Everyone wants perfect teeth, the bright Hollywood smile, the freedom to grin unabashedly in photos and not cringe afterwards at yellow stains, crookedness, gaps. For those among us who can readily afford such treatments, the reality of a winning smile is near at hand, but increasingly those who do not want to pay UK prices are going further afield for a set of pearly whites.
It’s a phenomenon that has been given the name ‘dental tourism’: patients travelling abroad for the purposes of dental treatment. Dental holidays are being sold as cheap alternatives to getting treatment in the UK, and with some dental clinics abroad even offering treatment packages that include a holiday, why not? More and more people seem to be taking the bait – in 2010, 63,000 UK citizens went abroad to be treated – by 2016 this had increased more than twofold to 144,000. While patients from developing countries are keen to come to the UK for access to better quality health services, UK citizens are growing increasingly willing to leave behind the high quality treatment available in the UK in pursuit of cheaper options elsewhere.
It might sound ideal – a nice holiday in a hot country, and a new set of gnashers, all for less than you’d pay at home. For some, it does work out, but for many others these dental departures can become the holiday from hell. It is not uncommon to hear stories of such trips with unhappy endings – consumer group Which? conducted a report that found that more than a quarter of patients who go abroad for treatment do not feel as though they receive the follow-up care they need. A further 18% reported complications following procedures.
While some people enjoy successful trips, for those that don’t the repercussions can be severe. Victims of poor experiences often find themselves paying additional fees on their return to the for corrective work in instances where work completed abroad is of poor quality. Neil Lunt, in a study on medical tourism, reported one instance of a patient who travelled to Hungary for dental implants and had to pay an additional £40,000 for remedial treatment upon his return to the UK, when it was found that the Hungarian implants had been unsuccessful.
And these potential extra costs – which, of course, negate the money-saving motive behind the trips – are not the only issues. For patients who feel they were treated improperly, it is not always easy to complain or seek legal recourse. In some countries it can be desperately hard to prove malpractice – in Malaysia and Singapore, for example, it is completely given for clinicians to judge the quality of care provided and decide if there has been a breach of duty. One Malaysian hospital reported that it had ‘never been required to pay for a wrongful death of negligence suit.’ Moreover, a consumer advocacy group in India reported that ‘patients claiming damages for medical negligence are unable to prove their allegations because doctors are unwilling to testify against other doctors.’
Of course, not all cases are horror stories, but there is plenty that a patient should take into account before they commit to going abroad.
Even in the hands of the most skilled clinician, when it comes to advanced procedures like implants or veneers there is always a risk of treatment failure. If complications happen to arise after you’ve returned home, it might not be easy or practicable for you to return to the clinician who performed the treatment, especially in the case of an infection. Dealing with consequences in the UK, as mentioned, can cost a pretty penny and negate the point of going abroad in the first place, but also puts your resident dentist in a difficult position. Dentists want to help their patients, particularly if they are in pain, or upset with their new, failing dentition, but might not always feel comfortable taking charge of treatment that has been done elsewhere, especially if the products used are unfamiliar to them.
Complicated procedures are not quickly or easily performed. Veneers, implants, crowns – all these require expertise and time to ensure a good outcome. Perfect results may require numerous visits and adjustments over a period of time, which might not be possible if the dentist who treated you is abroad.
To ensure results that you’ll be pleased with, it is paramount that you are able to effectively communicate with your clinician. For a patient to make a truly informed decision on their treatment they need to have treatment and aftercare options explained fully and clearly, naturally, this will always be more difficult when English is not the first language of the treating clinician. Communication issues can make it hard for them to know exactly what you want, and for you to know exactly what you’re getting – and unsurprisingly, complications and problems often arise in situations like these.
Not only do different countries have different concepts of what beautiful means and different aesthetic ideals, but more importantly they have varying clinical standards, some more stringent than others. Whilst in the UK, a dentist may be more inclined to save a tooth where possible, and reluctant to compromise healthy teeth, elsewhere dentists may be more prepared to extract teeth. The UK dental implant industry is one of the most strictly regulated in the world, and for good reason – patients who seek implant treatments elsewhere put themselves at greater risk of complications. Moreover, cross-infection control standards are not created equal worldwide, and in developing countries there can be a higher incidence of infectious diseases.
Well, we can’t stop you. We understand dentistry is pricey, and sometimes the appeal of potentially huge saving may seem worth the associated risks. But dentition in the UK isn’t always as unaffordable as it may seem. There is always the option of a payment plan, and here at Define we are always happy to discuss your payment options. Why not get in touch today to find out how we can help you spread treatment costs?
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