dental tourism

Here at Desert Smiles, Dr. Tenney has had the privilege of treating patients from various parts of the US and from overseas as well.  We have seen patients from New York, Florida, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and other states as well.  We have treated patients from the Middle East and Europe as well so we know first hand that “Dental Tourism” does exist and is growing.  Our primary concern is the follow up that will always be a vital part of cosmetic and restorative dentistry.  Even though we treat patients from outside the Phoenix area we will always do our best to be there for them even if it is referring them to a highly trained dentist somewhere else in the world.  Here are some facts and stories you may find interesting.  This information is from an article by James Berry.

Google the term “Dental Tourism” and the vaunted Internet search engine serves up nearly 9.4 million listings, most of them links to other Web sites that offer a dizzying array of options for dental patients willing to cross borders or even oceans in pursuit of cut-rate dental care.

Promising low cost and high quality, dental service outlets in Mexico, Hungary, Bulgaria, Austria, India, Australia, the Philippines and uncounted points in between are pitching their services to relatively affluent, yet cost-conscious health care consumers in Western Europe and the United States.  The Sahaj Dental Clinic in New Delhi, India, for example, tells Web site visitors that U.S. and European dentists “can charge $300 to $400” for a single caries restoration that “costs only $20 to $40 in India.”  Never mind that even a discounted round-trip ticket to New Delhi from, say, Chicago would set the traveler back more than $1,400, a booking agent at “Goindiatravel” reported July 3.

Americans obviously are not trekking to India or Eastern Europe for single routine restorations.  Most that go the extra miles need extensive care that, as they see it, justifies the added expense, particularly when a dental visit is combined with an exotic vacation.

Health care tourism has emerged in recent years as “a fast-growing phenomenon in which travelers, typically from wealthier countries, visit less-developed nations for medical care mixed with vacation, all at cut-rate prices,” USA Today reported in July 2005.

Further south, however, that some patients leave the country for dental treatment is a larger issue, though it hardly qualifies as news.

“The term ‘dental tourism’ may be new, but certainly what we see happening is not new,” said Dr. John S. Findley, who represents the 15th District (Texas) on the ADA Board of Trustees.  “I don’t think it’s new anywhere, but it’s especially not new in Texas or Arizona.”

Dr. Findley said he’s heard estimates that, in the state’s lower Rio Grande Valley, as much as 30 percent of the population will cross the border for dental care in a given year, a percentage that he said includes people who winter in the area.

“But it’s not really a Texas or border-state problem,” he added.  “Disappearing borders and the ease of air travel today make a flat world a shrinking world.  It’s easy to travel anywhere.”

Dr. Ivan E. Rodriquez, immediate past president of the Rio Grande Valley District Dental Society in Brownsville, Texas, noted that literally hundreds of dental offices and clinics are crowded into the cities and towns south of the border.  “I’m told the area has the highest number of dentists per capita in the world,” he said.  (The town of Nuevo Progreso, for example, advertises itself as the border “crossing point of choice” and boasts that the community is home to 90 to 100 dental offices.)

The anecdotal experiences of random patients are not indictments of dental care in Mexico or, for that matter, anywhere else on the planet.  Capable dentists and the quality care can be found the world over.  The question is what becomes of patients who fall prey to incompetence.

“The potential for mischief is great and may be difficult to control,” Dr. Guay told the Board.  Dr. Kathleen Roth, ADA president-elect, visited the Texas border region in August “to be educated on the issues” as seen through the eyes of local dentists.

“The key,” she said, “is educating patients to understand that optimal dental health is not a tour-bus stop, not a one-time visit, but a lifetime of joint effort involving the patient and the dental team.”

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