If you are thinking about travelling overseas for your dental treatment, this article will explain what to consider, questions to ask and how to determine which dental practitioner is right for you. While I focus in this post on Turkey (simply because I had my dental treatments there), a lot of the considerations apply to dental tourism in general.
How come I write about this topic? In February 2019, just days before our planned year-long trip around Europe, I went to a dentist in New Zealand for my annual check-up. He advised that I needed a root canal treatment, and I shouldn’t delay getting it done. So what did I do? Nothing. Well, at least not for the next ten months. Only as we started to prepare for our return down under in early 2020, did I do some research and obtain quotes for the treatment in New Zealand and overseas.
Maybe I could get the root canal treatment done during an extended stopover? Well, that was my thinking, and in the end, that was exactly what we did. Minus the root canal treatment, but more on that below.
Dental tourism: What is it and how did it come about?
Dental tourism, a subset of medical tourism, refers to people travelling (overseas) to obtain dental treatments that provide greater value for money than the treatments offered within their home countries, usually coupled with a vacation.
Medical tourism is not a new concept. For centuries, people have travelled to other towns, countries and even continents to seek out the best or most appropriate treatment for their ailments. In Greek mythology, Asclepius, the god of medicine, was said to bring people back from the underworld. His followers built temples and statues in his honour, and people would travel vast distances to pay their respects and pray for miracles to heal their ailments.
In the 17th century, spa towns developed in Europe, providing treatments to people with all sorts of ailments. The word spa is an acronym for the Latin phrase salus per aquam, meaning health from water. Slowly but surely, other continents followed.
Since the turn of the century, we have seen significant growth in medical tourism and specifically dental tourism, largely due to:
- Medical professionals increasingly studying overseas, then returning to practice in their home countries.
- The internet making it easier to connect medical/dental practices with potential patients.
- Easier and cheaper travel options.
The Turkish government has even made medical tourism a key policy initiative.
What dental treatments can I get overseas?
The short answer: pretty much the same as you can get at home. A general dentist can perform the following treatments:
- Routine check up
- Scaling and polishing
- Dental crowns, caps, bridges and veneers
- Root canal
- Teeth whitening.
If your case is a bit more complicated, you may need the help of a specialist:
- Orthodontists are specialized in the diagnosis and treatment of crooked teeth, bad bites and poorly aligned jaws.
- An Endodontist specializes in procedures involving the soft inner tissue of the teeth, including root canal treatments.
- Look for a Periodontist if you require diagnosis and treatment of gum disease.
- Prosthodontists specialize in restoring or replacing teeth through implants, veneers, crowns, bridges etc.
It is not recommended to seek corrective dentistry treatment involving braces as these treatments require multiple visits at regular intervals over an extended period, which is not feasible for most patients.
What are the benefits and risks of participating in dental tourism?
In some western countries such as Australia, the local Dental Association advocates against dental tourism. While not entirely altruistic, there are valid reasons to approach with caution when seeking medical or dental treatment overseas. In New Zealand, dentists have had to pick up the pieces when dental tourism goes wrong.
While dentistry, whether provided at home or overseas, is never risk-free, here are some of the most common benefits and risks involved in dental tourism:
|Treatment can be more cost-effective compared to your home country||Treatment could turn out to be more costly than expected if quote received is not comprehensive OR if there are complications that require follow-up treatments in your home country|
|Treatment can often be performed without being placed on a waiting list||Difficult or more expensive to sue an overseas doctor for malpractice if something goes wrong|
|Increased choice of and ability to compare dental providers|
|Ability to combine dental treatment with a vacation|
Are overseas dental treatments always cheaper?
Unaffordability in your home country may be the main reason you seek dental treatment overseas, but you do need to be careful as the total cost of your trip could well exceed the cost of dental care at home. When comparing a quote from your provider at home with those received from dentists overseas keep in mind that the treatment costs are only part of the whole package. To calculate the total costs for your trip take into account:
- Local transportation
- Treatment costs.
How ethical is dental tourism?
If dental tourism means that dentists are not available to the local population because (a) locals can’t get appointments or (b) treatments become unaffordable for them, it is unethical.
However, dentists, like everyone else need to earn an income. If dental tourism enables dentists to supplement their local income and invest in their practice dental tourism can benefit the community you visit for your dental treatment. Dental tourism can also be beneficial when you visit outside of peak season, stay in locally owned accommodation businesses, eat at locally-owned restaurants etc.
How to go about arranging dental treatments overseas?
Consult with your own dentist
If you trust your regular dentist, you should consult with them first. They are best suited to offer advice based on your dental history. It would also be wise to fill them in on your plans to discuss any pros and cons for seeking dental treatment overseas and to get a quote from them.
Determine what you need to know to make a decision
Before you start your research make a list of all the information you need to make a decision. Create a little spreadsheet to compare providers. Keep in mind both the benefits and the risks involved in seeking medical/dental treatment overseas, for example: Is there a government or non-profit organisation that could assist you in case you become a victim of malpractice?
