeing with three tired and hungry kids, my wife and I decided to succumb to the pressure from street sprucer and eat at one of the many restaurants along Piazza Navona. (Piazza Navona has abundant tourists literally millions of tourists pass through this square every year.)
The staff seemed friendly and the menu listed a variety of Italian dishes. The waiters made sure that they offered us entrees, drinks, wines, first courses, main courses, deserts, etc. However after ordering the friendliness and attention to our family was somewhat lacking.
The meals arrived and I must say they were below average in quality, in presentation and in taste. After finishing we politely declined to have a desert and were immediately given the bill to pay. They needed to move us on to get the next group of tourists into our seats.
I asked an amazing tourist guide we met (David Battaglino) where is a good place to eat in Rome – somewhere the locals eat. I wanted a restaurant not set up simply as a turnstile for tourists!
We arrived at the recommended restaurant and were greeted by friendly staff, immediately the environment felt completely different to our 1st experience. This was a family run restaurant every one that came and spoke with us all actually cared about us.
When ordering the waiter politely guided us through the menu to help us order what we wanted and he made sure we didn’t order excessive amounts of food also. The food was amazing it was carefully and skilfully prepared. At the end of our meal the owner of the restaurant came over and talked to all of us, making sure we were full and happy with our meals. He said that most of his diners have been dining with him for years. As you can imagine, with this extra care, it was a great experience.
Having a bad dining experience is not the end of the world. You can just look for a better meal the next time.
Any thing to do with healthcare and dentistry is a different matter.
The consequences of having a bad experience are what you will have to live with for the rest of your life. Having invasive dental procedures with undesirable outcomes is not as easy to get over.
The cost to correct, if it’s even possible, are often a lot higher than the cost of the original work needed.
Dental Tourism Problems – Being Taken in by a Cheap Price
People are sometimes attracted to Dental tourism because of possible upfront savings in money but don’t consider what happens when problems arise or what is required for ongoing maintenance.
Dental tourism packages may rely on an “upsell” to get you to spend more money. Using the stress and pressure of you sitting in the dentist chair with limited time. Forcing you into a decision to spend more.
You may be fine with paying for another inexpensive extra procedure if the treatment is something that you consider to be easy, like teeth whitening.
If the procedure is something that can’t be reversed, like having veneers, your decision to go ahead has life-long implications for your smile, oral health and daily care routine.
A bargain isn’t always a good deal, especially if you’re making the decision to buy under pressure.
Is Dental Tourism Safe?
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation when it comes to the safety of dental tourism.
Opinion on the safety of dental tourism is divided… but both sides will agree, that if you decide to get dental treatment overseas, you’ll be going it alone.
So, it’s best to evaluate the risks on a case-by-case basis and consider your personal tolerance to risk.
Dental Tourism and Your Personal Safety
For example, when you aren’t a local you don’t understand the risks to your personal safety or belongings no matter where you are.
In any large city in the world there are parts that aren’t recommended for tourists to go to. So, going to a foreign place and expecting to have the same level of safety as you are familiar with back home is unrealistic.
By taking that step to undertake dental tourism, all the risks and uncertainty are on your shoulders.
It’s up to you to –
- explore and learn about the city, suburbs and clinic or hospital location;
- find out where the nearest emergency department would be or what type of emergency services are available;
- understand if you are being scammed with accommodation arrangements;
- confirm that the payment arrangements don’t leave you open to ransom, blackmail or other circumstances that leave you unexpectedly out of pocket;
- research and find out if what you are being told is true;
- investigate and work out if you are okay with how information is being interpreted; and
- make yourself familiar with all the red tape and paperwork so that you truly know what help you can expect should things not go according to plan.
Dental Tourism and Business Standards
Every country is different when it comes to how businesses and professions are made accountable for the customer/patient’s outcomes.
Australian dentists are highly-trained, must be registered and are required to operate in a strictly-regulated environment.
Overseas dentists may not be as qualified as their Australian peers, they may not follow best practice for controlling infections and may use different quality materials.
Dental Tourism Agencies and Companies
The key things you ought to know are – that it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get travel insurance and that if you go through an agency, they make it very clear that they are unable to help or provide support in any way when it comes to the dental treatment or outcomes.
For example, Global Health Travel’s website clearly states: “We will not encourage, advise, advocate or underwrite any of the doctors or healthcare facilities in our network. The final choice is completely yours.”
Basically, right now in dental tourism there are rarely clear avenues for complaint. If you aren’t happy with the work, or there are problems with any part of the arrangements there can be very little you can do about it.
To be clear – because dental tourism is such a new phenomenon, there is NO Australian Dental Tourism Association to protect you.
Busting the Dental Holiday Myth
Many people think that when it comes to dental tourism they can freely choose any where sunny and affordable.
Despite the potential of being able to go anywhere in the world for dental treatment, the reality is it is to reduce the risks you generally find you have to choose somewhere “close to home”.
When your travel includes healthcare services, it is likely that you’ll need to return within a short period of time.
- Not all dental treatments can be completed in one or two appointments that are closely booked together.
- Some treatments require an extended recovery period of weeks or months between appointments.
- Complications with healing and infections will require you to go back to see the dentist.
- Material weakness, failure and breaks from products used in your dental treatment may need to be replaced or retreated.
- Follow up care appointments are always needed for major dental work to ensure that treatments don’t lead to other complications.
While the name suggests tourism, dental tourism is not the same as being a tourist in a country. In fact you are instead choosing to be like a local – with all the good and bad that involves.
