Tourism is the worlds largest industry and with globalisation, health tourism has certainly taken off.

Quite a few of my friends and patients have asked me lately what I think of dental tourism, or travelling to other countries for dentistry.  The most common destination is usually the Philippines or Thailand for Australians, or if you live in the USA, commonly people head south to Mexico or Brazil.

Lower cost of living, less regulation, lower mandated standards and exchange rates all conspire to make dentistry much cheaper in these countries.  But is it safe? Have you considered travelling overseas for dental treatment?

If you have you considered travelling overseas for dental treatment there are probably three things to consider when looking at choosing a dentist and these are the same when choosing a dentist in Australia or overseas.

1. Training.
2. Reputation and Experience.
3. Adequate time and resources.

1.  Training.
The level of training for dentists in Australia is as high as anywhere in the world and there is a lot of independent regulation to maintain those standards.  From time to time, international teams inspect the dental schools so that accreditation may be granted by other countries.  Since all dentists here must be registered, you can be pretty sure that someone that claims to be a dentist, actually is.   Australian dental schools are at the forefront of dental research in several fields and this helps them stay current with the most modern techniques.

If you go to a developing country, some dentists may be trained in Australia or America, but many more will be trained locally.  As to how high the standards of the dental schools are and how current their research is will be much more variable.  The standards required to be registered to be a dentist and the standards required for infection control and sterility will vary and will be more difficult to ascertain before you go.

2.  Reputation and Experience.
Most of us go to a dentist after being referred by several friends who have usually been going for some time.  Most of the time, you will not know someone who has been going to the dentist for several years if the dentist is in another country.  Of course you can look on their website, but you can say anything on a website.

The big thing is that most dentists tend to build a reputation in one area over many years.  If all your patients only fly in for a month and then leave, you tend not to have to live with your mistakes.

3.  Adequate time and resources.
One of the interesting trends is that people rarely go overseas for simple stuff, but mainly for the most complex, finicky dentistry such as full mouth restoration or cosmetic dentistry.  The sort of dentistry where you want someone who does a lot of extra training every year and an absolute dedication to quality.

The trouble with this sort of dentistry, is that to do things properly often takes from three to twelve months just to get all the foundation right before the teeth are finally fixed.  Trying to rush all this through in the space of three or four week holiday seems a recipe for disaster.  Would you fly on a jet that was made in the cheapest country possible and built in one quarter the time that Boeing or Airbus take to build one?

None of this is to imply that it is impossible to find excellent dentists in any country, just that it is harder to check someone’s credentials and that rushing treatment causes problems even for the best dentists.

The brother in law of one of my staff went to the Philippines because dentistry that would cost about twelve thousand dollars here, only cost about five thousand in the Philippines including airfares.  Initially he was very happy with the treatment, but when things started fracturing not long later, his joy slowly evaporated.  He has since spent another twelve thousand having the work redone.

So its not impossible to get very high quality dentistry on the cheap, but it is risky.

Of course with all dental treatment individual results may vary,  and any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks.  Before proceeding with any dental treatment, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.