Shortlist potential providers
The most useful sources to identify potential countries, cities, clinics and doctors are
Medical travel planners/brokers
Planners/brokers specializing in medical travel, for example WhatClinic or Dental Departures (or IntraHealth which specializes in Turkey), are aggregators which list practices (including services provided, cost range for services, reviews by patients, contact details, etc).
Medical travel planners/brokers are increasingly advertising all-inclusive travel packages that include dental procedures, hotel room reservations, excursions to tourist attractions and airline tickets to lure international clients. Be warned: not all providers are legitimate. Ensure you do your research before handing over any personal data or money. And never use a website that doesn’t have a valid SSL certificate.
Medical tourism consultancies and industry bodies
Over the years, various dental and medical tourism consultancy companies, global, regional and national medical tourism associations, and industry bodies have been set up to cater to the medical tourism industry. You would go to them for support, validation and research.
Below are some of the more well-known and established ones:
- Fly to Cure – Has a fully equipped and NHS accredited medical centre in London. For most treatment packages, several years of free follow-ups are included.
- Medical Tourism Association – The Medical Tourism Association also referred to as Medical Travel Association was the first membership-based international non-profit association for the medical tourism and global healthcare industry. Made up of top international hospitals, healthcare providers and medical tourism facilitators, members have the common goal of promoting the highest level of quality of healthcare to patients in a global environment.
- Turkish Healthcare Travel Council – Established in 2005 to strengthen health tourism activities and to unite the national efforts to bring more patients from around the world to Turkey. It is the largest healthcare association in Turkey.
It is quite common for health insurers to send patients overseas (for example if the waiting list in your home country is too long for certain procedures). So, if you are considering medical/dental treatment overseas, your health insurance provider may be a good point of call with established contacts overseas.
Ask questions – lots of questions
Asking questions doesn’t only help you fill in any blanks about the procedure. How the practice communicates with you tells you a lot about the practice.
Here are some key questions to ask – though this is by no means an exhaustive list:
- What does the treatment entail (including how many appointments are required over what time-frame)?
- Who is performing the treatment? What are their qualifications and accreditations? How often have they performed the procedure?
- How well do they speak English? If not (very well), will there be an interpreter present at the procedure?
- Is the work insured/guaranteed for a certain period?
- What happens if I am unhappy with the results? Do you have a complaints system in place? Can I see a copy of it?
- How often has there been complications with similar treatments in the past? If there are complications and I need further treatment, is this included in the initial cost?
- What aftercare is provided? Who can I contact for advice after the treatment?
Accreditations can be considered a stamp of approval verifying the authenticity and quality of the services provided. By being accredited, a dental practice or practitioner aims to demonstrate that staff is sufficiently qualified, that the dental equipment is adequate to perform the procedures offered and meet specific safety standards.
Unfortunately, there is no worldwide agency/group engaged in (coordinating) the delivery of accreditation or licensing, or in assessing existing schemes that deliver accreditation. Best is to do some research to gain an understanding:
- For the country you are considering: What licensing/accreditation is required/recommended? How often does it need to be renewed (and what is required for the renewal)?
- For the practice/practitioner you are considering: Is their licence/accreditation appropriate and valid?
Be aware that accreditations can also be a marketing tool by dental tourism facilitators, wealthier dental practices and the governments of provider countries seeking to grow their share of the dental tourism business. So, don’t solely rely on accreditations.
Arrange an initial consultation
Most dental practices who support dental tourism will offer free initial consultations. This allows you to check out the practice, observe the dentist and their staff, and ask any final questions before booking the appointment for the actual treatment. If you’re not comfortable with your experience during the initial consultation don’t go ahead with the planned treatment.
Why Turkey is a valid option for dental tourism?
On a worldwide basis, Turkish dentistry can easily compete with other industrialized countries. To perform dentistry in Turkey, you need a University Diploma in Dentistry. You also need to be a member of the Turkish Dental Association. According to the Turkish Dental Association, there are nearly 24,000 practising dentists in Turkey.
Turkey is a leading player in dental tourism facilitation and is emerging as the destination of choice for a wide range of dental procedures. According to data of the Istanbul International Health Tourism Association, it is estimated that around 700,000 foreign patients benefited from Turkish health-care tourism opportunities in 2017 (out of around 42 million tourists visiting Turkey every year).
The country offers:
- internationally accredited dental facilities using the latest technologies;
- highly qualified general and specialist dental practitioners;
- significant cost savings (at 30% of the cost, on average) for dental work and cosmetic dentistry compared to procedures in Europe;
- no waiting lists; and
- fluent English speaking staff experienced in treating patients from other countries.
Visiting Turkey for dental treatment can easily be combined with a holiday. Antalya and the surrounding area in particular are a gorgeous seaside holiday destination with many ancient sites and natural treasures to explore.
