The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Dental Tourism: Must Read for Denture Wearers
Healthcare is a contentious issue in the United States and it’s one of the biggest things that causes Americans to pack their bags and head for cheaper shores. But you don’t need to live in another country to benefit from its healthcare and simply taking a short vacation will allow you to save big on expensive treatments like implants, dentures, extractions, and more.
Dental tourism, and health tourism in general, is becoming more common in the United States as healthcare gets more expensive and travel gets cheaper.
If you’re thinking about dental tourism, whether because you have your eye on a new set of dentures and/or you need extensive treatments, take a look at these pros and cons.
Pros of Dental Tourism
Although there are only a few pros of dental tourism, they are arguably much bigger than the cons and depending on your budget, needs, and location, it could be a no-brainer.
It is Cheaper
Dental clinics charge a premium in the United States, and the result is some of the most expensive dental care in the world.
You can save anywhere from 30% to 90% in some of the most popular destinations for dental tourism. It’s often incorrectly assumed that it’s all down to the cost of living, which is much higher in the United States, but while this certainly plays a role, it’s just one of many factors.
In other countries, state healthcare plans and affordable health insurance have driven the cost of dental care down. Increased competition has also played a role.
Take Hungary as an example. The country has a huge number of dentists and some of the best facilities in the world.
Over the last decade or so, Hungary has become a hub for dental tourists across Europe, beginning with Austrians who were priced out of their own country and spreading to Scandinavians and even the British (healthcare is free in the UK, but not everyone is entitled to free dental care and there are also exceptions for cosmetic work).
The constant flow of customers and money has allowed the Hungarian dental industry to thrive, and as clinics compete with one another to attract tourist dollars, the prices have remained very low.
In India, you will find a huge number of highly-skilled medical professionals all keen to get their hands on some foreign money, and this is when the differences in the currency and the cost of living really shine through. You can stay in a 3-star hotel for around $10 a day and get a decent set of dentures for just $300 to $500.
It’s not just about the dentures, either. If you have teeth remaining, they will need to be pulled. If you have any signs of gum disease, you may need X-rays and bone grafts. All of those fees can add up and leave you with an eye-watering bill from a US dentist.
Even if you consider that you might be charged a little more as a tourist from a richer country, it’s still a much cheaper option and you can always get a concrete quote before you travel to ensure there are no nasty surprises when you land.
Hungary and India are a long way to travel for a set of dentures, but you don’t need to visit Europe or Asia to make some big savings. In fact, simply heading south of the border to Mexico will save you even more and won’t bleed you dry in airfares and other travel expenses.
Generally, any time you need to pay more than $1,000 for dental treatment in the United States, it’s worth checking the price of flights to locations in Central and South America, and if those costs exceed $5,000, you can include Asian and European destinations in your search.
If it’s less than $1,000 and you’re not within driving distance of Mexico, it may be time to bite the bullet and stick with your usual dentist.
It’s a Bonus Vacation
If you have some extra cash left in your budget and don’t have to worry about getting back to your kids or going to work, you can choose your location based on hotels, food, attractions, and landmarks, as well as dental options.
Make a vacation out of it. After all, it would be a waste to fly to Europe and not do a little country-hopping and it would be equally wasteful not to soak up the sun and the culture in Thailand or Bali.
Of course, some locations make more sense than others. Mexico is a beautiful country, for instance, but if you live just over the border and are visiting by car, you’re not going to be missing much by hopping back in your vehicle and going home.
The irony is that even if you factor the cost of staying in an expensive hotel, eating at restaurants, and purchasing return flights, it could still be cheaper than paying for premium dental work in the United States.
It might not be true for dentures, but some patients are being quoted in excess of $20,000 for dental work, and in other countries that would get you all the treatments that you need and a family holiday in the sun!
The Quality of Work Can be Very High
There are a few incorrect assumptions that many Americans make about dental tourism. One of the biggest is that all other countries are somehow inferior when it comes to dental care and that the United States is the best.
It’s true that the United States has some great dentists, but they’re probably not the best in the world. In fact, northern European nations like Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland often rank the highest when it comes to dental health, and some of the best dental schools in the world are located in the UK, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Japan, Sweden, and Switzerland, as well as the United States.
You can find great dentists out there and, generally, you shouldn’t worry about whether they are capable or not. Just make sure that the dentist you choose is certified, educated, and has the documents to prove it.
Some countries are very strict about this, even more so than the United States, and unqualified or underqualified dentists are a rarity, but the same can’t be said for all regions and it pays to do your research.
There are Lots of Options
Anything that you can get in the United States is also available in other countries. That includes implant-supported dentures, immediate dentures, and partial dentures. In fact, while the US is a little more self-sufficient these days, there was a time when the bulk of the world’s dental suppliers, specifically dentures, were made in Europe.
It might not sound like a big deal. Dentures are dentures—what more could you need? But dentures can be made from an assortment of materials. They can look cheap or real; they can be strong or weak.
There are many different grades of dentures to consider and when you’re in a country where everything is much cheaper, you can afford to get the better option.
The last thing you want is to settle for a pair of dentures that cost you two weeks’ wages, only last for a couple of years, and look like a cheap Halloween prop. But for the same price, you could get a premium set of dentures in another country.
Cons of Dental Tourism
There are a lot of cons listed below, but these aren’t necessarily dealbreakers, and if you’re responsible, careful, and do your research, you can avoid many of them.
