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?

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

Low-Cost Dental Care Lures Patients to Mexico

The fact that some Americans head to Mexico for low-cost dental restorations isn’t news. However, as the recession leaves people with less money to spend, it seems likely that more will choose dental tourism.

In fact, the Chicago Tribune recently ran a story entitled Mexico: the new dental destination.

Medical tourism in general is a growing industry. Some Americans head to Canada or Mexico for discounts on prescription drugs. Thailand has a booming business in gender reassignment surgery. Facelifts and other cosmetic surgery can be found the world over.

One of Mexico’s top destinations for dental tourists is Los Algodones. Just over the border from Yuma, Arizona, the town of 4,000 boasts some 350 dentists. (Twenty years ago there were a dozen dentists in town.)

The town itself has an English website that centers on dental tourism. “A dental vacation in Los Algodones, Baja California, Mexico will provide you with the best of both worlds – the comfort of familiar American surroundings and the famous Mexican dental prices,” it reads.

And let’s be honest: a Mexican dentist can offer prices far lower than any American dentist. Can you offer a dental crown for $150? How about gum surgery for $360? Or veneers for $350 each? (See what patients say.)

Of course those prices will grab the attention of a price-conscious consumer. Even with travel and accommodations, a lot of patients reason they can save money on dental care.

What those patients are not accounting for is risk. The less you pay, the higher your risk of getting an inferior restoration. (Remember how low-cost dental crowns from Chinese dental labs were found to contain lead?) There are obviously exceptions, but in general, you get what you pay for.

And what if you’re not satisfied? Few Americans actually file complaints with the Mexican authorities, but anecdotal reports abound of patients who spend thousands to repair damage from hack dentists charging rock-bottom prices.

How This Affects American Dentists

The patient you’re most likely to lose to a Mexican dentist is the thrifty one who has “sticker shock” when you drop the bomb about how much major restorative dentistry costs.

But all you will see will be the glazed look in their eyes. They will not say to you, “Well, Doctor, what do you think about me just going to Mexico to get it done?” They will be polite, or embarrassed, and they will end up making their decision without consulting you.

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