The Truth About Dental Tourism

The Truth About Dental TourismDental tourism has become a common practice among many Americans as a way to save money on dental treatments.

Statistics on this trend are hard to come by, but it is estimated that each year over one million people from around the world travel outside their country for some form of dental treatment, with summer being the busiest season for dental tourism.

The highest number of dental tourists is believed to come from the U.S., while Europeans are the second largest group to travel abroad for cheap dental treatments.

There are around 600 – 800 private clinics for surgical medical tourism, of which 80% offer dentistry services.

In recent years, medical travel companies all over the U.S. have sprung up to guide Americans through the dental insurance and logistical hurdles of treatments at medical facilities abroad in places like Mexico. One popular destination for Americans to receive dental treatment is in the Mexicali area, where the dental hub of Los Algodones is located.

Mexicali’s city tourism director, Omar Dipp even meets traveling medical tourists in the lobbies of their hotels.

Dipp recently told the online publication Fontieras that Mexicali received $16 million from medical tourism in 2010. His office is trying to boost that number by 50%.

The top 4 dental treatments patients travel for are –

1. Dental implants.
2. Crowns and bridges.
3. Root canal procedures.
4. Smile makeovers.

Some experts feel the rise in this trend is due to lack of dental insurance among patients, while others feel it is due to the rising costs of what patients have to pay over what dental insurance is willing to pay.

The American Dental Association has acknowledged that dental tourism is an increasing phenomenon that confronts dentists in the United States.

The ADA recommends the following to dentists:

1. A patient’s freedom of choice is an overriding consideration in any situation and is one in which dentists must recognize (ADA Code, Section 1, Patient Autonomy).

2. The ethical dentist will treat the patient who has received dental treatment outside the United States in the same manner as he/she would treat a patient who has transferred their care from any other practice, irrespective of the fact that the treatment performed outside of the United States might or might not be substandard and, in some instances, a possible detriment to the patient’s health.

3. A dentist should consult applicable state law to determine the definition of “patient of record.” Failure to treat such a patient may raise ethical concerns under ADA Code Section 2.F, Patient Abandonment.

4. A dentist should clearly describe to the patient his/her oral health status (ADA Code, Section 4.C, Justifiable Criticism) and maintain carefully documented records of treatment provided. Records should detail the patient’s baseline condition so secondary dental care can be clearly differentiated from treatment performed by another dentist whether in or outside the United States.

5. Where there is an emergency situation that develops as a result of dental tourism and the patient is not—or is no longer—one of record, dentists are obliged, at the least, to make reasonable arrangements for emergency care (ADA Code Section 4.B Emergency Service).

6. Dentists, especially those practicing in border states where dental tourism occurs more frequently, should begin to educate their patients about optimal oral health and costs versus the perceived value of dental tourism and advise them of the potential difficulty in seeking redress if problems are encountered with dental treatment performed in a foreign country.

Dentists, have you dealt with patients receiving dental treatments outside of the U.S.?

Have you lost dental patients due to dental tourism?

How Far Dental Patients Travel for Treatment

How Far Dental Patients Travel for Treatment (video)Dental patients will travel the world to receive dental treatment, but The Wealthy Dentist was curious about how far dental patients are willing to travel throughout the U.S. to visit a dentist.

As it turns out, it might be a lot farther than you realize.

One implantologist told The Wealthy Dentist, “Many of our patients travel up to 4 hours by car for treatments.”

The Wealthy Dentist conducted a survey asking dentists how far some of their dental patients travel for dental treatment.

Many dentists reported that they see dental patients who live hundreds, or even thousands of miles away from their dental practice.

“Some patients will travel 30+ miles,” wrote a rural dentist, “and then there is the fellow who comes twice a year from the Netherlands!”

To hear more of what dentists had to say about dental patients who travel long distances for dental treatment, Click on Play to watch the following dental video —

Dentists, do you have any patients that travel long distances to receive dental treatments from your dental practice?

Dental Implants Abroad: When Dental Tourism Goes Bad

Dental Implants Abroad: When Dental Tourism Goes Bad  Summer is the busiest season for dental tourism.

Statistics on this trend are hard to come by, but it is estimated that each year over one million people from around the world travel outside their country for some form of dental treatment.

While filling a cavity might be a simple dental procedure to have abroad, dental implants and more complicated dental treatments may not be as straightforward.

Dental implants can be a particularly risky dental treatment to receive abroad due to the recuperation period needed and follow-up appointments.

Just ask Palm Coast, Florida, resident Helen Hyjek, who recently traveled to Costa Rica for dental implant treatment.

According to WFTV News in Florida, Hyjeck received both upper and lower implants while on a planned dental vacation to Costa Rica. But once she returned home she found that her implants were too big, which caused her gums to continually bleed. She is in constant pain and has returned three times to Costa Rica in an attempt to get her implant issues fixed — all to no avail.

