As the price of dental care has risen in the United States over the past several years, dental tourism has become an increasingly popular option for patients who need to have significant work done. But does it really save patients money? And if so, how much?
What is Dental Tourism?
Dental tourism is the established practice of traveling outside of one’s country to receive dental care. For example, an American citizen may travel to Mexico to have a root canal performed. Another example would be an Australian citizen traveling to Thailand to undergo a surgical procedure for dental implants.
High costs and poor insurance coverage are the primary driving forces behind dental tourism. By traveling to another country where the cost of procedures is considerably less, patients can save thousands of dollars and (potentially) get much faster care.
The benefits are clear, but the question remains: Do they warrant the trip?
The Safety of Dental Tourism
The safety of dental tourism depends on a variety of factors, including the location and the dentist. In the United States, dental professionals are required to complete accredited programs and pass certain exams to be certified practitioners. These same requirements may or may not be in place in other countries.
Likewise, you must consider the equipment, drugs, and procedures used. In the United States, the CDC has comprehensive guidelines in place to prevent infection. This isn’t always true in smaller countries that offer cheaper services.
In countries like Mexico, Thailand, Costa Rica, and Hungary (which are all major dental tourism destinations), there are big differences between levels of care. Some dentists will have professional certifications and degrees, while others will not. It’s up to you to carefully research credentials and do your due diligence before having work done.
The CDC warns medical tourists that in certain countries, there may be an increased risk of coming into contact with bacteria that’s resistant to antibiotics. It’s also possible that water used in dental procedures could make individuals sick if they haven’t built up the proper immunity to the bacteria and organisms in the water.
4 Things to Know About Dental Tourism
Dental tourism can be a good option, but it can also be risky. It’s all about how you approach the situation. Here are some things to know:
1. Run a Cost Analysis
The first step is to run a cost analysis to see if the savings justify the hassle. This information can usually be researched online.
For example, let’s say you need a dental implant. In the United States, this procedure can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 (on average). In Costa Rica, however, it costs just $1,200. In Mexico, it’s somewhere around $1,400. On the surface, that seems like an obvious choice. However, you also must account for the cost of flights, accommodations, and other trip-related expenses. A failure to do so could minimize your savings (or even leave you paying more).
2. Plan Out the Logistics
Anytime you travel abroad, you must be very intentional with your plans. In addition to setting up travel plans and accommodations, you’ll have to work through logistics as it relates to travel documentation.
Travel requirements are constantly changing. In addition to having a passport, you may also need other documents. For example, American travelers will soon need an ETIAS to travel to European countries. This is something you should get ahead of time.
3. Read Reviews
There is no shortage of dental clinics and practices that cater to dental tourism. But with so many to choose from, how do you know you’re going with the right option?
In addition to checking certifications and other documentation, we recommend reading reviews from past patients. For best results, check third-party review sites (which are much less likely to be manipulated by the dental clinic). You’ll see some really good reviews and other bad ones. Look for the trends and common themes. That’s usually where the truth is found.
4. Plan for Follow-Up Care
It’s a good idea to stick around long enough to get some follow-up care (if needed). Plan to add a day or two to your trip so that you can have at least one post-appointment meeting. (You’ll also want to get all the clinic’s contact information so that you can get in touch with questions or concerns after going home.)
It’s worth noting that dental tourism can impact your ability to get follow-up care covered by your insurance in the United States. In other words, if something goes wrong, don’t expect to be able to travel back to the U.S. and have your insurance company cover a secondary procedure. Your decision to seek care in another country (from a provider that isn’t recognized by your insurance company) could leave you footing 100 percent of the bill.
Putting it All Together
Dental tourism can be a great option for those looking to save thousands of dollars on dental care. However, there are plenty of considerations that must be considered. If this is an option that you do pursue, thorough research is a must! Do your due diligence and make the best decision you can with the information you have.