Dental tourism is a growth industry. We all hear the stories of people going overseas to have a holiday and do some dental work. Perhaps it’s dental implants in Thailand or even a major cosmetic operation. I can fully understand the cost benefit of doing this, but unfortunately you can’t buy a Porsche for the price of a second hand Hyundai. It is either a Porsche or not.
I spend a lot of time lecturing around the world and find my way into these countries. I always have dentists come up to me impressed with the porcelain work that I show on my slides. They say that they are happy to send their work to Australia and get our technician to do the work as they are not happy with what their technicians can do. But when I give the costs of the work they say that they can’t afford it as their clients will never pay that much. So they continue to use the inferior materials due to what they are charging and what their clientele will pay. And the dentists who normally are attending our courses are not treating the tourists, as the tourists are only willing to pay very little. They are treating the wealthy Asians who are prepared to pay more for quality.
There are many stories of work that has gone wrong and patients with infections that require lengthy hospital stay. When the work goes wrong the repair bill is far higher than what it would originally have been. This clogs up our hospitals and uses money that could have been spent elsewhere. The overseas dentist doesn’t pay tax in Australia so they don’t contribute to the Medicare pool. So all Australians are paying for this and wasting money so that some one can get a cheap smile or breast augmentation etc.
In England there is a debate going on now that if you have problems with work done overseas then you should repay the money that the NHS (our Medicare) paid for you to clog up the hospital system. Maybe it’s a debate we need to have in this country?
In today’s paper there is the story of a Sydney dentist who was shut down for poor sterilisation issues. In Australia we have the authorities who monitor this and take action. Overseas there is none. Just remember that when work is done there is water that comes out of our handpieces to cool them. The water is from the town supply. In these countries you can’t drink the tap water. And that is what is coming out of the handpieces into your mouth and blood stream as you have a surgical procedure done. You better hope they have a separate sterile water supply. I saw a clinic overseas that had the set up for the sterile water but found out that they were just filling the bottles out of the tap.
The ADA has put together a nice web page with more information about dental tourism. I know that many will ignore this message but I’m hoping that you can now make an informed decision when you are thinking about a dental holiday. Will it be worth the cost of the risk that you are taking?
Dr. Agim Hymer
BDSc Melbourne University (1988)