In the face of a global oral health crisis, the demand for dental treatment is at an all-time high. As such, the dental tourism sector is booming but the UK does not stand to benefit from the trend. On the contrary, the current shortage of dentists in the UK as well as the ever-increasing costs and waiting times for local dental treatment have played a push factor for patients opting to get their work done abroad.
Given the proficient care at many international clinics, budget air travel, and online availability of health-related services, it’s no wonder why over 20,000 people in the UK travel overseas for the sake of their teeth every year – the short holiday gained is just an added bonus!
According to Adroit Market Research, the European dental tourism market size was £569.1 million in 2017 led by Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria. The leading European countries for dental care accounted for more than 20% of the global dental tourism during the forecast period.
The most attractive reason for going abroad for dental treatment is the cost; in many countries, dental treatments are less than half the price of the same treatment in the UK. In addition to this, treatment can often be done much quicker than in the UK, where the demand for dentists is higher and patients often face months on a waiting list.
However, for some areas of dental tourism we see a different story altogether – one which isn’t founded on service and efficiency. This can include unsubstantiated claims of impossibly high success rates, a lack of enforced regulation and a focus on short-term solutions. The British Dental Association has expressed concern over the standards of care in certain countries; as the levels of training, qualifications and experience are sometimes much lower than in Britain.
Damien Walmsley, professor of restorative dentistry at the University of Birmingham and scientific adviser to the British Dental Association (BDA), believes that most of the work carried out abroad fall under advanced treatments such as crowns, bridges, veneers and larger reconstructions involving implants.
Patients with severe periodontal disease can go abroad for a year’s worth of treatment crammed into the space of a week, with no time allotted for healing or recovery in between procedures. It may save money in the short term, but a botched job can be just as costly if not more so to remedy.
What is more, there is no scope for offering these patients any kind of reassurance. We know that after treatment there may be questions or a filling that is too high or too sharp, and this is easily remedied with a quick return visit, but with dental tourism they cannot so easily or conveniently return.
Therefore, it is crucial that dentists who suspect a patient may be opting to undergo treatment abroad make them aware of these risks to avoid further complications down the line. More importantly, where appropriate, offer professional advice based on their full medical and dental history to ensure patients are making informed decisions in line with their best interests.
The GDC, in association with the British Dental Foundation, have produced this guide on travelling abroad for dental treatment.
If you’re looking to advance your range of clinical abilities to deal with the effects of dental tourism, have a look at our list of programmes at www.healthcare-learning.com/postgraduate.