Everyone loves a holiday. Who doesn’t dream of sunny beaches or cheap shopping? These days more and more people are heading overseas to do more than just capture a few happy snaps and get a suntan – they are coming back with new teeth! Flashy websites advertise postcard-perfect exotic locations throughout Asia and elsewhere, along with claims of “safe, clean and very hygienic dental procedures”. Some packages even include “prepackaged accommodation” as well as sightseeing tours. All at a cheaper price than what you can get in Australia. So, it’s no wonder that the numbers heading overseas are now increasing. While there is a vast array of cosmetic medical procedures on offer to choose from, those going “to get their teeth fixed” often do so because they need to. So, while you may know someone who has been overseas and successfully had dental work done and are tempted to go yourself, is dental tourism too good to be true?
While there are undoubtedly skilled dentists in every country, Australia applies a rigorous standard to those graduating locally. Although you can do your “homework” on an overseas dentist’s training and qualifications, some countries accept a standard of education and training that would be considered substandard here and often the results reflect that level of training. I had a patient who once boasted they were going to travel back to their home country in Europe to have their teeth “fixed for $99 a tooth”. They weren’t too happy when they started getting pain from several teeth two weeks after they returned, only to find out that almost all of the teeth she had treated overseas needed root canal treatment. Dentists trained overseas can apply to work in Australia, but those with unrecognised qualifications must sit knowledge and skills testing to gain recognition – and currently only a third of those applying pass. That means that there’s two-thirds out there that “don’t make the cut”. In Australia, dentists are regulated by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and undergo mandatory continuing professional education. In fact, many dentists, like myself, far exceed the required mandatory hours of continuing professional development.
Australia also imposes very strict regulations with regard to infection control. This helps to protect not only you, but also your family and friends. There are already cases of people dying from multi-drug resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” which are suspected to have been picked up from overseas treatment. Even basic hygiene can be a problem, as demonstrated by the recent Hepatitis A outbreak from berry fruit packed in China. Unlike in Australia, you cannot be sure if the equipment has also passed the required cleaning and certifications – this puts you at risk of developing infections. Our patients can have the assurance and peace of mind that comes from being an Accredited Dental Practice.
Besides, not all dental treatment done in a short period has the same success rates. Dental tourism offers compression of multiple dental visits into a usually inappropriately short timeframe. Compressing treatment time drastically increases the chance of a failed or troubled procedure. Some treatment, like dental implants, can take several visits and require a healing period much longer than the typical holiday period of 1-2 weeks. Or you may require treatment that needs follow up checks. Your oral health and treatment is important to us, so we provide you with information on the risks and benefits of treatment and take the time to go through it with you. If you are rushing your treatment and doing it quickly, will you be told of all the risks of doing it in a shorter time? Will you be told about other options, the risks and benefits at all? Language and other cultural differences in a foreign country may mean you could have difficulty in having your needs understood. If complications occur, such communication differences can make the process of rectification more difficult. Worse still, if you are subject to emergency treatment, you may not have the luxury of support from expert emergency care or even be able to communicate with the healthcare professionals in English!
Most people who go overseas want fairly complex dentistry done. Of course, the more complex it is, the more likely it is that something will go wrong. When it fails, it often does so catastrophically. So, you may have work done that’s fine, but what if it isn’t? Fixing bad dentistry isn’t much fun. I’ve seen a patient who had his whole mouth fitted with porcelain veneers in Thailand during a holiday. When I saw him, I was the third dentist who he had asked to temporarily stick a broken veneer back on, whilst he was in the midst of trying to get another veneer made back in Thailand to have his local dentist fit here. There are so many potential problems with the scenario of remaking a single veneer – long distance – that I couldn’t count them all. Patients treated in Australia can seek recourse if there are problems with dental treatment. They have easy access to their dentist to remedy problems and their rights are protected. Dental treatment obtained overseas, or its complications, are not always covered by travel insurance and the treatments are unlikely to be covered by Australian health funds. There’s really no recourse if the treatment fails and you may need to return overseas for possible rectification, if that is even possible. You would have to be certain you can rely on the overseas dentist to be able to repair the work they may have incorrectly performed in the first place.
If that happens, you would have paid for the overseas treatment and its rectification, possibly costing more than if the treatment was performed in Australia in the first place. Plus, there is the time off required to get it all done overseas again. It is also unlikely you would be able to return for further treatment in an appropriate time frame, whereas any incident could be dealt with immediately if a local dentist is chosen. If you have a problem with work done overseas, who repairs it? Who do you complain to? How would you pay for the subsequent treatment to fix it?
Of course the “big kicker” is cost. Dental treatment overseas is often a fraction of the price of treatment undertaken locally. A large component of this “money saving” is because things are made cheaper overseas. While the dentist can aim to maintain quality in the process, the temptation is there for them to cut corners. After all, how much responsibility will they have when their “patient” goes back home overseas and they are out of reach? Cutting corners with laboratory costs by sacrificing quality is easily done. Inferior alloys, some unsafe due to the high content of allergic metals, could be substituted. I have also seen patients return from Asia with implant treatment that had used non-genuine, possibly even “fake” parts – their parts didn’t even exist in company product catalogues! At Dr David Young & Associates, none of the dentists send work overseas to save costs. We support and have work made in quality Australian dental laboratories using TGA approved materials. Australian therapeutic goods and dental materials are regulated by the Therapeutic Good Administration (TGA) to ensure they are of a quality suitable for the Australian public.
Many dental procedures are invasive and some procedures performed cannot be undone. Agencies that organise dental tourism make it clear they’re only providing the tools and information to allow the customer to make the final choice. In fact, one prominent local medical travel company website states:
“We will not encourage, advise, advocate or underwrite any of the doctors or healthcare facilities in our network. The final choice is completely yours.”
Teeth are for life. Remember, it’s your money, your teeth and your health. What are your teeth worth to you?
Previously we spoke about strategies to help prevent tooth decay and the need for fillings. To view this blog, please click here.