All abroad for a mouth makeover

Beauty writer Vicky Eldridge examines the trend for dental tourism, and investigates the pros and cons of smile-makeover holidays

Dental tourism has become big business with an estimated 40,000 Brits travelling abroad for treatment every year. But what is driving this trend and are consumers putting themselves at risk by having dental work done in another country simply to save on cost?

Medical tourism is a rapidly growing niche sector of the travel industry and dental tourism accounts for a significant piece of the pie. The concept is nothing new; US citizens have travelled across the border to Mexico for cheaper dental work for years. However, the ease and availability of cheap pan-European flights as well as improvement in standards of care across the EU, as a result of the 2011 Council of the European Union directive on cross-border healthcare, has opened up the world of dental tourism to more Brits than ever before.

By far the biggest factor leading Britons to head overseas for dental work is the cost. Along with the US and Canada, the UK is one of the most expensive countries in the world for dentistry, especially when it comes to cosmetic work.

Ever since controversial dental contracts came into force in 2006, forcing many dentists out of the NHS and into private practice, the price of dental treatment in the UK has soared. With millions of Britons being unable to find an NHS dentist and with the economic crisis continuing to grip the nation, the dream of having the perfect smile is one that most people cannot afford. Yet a short flight across to Europe can save you as much as 70 per cent on the cost of treatment.

It is important that you weigh up the risks as well as the benefits

Add to that the fact you can enjoy a few days break in one of the EU’s most historical and beautiful cities, then it is easy to see why the lure of dental tourism is so strong.

While the benefits of dentistry abroad are plentiful, the uncertainty surrounding the safety and standards of care you may receive in another country makes many people rightly cautious about crossing the border in order to seek dental care in foreign climes. In 2008, Which? did a report on the risks associated with cheap dental “holidays”, which was welcomed by the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. An internal straw poll of board members carried out at the time showed that five out of six had seen at least two problem cases arising from treatment abroad in the previous year and some had treated twice that amount.

But do cheaper prices always mean lower standards? When it comes to dentistry the answer actually appears to be no. One question rightly asked by many people considering travelling abroad for dental treatment is whether or not the training and standards in other EU countries will be as vigorous as those set by the General Dental Council (GDC) in the UK. However, dental standards across Europe are actually very good with all the 26 member countries (excluding the UK) following standardised rules to ensure that dental professionals in each country train and practise to the same level.

Of course, while there are many highly skilled practitioners offering value for money dentistry outside of the UK, it is important to make sure that you weigh up the risks as well as the benefits, and research your dental practitioner and clinic thoroughly. Make sure they speak perfect English, you don’t want to leave room for any miscommunication; be aware that if any problems occur after you return home it will mean you will have to pay to go back or fork out to get the problem fixed at home which could be very costly. Many cosmetic dental procedures also require repeat visits or have extended recovery time and cannot be done all at once or over a few days so you may have to travel back and forth which will raise the initial costs significantly.

In association with the British Dental Health Foundation (BDHF), the UK dental regulator, the GDC, has prepared a checklist of questions to ask before travelling abroad for treatment, which can be found on its website and is a helpful tool for anyone considering embarking on a dental holiday.