Meanwhile Hyject has spent in excess of $15,000 dollars in her efforts to save costs on what is typically considered an expensive dental procedure by dental patients here in the U.S. She doesn’t have the money to fix what has gone wrong and says the implants sound like “nails to a chalkboard.”

The ADA advises that dental patients who are considering dental treatments outside of the U.S. look at optimal oral health and costs versus the perceived value of dental tourism.  The ADA further warns of the potential difficulty in seeking redress if problems are encountered with dental treatments performed in a foreign country, which is exactly what Helen Hyjeck is now experiencing.

Dentists, have you had to repair dental implant treatments that were performed by a dental professional outside of the U.S.?

For more on this story see: Woman Shares Medical Tourism Dental Nightmare

Dental Vacations for Nearly 1% of US Population

Dental vacations popular among US patientsWe’ve been talking again about dental tourism — specifically, how US dental insurance company Companion Dental is including an “international treatment option” in all its dental plans for patients who’d prefer to go to Costa Rica for lower-cost care.

So how big is this whole “dental tourism” business, anyway?

It’s not really mainstream, but it is growing — and that’s why we should all be keeping an eye on it.

Think tank Deloitte Center for Health Solutions predicts that about 648,000 patients will take medical and dental vacations overseas this year — 20% more than in 2008. (Read the article)

According to Deloitte, this 20% growth is actually a reduction in demand. (Deloitte once predicted medical tourism would double every year, reports one website.) As many as 750,000 American sought dental tourism in 2007. The recession seems to be to blame, with patients having less money to spend on discretionary treatment.

“Barring any tempering factors, such as supply constraints, resistance from health plans, increased domestic competition or government policies, we project that outbound medical tourism could reach upwards of 1.6 million patients by 2012,” said Paul Keckley, Ph.D. and executive director of Deloitte Center for Health Solutions.

In a 2008 article on dental tourism, The New York Times stated:

“Roughly half a million Americans sought medical care abroad in 2006, of which 40 percent were dental tourists, according to the National Coalition on Health Care, an alliance of more than 70 organizations. That’s up from an estimated 150,000 in 2004…”

So it would seem that about 200,000 Americans will take a dental vacation in 2009. That’s nearly 1% of our adult population!

But there might be an upside… As the dollar slides, will foreigners start visiting the US for low-cost dental care? Maybe we’ll be the ones offering discount dental implants, affordable sedation dentistry, and relatively cheap dentures

Deloitte predicts that by 2017, up to 561,000 people from other countries will visit the US for dental and medical care.

Deloitte mentions a few other juicy tidbits:

  • “West Virginia and Colorado have attempted to pass legislation that would either require or incentivize insurers to incorporate medical tourism within their health benefits plans. Although both bills did not pass, they demonstrate that state legislators are paying more attention to the value of medical tourism.”
  • “India’s medical tourism sector is expected to grow 30 percent annually from 2009 to 2015.”

Make no mistake about it: Globalization will affect dentistry just as much as every other profession.

Dental Vacation Insurance Can’t Really Protect You

Insurance policy for dental touristsI’ve written before about the allure of dental tourism – the fact is, foreign dentists can have prices so low that even the most conservative dental patient can easily be tempted to leave the country. The risk, of course, is shoddy treatment.

Now one insurance company is offering UK residents “mishap insurance” should anything go wrong on their medical or dental vacation.

The managing director of the specialist travel insurer behind the Free Spirit Travel for Treatment program acknowledged, “It has taken me some time to persuade underwriters to do it. It looks pretty onerous.” (AXA Insurance UK is underwriting it.)

“Free Spirit Travel for Treatment provides cover for complications occurring whilst abroad at least 48 hours and up to 31 days after treatment… It is available to UK nationals up to age 74.”

Well, I can see why AXA wouldn’t be eager to offer this sort of insurance, but the time limit should protect them reasonably well. It’s emergency coverage only, really, and the policy says it doesn’t cover any expenses incurred within patient’s home country.

The long and short of it is — no one will truly insure you against the long-term risks of getting sub-par dental work in a foreign country.

The policy covers a variety of elective medical procedures, mostly cosmetic, including the following:

  • Belly button surgery
  • Calf implant
  • Laser hair removal
  • Liposuction
  • Semi-permanent make-up
  • Fertility treatment

In terms of dentistry, here’s what the policy will cover:

On a related note: our most recent survey asked dentists about their fee for a dental implant and crown. I thought it was a typo when one oral surgeon said he charges $500 for the dental implant and $500 for the crown, but no – just another example of low foreign prices. “I’m working in India, and hence even these charges are high for round here!” he explained.

Just a thought… at the rate the dollar is losing value against foreign currencies, I imagine the Brits and even third world patients in need will be coming to the US in droves for low-cost dental care by the end of 2010.

Visit the Free Spirit Travel for Treatment website

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