My Dental Tourism Experience in Antalya
Name: Beyaz Ada Dental Clinic
Description: The clinic is located in Antalya, Turkey and has a team of qualified dental surgeons and oral healthcare experts.
Price range: EUR50 - EUR3,800
Payment accepted: Credit Card
Currencies accepted: EUR
Address: Tekelioğlu Caddesi Terracity Midpoint Karşısı 07160 Antalya, Turkey
Telephone: +90 242 324 94 95
- Friendly ambience
- Up-to-date facilities
- Experienced dentists
- Adherence to appointment times
- Cleanliness and safety
- Care and comfort
As soon as you walk through the door, you are greeted by friendly staff (by name if you’ve visited before). The clinic is bright and modern. The reception area has seating for 10 patients. The two dentists and their team are passionate about their work. The clinic prides itself on very personal service, and that’s exactly what you get.
Up to date facilities
On your first visit, you are taken into a small room where your teeth are x-rayed using a Genoray GDP-1 Panoramic x-ray machine that moves around your head. The two dental treatment rooms are equipped with modern dental units.
The clinic performs most major and typical dentistry work. I had the pleasure of having Dr Ismail Kargin treat me during my three appointments. His many qualifications cover two walls, and the certificates show that he has taken many courses since he commenced practice in 2007. Apart from the Turkish Dental Association, Dr Kargin is also a member of the Aesthetic Dentistry Academia Association and the International Team of Implantology.
Adherence to appointment times
According to Dr Kargin, one of the biggest challenges the clinic faces is the limited time dental tourists have. Fortunately, most patients only need to be in Antalya for a week, and the clinic does everything in their power to finish the treatments as quickly as possible without compromising on quality.
Cleanliness and safety
The reception area was clean and tidy, as were the bathroom and treatment rooms. While lying on the dentist chair, everything appeared to be clean. However, I can’t comment on the degree of sterility of the instruments used.
Communication was actually what set the clinic apart from the other clinics we spoke to and was a key reason why we chose Beyaz Ada. Although Dr Kargin speaks English, the clinic employs a Turkish, English and Mandarin-speaking assistant who is present during the treatments and translates as the treating dentist explains each step of the procedure. The assistant also helps patients organise their stay (from arranging dental treatments and seeing other doctors to organizing tours, providing advice on restaurants, etc).
The clinic’s price list is published on the Dental Departures website, so you know what to expect. The prices were accurate for the treatments I received. The clinic offers a best price guarantee among Antalya clinics.
Care and comfort
My initial consultation, teeth cleaning and two fillings (thanks to local anesthetics) were pain-free. After my teeth whitening treatment, I had 36 hours of pain and some discomfort which I treated with normal over the counter pain killers. I was also discouraged to have any dark colored food and drinks for two weeks after the treatment to avoid renewed discoloration and allow the gums to heal.
I was made aware of potential pain before the treatment, but the pain and discomfort was more (and more prolonged) than I had anticipated. I also found that normal pain killers didn’t fully alleviate the pain. This is one area the practice could improve upon, for example by providing adequate pain killers for the first 36 hours after treatment.
The clinic is located in Lara, about 7 kilometers from the Old Town of Antalya, and right across the street from Terracity, a large shopping mall. While not in the city centre, the clinic is easily reachable by public transport, with various buses connecting Antalya’s Old Town with Terracity, taking less than 30 minutes in normal traffic.
I had come to the clinic to receive a root canal treatment. During my initial consultation (which was free of charge and included a 360-degree x-ray) Dr Kargin discussed my case with an Endodontist whom he had sent my images to confirm his diagnosis and treatment proposal. Their joint recommendation was that a root canal treatment was not required. All I needed were two fillings.
After the initial consultation, I received a cleaning treatment and the two fillings. Given the positive experience I had during my visits to the clinic, I decided to also get my teeth whitened as decades of coffee consumption had left them pretty stained. I was very happy with the experience and would return for further dental treatments without hesitation. In total, I paid TRY2,322 (USD377/EUR330).
Before you confirm or pay any money, here are some practical recommendations to consider:
- Discuss your dental treatment needs with your regular dentist at home first. Get a quote for treatment in your home country so you can assess whether it makes sense to seek treatment overseas.
- If you choose to go through an agent/broker, read the fine print. Know what they will do and most importantly, what they won’t do.
- Research the actual dental clinic online.
- Check out the reviews thoroughly of both the agent/broker and the actual dental clinic. Pay particular attention to reviews that provide background details on the dentists and their qualifications, and whether complications arose and how they were dealt with.
- Ask lots of questions. Ensure you receive a full treatment plan as well as a comprehensive quote for your procedure.
- Discuss potential dates with your chosen dentist before you book your trip to ensure they are available and can fit you in as required. Be as flexible as you can when it comes to appointment times. Allow more time after the treatment than beforehand.
- Don’t book any activities too soon after your treatment as you may experience discomfort for a short period of time.