by Amanda Duffy Dental tourism has been around for centuries where, traditionally, countries with shared borders have seen nationals from one country traveling to the country next door for dental care that is either less expensive, or unavailable, at home. It is hard to put a precise figure on just how many people are becoming dental tourists because of the way data is collected by individual countries. However, estimates vary widely – between 2.5 and 8 million a year, depending on what you are reading – but it is generally acknowledged as a growing phenomenon. Today, low-cost air travel, cross-border training and globalization have simply extended the borders, opening up a growing marketplace to a burgeoning clientele. It also has to be said that the lure of – and blasé attitude toward – foreign travel has made dental tourism more than reasonable for modern travelers. A LEAP INTO THE UNKNOWN? Dental tourism is no longer a case of leaping into the unknown, because information about foreign destinations is widely available both in print and online. Times have certainly moved on since severe toothache necessitated a trip along the well-trodden path to a dusty Mexican border town, where cheap and cheerful was the order of the day, but dental expertise was not. While cost is still a motivating factor, dental tourists are more likely to be traveling for new dentures or aesthetic reasons, such as veneers or teeth whitening, as they are for conditions where they are in acute pain. This gives patients more time to research prices and destinations, giving them the ability to pick and choose, and creating a culture in which dentists offering good, reliable services will continually attract patients. The Internet is full of product and service reviews, and medicine and dentistry is no exception. Dental tourism is a business, and providers who are serious about offering dental care to overseas patients strive to ensure their services are the best. This supply and demand is the cornerstone of dental tourism – patients who are out-priced in their home countries are finding what they need, at a price they can afford, abroad. WHAT DENTAL TREATMENTS ARE PEOPLE HAVING ABROAD? People are traveling abroad for all sorts of dental treatments now – from major to minor procedures, as well as preventative care. Of course, if you are traveling for everyday dental care, whether you have it abroad or not depends on how accessible your nearest border is, and if your primary motive is to save money. Mexico border towns may still be dusty from the desert winds, but dental care is 21st century. Many retirees and snowbirds from North America and Canada think nothing of visiting a dentist in Mexico, and having all their dental needs met, from fillings to dentures. It is easy to understand this trend when, for example, the cost of full dentures at home costs around $1,833 compared with $350 at a dentist in Mexico – a whopping 81 percent savings. Southeast Asia is a draw to Australians and New Zealanders. Dental implants are one of the most expensive procedures, with Australians paying around AUD 4,500 at home, but at AUD 2,200 they are more than 50 percent less at a dentist in Thailand. In Europe, it’s the same story with prices for, say, dental veneers in the United Kingdom around £785, but only around £200 at a dentist in Hungary – saving more than 70 percent. WHERE ARE THEY GOING? These days, while dental tourists still might travel abroad out of necessity, the facilities they find are a world away from the unqualified backstreet dentist portrayed in the media. At dental tourist destinations throughout the world there are plenty of facilities offering professionalism and quality, with a good proportion now placing emphasis on luxury and additional services aimed at taking the stress out of your dental care. Spa treatments, on-site hotels, free airport transfers or hotel pick-ups and free accommodations are just some of the added extras dental tourists can expect. While destinations like Thailand have been on the medical and dental tourism map for some time, it might not be for everyone. Most dental tourists tend to stick to their own continent: Americans/Canadians go to Latin America (e.g. Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama); Austrailians?New Zealanders go to southeast Asia (Thailand, Philippines); English/Irish/French/German go to Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic. Now, there are choices across the world, at various locations that should meet everyone’s tourist preferences, from beautiful beaches in Mexico, Costa Rica, Croatia, Turkey, Thailand and the Philippines to city locations, such as Bangkok, Mexico City, Budapest in Hungary and Istanbul in Turkey. There are also more off-the-beaten track destinations, such as Romania, or even some of Mexico’s interior states, such as Guanajuato, offering safe, affordable and high-quality treatment in unique and undiscovered destinations. WHAT’S NEXT? Dental tourism is expected to grow as patients become more confident in services abroad, and with the advent of some dental tourism companies that provide quality-checked clinics that you can rely on. With something as important as your dental health, it is always worth doing some research yourself – search out patient reviews and clinic photos online and don’t be afraid to ask questions about your dentist’s qualifications and experience. Dental tourism has changed immeasurably since those first pioneers took their tentative steps across their neighbor’s border. It can be a safe and rewarding experience, providing you’ve done your homework and found a dentist and clinic whose credentials stack-up. About Amanda Duffy Amanda Duffy is an expert in the field of dental tourism and has been writing on the subject for a number of years. She is currently a key figure in the editorial team at Dental Departures, a company specializing in dental tourism that help patients save money on their dental care by matching them up with the right clinic.