The Reality About Dental Tourism Destinations
The sunshine, luxury resorts and beaches in the brochures help sell you on a location, but what really matters are more practical things, when it comes to dental tourism destinations.
Affordability, travel time, reliability of transportation to destination, political stability, robust economic infrastructure and issues around personal safety are what really help to determine dental tourism destinations.
When you’re coming from a country like Australia where you can “tap your card and go” it’s easy to forget that not all countries have the safe banking set-up that we enjoy here. We also don’t have heavily armed police patrolling our streets or unreliable power supply to interrupt trains, wifi access, etc.
Why do People Risk Dental Tourism?
There are a few different reasons why people decide to explore their options with dental tourism.
The first and obvious reason for Australians is for cheaply priced dental care.
Low cost labour rates, low insurance costs and differences in taxes and laws, all contribute to cheaper prices for dentistry in some countries. Add in favourable exchange rates and anyone travelling from a country with a strong currency to a country with a developing economy can take advantage of cheap costs.
For people living outside urban environments in many parts of the world there is no other option.
They genuinely have limited access to healthcare facilities. In these situations, they must travel to access dentists and the dental technology and materials needed for treatments.
What Do I Need to Think About if I’m Exploring Dental Tourism?
There are a few things to think about if you’re persuaded by the cheap costs of dental tourism –
Your dental tourism itinerary is part necessity, part pleasure, so it’s easy to get timings and your schedule wrong.
- What will you do if you find yourself sitting in the dental chair and being pressured into treatments before you are ready, because you have a tight schedule or a plane to catch?
English as a second language can be tricky especially when it comes to technical terms like those used in dentistry.
- What will you do if the dentist, or other staff, suddenly seem like they don’t understand what you are saying or you get the feeling that they are saying things they think you want to hear instead of telling you the truth?
No matter how skilled, experienced or capable a dentist is, sometimes things can be a lot more complicated than it looked from the x-rays or first examination.
- What will you do if the treatment plan must suddenly change (it will take longer, require more work, more appointments and more money), because early preparation appointments didn’t go according to plan?
It is important that you have a plan, for “just in case”. So that there’s something you can do if when you turn up things are different to what you expected.
You will also want to investigate –
- Will you need visas or vaccines?
- Will the dentist guarantee the dental work and for how long?
- What are the laws, availability and costs for prescription medications?
- Do you need to provide your own translator?
- Can you have a friend or family member accompany you?
- What travel arrangements do you have between the clinic and where you’re staying?
- How much time do you need before you can take a flight?
- Will you need to pay more for flights for flexible rescheduling?
- Will you have the budget for your follow-up appointment trips?
Why Ethicists are Concerned About Dental Tourism
There are many areas of uncertainty when it comes to ethics regarding dental tourism. The ones that keep Ethicists awake at night are to do with the rights of the patient – primarily informed consent and doctor-patient communication.
Other areas of concern are patient autonomy over practitioner choice, patient safety and continuity of care.
In practical terms if when you turn up for your appointment and the dentist speaks English as a second language and is unable to clearly communicate the treatment plan. When parts of the conversation are not understood and question and answers are difficult. Should you saying yes under this type of duress still qualify as the patient giving informed consent?
In a dental tourism package, if the patient has no a choice over which practitioner they get to see – this may be commercially practical, but is a limit to the patient’s autonomy to choose who they see.
Privacy and security over your medical records; whether you get access to them later, should you choose to see another dentist next time.
Dental tourism has become so popular in the last 20 years that in some countries there are popup “dentists” appearing. These are clinics often run by shady operators who are not qualified to practice dentistry.
Right now in dental tourism there are many issues, few standards and without universal governance lots of areas are open to exploitation – with you as a victim and nowhere to turn for justice.
Dental Tourism Gone Wrong
Dental tourism goes terribly wrong when people prioritise the holiday part of their trip over the dental appointments.
Internet forums and websites like TripAdvisor and YouTube are full of horror stories of people’s bad dental tourism stories.
One Australian’s Horrible Dental Tourism Story
“I had a lot of work done by a supposedly reputable dentist in Manilla – Dr Rowena Marzo.
It was an absolute disaster. The technical work is very poor, the shape of the crowns is bulbous and impossible to clean causing infections.
The bite was terrible… on one side I had 17mm of contact, the molars are “overbuilt” i.e too high so I have constant pain in my jaw especially at night and I only get about 2 hrs sleep at a time.
I was referred to a prosthondist by my dentist. I will have to have the whole lot re-done $30K.
Currently I am looking at making an official complaint to the Philippine Dental Assn, not sure what that will do but I’d like to warn people it can end in tears!”
The Risks of Waiting to Save Up for a Dental Holiday
Most often the people who consider going overseas for dentistry do so because they need complex or extensive dental work done.
Delaying having dental treatments, to coordinate with a holiday can mean that your oral health deteriorates even further. By the time you see your overseas dentist you may need to have a completely new treatment plan or have more work done than expected.
Unfortunately, the more complex your dentistry needs are, the greater the probability that something may go wrong.
From swelling to infection, post treatment pain and recovery in a different climate, with hotel food and unfamiliar medications – dental tourism is not for the faint hearted.
A Final Dental Tourism Warning
Remember that many dental treatments require follow-up visits for adjustments, fittings and to find out if there are any issues. More extensive treatments require ongoing maintenance involving regularly scheduled appointments.
Since the materials and procedures used by overseas dentists differ from Australian conditions, your local Aussie dentist may not be able to help you with your ongoing needs later.Leave a reply →