Differing Standards of Quality
What serves as a high-quality set of dentures in one country may not be given the same high regard in another. The United States has some high-quality dentistry and while the same is true for many other countries, it’s not a universal fact.
Just because you’re getting cheaper dentures doesn’t mean that they will be judged to the same standards. An extraction is an extraction, and it’s hard to get a filling wrong. But the quality of dentures can differ greatly and it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting, what it’s made from, and what the comparable option is in the United States.
Different Hygiene Standards
Most dental tourism countries have a very high standard of hygiene. Such is the case with Hungary and Bali, for instance, and it’s also true for many high-end dental clinics in Mexico, Thailand, and India. But it’s not true for all of them and some of them may be a little more relaxed when it comes to hygiene and customer safety.
It’s very important that your dentist takes great care to clean the preparation area and tools, while making sure that anything that goes in or near your mouth has been cleaned thoroughly.
Any lapses in this area could leave you with a life-threatening infection. Such an issue is bad news at any time and any place, but it’s even worse if you’re thousands of miles from home and don’t speak the language.
If you notice any red flags, including dirty work surfaces and dentists that don’t wear gloves or wash their hands, just walk away. It’s not worth risking your health.
Follow Ups are Difficult
Dentures may loosen over time. Your bone begins to deteriorate when it no longer has teeth to hold onto and your mouth will also change shape due to age, illness, medications, dry mouth, and a variety of other causes. When this happens, your dentures need to be re-fitted, and it’s not practical to simply hop on a plane and go for a check-up.
Whatever happens, you’re going to need to have a local dentist who you can trust and who has your information on file.
They will help you with repairs and realignments and will also provide assistance with regard to caring for and protecting your dentures.
Don’t simply assume that you can buy your dentures from another country and then deal with all the repairs and realignments yourself. It’s not like a squeaky gate or a leaky faucet—it’s not something that you can fix with a little elbow grease and a YouTube tutorial.
There is Very Little Accountability
Respectable dentists will always try to do a good job and take responsibility if they make a mistake, but there is more accountability for US dentists than there are for foreign ones.
If a US dentist does a bad job and refuses to fix it, they will get a bad reputation in the community and may even be on the end of a bitter lawsuit. If the same happens outside of the US, they likely won’t care as much, as the patient will hop on a plane in a few days and disappear out of their lives forever.
It’s important, therefore, to stick with dentists that have immaculate reputations online and are established on many different platforms. This will increase your chances of having a good experience and it will also give you recourse in the event that they do a bad job.
You’re Not Covered by Insurance
Some health insurance plans will cover you for dental. They might not cover you for the full price of a set of dentures, but they can take some of the edge off and may also help with the initial extractions and other essential treatments.
The same can’t be said for foreign dentists, though. As soon as you leave the United States, those health plans are no longer relevant and a dentist in Bali, Hungary, or Thailand won’t care how old you are, if you’re insured or not, and if you’re a veteran.
There are a Lot of Travel Considerations
If the price was the only thing to consider, then dental tourism would be the best option for everyone. You could save a few dollars, put a big cross on your travel to-do list, and get a brand-new set of dentures at the same time.
But there’s much more to it than that. You may need to take time off work or away from your children, grandchildren, or pets. You will have to consider the hassle of traveling to the airport, dealing with airport transfers, paying for accommodation, and then feeding yourself when you’re there.
If you have specific dietary requirements or health needs, it becomes even more complicated. For instance, many Americans are of the belief that they can travel with anything they want, as long as it was legally obtained and owned in the United States, but that’s simply not true.
It should go without saying that you can’t travel to many international destinations with cannabis, but what you might not know is that some will also penalize you if you travel with hemp/CBD and opiate-based medications.
Denture wearers are more likely to be older and to suffer from a variety of health conditions, and so these medication problems and health concerns need to be taken into consideration.
There are Some Security Threats
A handful of popular dental tourism destinations have very high rates of violent crime and there is a greater chance of being the victim of a violent crime if you’re a cash-rich tourist.
You shouldn’t have any such issues in Hungary, Spain, or Bali, and while some cities in Thailand have a reputation for being a little lawless and hedonistic, it’s actually a beautiful and very safe place to be. But the same can’t be said for the Dominican Republic or Mexico.
With the former, tourists are often advised not to leave the resort, which can be a little tricky if you need to drop by a dental clinic and have a set of dentures fitted.
With the latter, it’s mostly safe, but there are high-crime towns just over the border and this is where many dental tourists seem to go.
It’s important to remember that just because the risk is higher, it doesn’t mean that you will definitely be a victim of crime. The odds are still very much in your favor and you can protect yourself further by staying away from high-risk areas, returning to the hotel before nightfall, and taking the advice of the hotel and resort staff.
The internet is your friend in situations like this. You can find a wealth of information on the most dangerous streets and activities, as well as the things you should do to protect yourself. If you’re going to be visiting a high-risk country, make sure you know this information like the back of your hand.
Summary: Pros and Cons of Dental Tourism
Dental tourism can be great if you have a big bill on your hands and a love of traveling, but it’s not always the best option and won’t be suitable for everyone.
It’s also worth noting that there may be cheaper options in the United States. Don’t give up on the USA just yet. Make sure you get quotes from different dentists and look at different denture options before you grab your passport and fly halfway around the world.