A subset of medical tourism, dental tourism involves individuals seeking less expensive dental care outside of the U.S. and other countries. It is a trend that is becoming increasingly popular worldwide, including here in America. According to the National Coalition on Health Care, nearly half a million Americans sought medical care abroad in 2006. And dental care seems to be the highest in demand. Among the most sought-after procedures for Americans receiving abroad health care, dental bridges and restorations ranked No. 1 and 2.
So why is dental tourism gaining popularity?
Industry experts agree that the economic recession has played a huge role in families seeking less expensive dental care outside their regular health care system. For example, a dental crown in the United States costs upward of $600 per tooth, compared to $190 or less in Mexico or Costa Rica. According to business week magazine over 40,000 Americans went to Mexico for dental treatment last year, saving an estimated 75% in dental fees.
An increasing demand for elective dental care, such as veneers and implants, may also be playing an important role. Dental esthetic procedures are often not covered by dental insurance companies, leaving those seeking a new smile to pay the entire bill out of pocket. This problem is aggravated further when people with dental insurance are not covered well. Many dental policies have a $1,500 annual cap on payouts, a level that has not changed since the 1970’s even though premiums have risen.
In 2008, Fox News Radio reporter Lori Lundin blogged about the experience her husband had after getting dental work done in El Salvador. Wanting a full mouth reconstruction, he was quoted $60,000 in the United States, compared to only $19,000 in El Salvador. “The dental care my husband has received has exceeded our expectations,” she wrote. “I would even say it’s been superior to what we’ve had in the States. The level of hospitality, concern for his well-being, and the short time it’s taken to get the work done has been nothing short of amazing.”
The ADA does not take an official position on dental tourism; however, consumer adviser Dr. Edmond Hewlett from UCLA School of Dentistry has shared some concerns. “We tell people it is possible to get high-quality dental care in places other than the U.S., but they should be aware that there are no international standards.” In 2009 the ADA investigated the current rise of dental tourism and reasons for the trend. Information on their findings can be found here from the ADA News.
Dental tourism has many implications for dentistry today and in the future. How will it affect dental insurance companies, the access to care for thousands of uninsured families, and the business for future dentists? Let us know what you think!
~Jason Scott, Los Angeles ’13, Contributing Editor