Dental tourism: The latest health trend

December 03, 2015

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Some folks will use just about any reason to go on a vacation. Maybe the weather is bad in their area, and they want to escape to a tropical oasis. Perhaps stress has got them down, and a relaxing getaway will put them in the right state of mind. Just when you thought you've heard all the excuses in the book, a new one surfaces: traveling for dental care. Yes, people are leaving the country just to have their teeth examined. Discover more about dental tourism:

The dental vacation trend
It's been referred to as dental tourism, dental holidays and dental vacations, but it all means the same thing. This is only one piece of an umbrella trend known as medical tourism, which involves crossing borders in search of professional medical and oral care, and it's growing in popularity. In fact, Patients Beyond Borders determined that dental procedures were among the top specialty treatments sought by medical travelers.

Costa Rica and Mexico are the biggest host spots for Americans practicing this trend, according to Patients Beyond Borders. The main attraction? Cost savings (and possibly the accompanying vacation). NPR noted that tens of thousands of people flock to Los Algodones, Mexico, aka the "dental capital" of the country, for more affordable dental care. The costs for oral services in this location are about two-thirds less than in the U.S.

Admittedly, dental procedures can be expensive if you don't have dental coverage. The major price differences stem from a few variations in education and health care. Miguel Ibarreche, a dentist practicing in Los Algodones, told NPR that he and his colleagues don't have to charge as much as American doctors because future dentists in Mexico graduate from dentistry school with significantly less student loan debt. Additionally, dentists in Mexico don't face the same high expenses of malpractice insurance, allowing them to charge less per patient.

Scissors cutting $100 bill.
Some individuals have begun traveling abroad for dental care to save money.

Is dental care worth the trip?
Cost savings are important, but your overall well-being should always hold higher priority than your wallet. There are good dentists around the world, but when you venture into an unfamiliar country, you have to do extra work to understand its standards of care. Culture, customs and languages may be foreign, making it more difficult to be in control of something as important as dental health. NPR even noted that there are some "hawkers" in the Los Algodones area that attempt to rope in unsuspecting patients - charging travelers for oral care they aren't qualified to perform.

"Hawkers in Los Algodones rope in unsuspecting patients."

As the American Dental Association explained, major dental procedures require an extended recovery time, perhaps even several months. If you return home before you heal, you won't be able to see the same dentist who performed the procedure if an issue surfaces during this time period.

Overall, you'd benefit more from seeing the same dentist consistently rather than bouncing between doctors, much less countries. Research published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood revealed that continuity of care allows doctors to develop a database of knowledge on patients that they can apply to treatments and testing. While researchers made these observations about general practice, the same concept applies to dentistry. The better you know your dentist, the better care he or she can provide. For dental tourism, if you live anywhere other than the southern regions of Arizona or Texas, you'd have to buy a plane ticket or jump in the car every six months to make that happen.

Alternative solutions
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 108 million American don't have dental insurance, and without dental coverage, affordable treatments are hard to come by. If you're among those individuals or your coverage isn't enough as is, traveling to a different country isn't necessarily the answer.

Instead, consider a supplementary plan like dental discount card. With a low monthly payment of about $10, you can receive discounts between 20 percent and 50 percent by just presenting your card at the appointment. Plus, everyone in your household benefits, making it the ideal addition to your family dental plan. 

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