Dental Tourism or Dental Vacations are similar to the well know practice of taking a medical vacation and patients do so for the same reasons. Like medical care, patients are now traveling to lesser developed countries with the belief they will receive the same level of dental care provided in the U.S., at a considerable cost savings.
One would expect dental care in lesser developed counties to be cheaper for a number of reasons and it is. Overhead costs such as labor, facilities, and far less government regulations make care more affordable. What the consumer does not understand however, is the far higher level of dental education a licensed dentist in the United States receives than a dentist trained in other parts of the world. A dentist practicing in the United States must graduate from a U.S. dental school, with nationally recognized standards, before even taking a licensure exam. Most foreign trained dentists are required to enroll in at least three years, if not the entire four year curriculum of an accredited U.S. dental school before they can take a licensure exam to practice dentistry in the U.S., simply to bring their education level to U.S. standards. I have personally seen many resumes of foreign trained dentists who did not even try to obtain licensure in the United States but wished to remain in the dental industry by seeking employment as dental assistants, laboratory technicians, or in practice administration.
Practicing dentistry in the Metro DC area, where statistically one in nine residents are foreign born, my colleagues and I are seeing an increase in dental vacations where patients go home to visit family and receive dental care far more cheaply than they could in the United States. What my colleagues and I are almost universally seeing however, is dental care delivered at what is marginally acceptable or well below the standard of care of dentistry in the United States.
Regrettably, many of the patients I have personally seen or discussed with colleagues are actually worse off after receiving foreign care than had they not received any dental care at all. I have seen veneers with open margins – unsealed gaps between the prosthesis and natural tooth – that results in failure and loss of the teeth if not retreated. We have all seen crowns and bridges fabricated using non-precious metals that resulted in severe periodontal inflammation, bleeding, and unsightliness. It is generally more time consuming, complex and costly to fix substandard care than treat a dental malady originally.
Most complex care requires multiple visits to the dentist. The cost of repeated visits dramatically decreases the savings for return visits. I have personally been told time and time again, that a dentist took shortcuts – at the expense of the level of care – simply to avoid repeated visits. And what if something goes wrong? I recently heard of a patient who received multiple implants in their home country and returned to their dentist in Virginia for the crowns that would go over the implants. Unfortunately, the implants were not FDA approved and therefore the restoring dentist could not obtain the necessary components required to fabricate the implant supported crowns. I have regrettably referred dozens of teeth for extraction in my career due to incomplete or poorly done root canal therapy or endodontics, which were not fixable, painful and infected. In some of the cases, the root canal filling materials were either antiquated or considered poisonous by U.S. health standards.
The average consumer cannot differentiate between the level of care they receive when taking a dental vacation and the standardized level of care they receive in the United States. If one is to seek dental care in another country, they should be a wise consumer and only seek care from an American trained dentist. Unlike medical tourism, where levels of training can be very similar, dental training is generally not. Although more costly, patients receiving dental care in the U.S. enjoy a far higher level of care than may other parts of the world.
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