There are many forms of tourism…but here I am going to talk about is dental tourism.

Dental tourism is a kind of medical tourism which can be loosely defined as someone who travels outside the country of residence to another country for dental treatment.

In the past, the medical/dental tourism often referred to those who travelled from less-developed countries to highly developed countries for treatments unavailable at home. Nowadays, it is mostly the other way around – travelling abroad to obtain medical/dental treatment in a less-developed countries., Despite the common knowledge that the overall medical/dental standards of care are less vigorous and regulated than their home countries, the growth of medical/dental tourism has been increasing year over year. If it is not because of the COVID pandemic, the tourism would have continued to increase further.

Why do people seek medical/dental tourism?

The treatments that patients received overseas are often elective. In dentistry, they are often related to all on 4 or 6 implants with immediate teeth on the same day, full mouth crowns or veneers and bridges, and maxillofacial plastic surgeries.

In a just released report issued by VISA and Oxford Economics, the medical tourism industry was valued at a staggering US$100 billion. The reasons for people from rich countries to less-developed countries to get health cares are mostly by the relative low-cost of treatments in less developed nations, the availability of inexpensive flights and increase marketing and online consumer information about the availably of “advanced, modern medical/dental services that are on par with their home countries”.

The other attraction of medical/dental tourism is the ability to take sightseeing trips or participate in any other traditional tourism activities while the persons are getting their dental or medical procedures done during the period of stay.

What is the catch?

The clinics that advertise their services in the social media in the developed countries claim that their doctors are highly qualified for the procedures with state-of-the-art equipment and facilities. Despite the seemingly expensive/luxurious facilities, the costs for the treatment are lower than their home countries.

The outcomes of the dental treatments are often less than desirable. The treatments received may cause damages and injury to the teeth and orofacial structures. Because of the substandard of care, often enough the patients are having pain and discomfort that can be chronic, the dental works may require extensive remedial treatments. The costs of suffering and remedial works are likely exceeding what would the costs be if the treatments were done in here.

Case 1
A female patient came back from Vietnam after receiving full mouth crown and bridge treatment was complaining about constant pain in all her teeth and extreme sensitivity to cold. She was having pain since the first day of the treatments. She was already back for a few months, but the pain/sensitivity had not been improved. She said that before her trip to Vietnam, she was wearing upper and lower removable partial dentures that were both functional and not hurting.
As she was talking, I noticed that her front teeth were too big (proportionally not right) and the colour was too fake (white but very opaque without the natural opalescent translucency). Upon examination, the full-mouth crowns and bridges for all her upper and lower teeth and edentulous spaces (spaces that are missing teeth) were fitting poorly. Because the margins of the crowns were digging into the gum tissues, her gums were all puffy and red (severely inflamed). The poorly designed bridge works produce excessive stress on the bridge structure that are doomed to break. X-rays showed some root canal treatments (endodontic) were not completed accordingly to our standard of care. Some of her teeth were having irreversible pulpitis (inflammation inside the pulpal space of a tooth) due to injury from the crown and bridge works.
Because of the injury to her teeth and gums from the treatments overseas, her options to improve her oral/dental health and alleviate her pain and suffering were limited. She would need to undergoing expensive and extensive rehabilitation treatments including root canal therapies, replacement of all the crowns and bridges and surgical gum therapies or else she would have to putting up with all the pain and suffering until all her teeth fall apart or have all of them removed.

Case 2
When I was on call with the Burlington Dental Academy, I received an emergency call from a patient who just came back from Mexico a week before, complaining about pain and swelling in her lower jaw. When I saw her that evening, her upper neck was swollen on both sides and she was having difficulty in swallowing. Inside her mouth, she was wearing complete upper and lower dentures. Upon the removal of the dentures (with a lot of pain), the underlying gums were very raw and swollen. The round ball heads of the mini implant were visibly sunken into the swollen gums. The X-ray taken revealed 6 upper and 8 lower mini implants. Some of the implants were not even embedded in the jawbone and mobile when touched. Patient revealed that the implants were done less than 2 weeks ago in Mexico. Needless to say, all her mini implants are not suitable for providing support for any type of dental prostheses need to be removed and replaced with conventional implants.

That situation could be life threatening if not treated immediately. I was able to manage and eliminate the severe infection with the help from an oral surgeon in Burlington.

Case 3
I have a patient who came to see me because one of the healing caps on her implants came off. She arrived at my office with the healing cap in a lunch Ziploc bag. Upon examination, she had 4 implants placed in her lower jaw that was totally edentulous. The implant surgery was done in Macedonia and the X-ray indicated that the implants were nicely embedded in her lower jaw with no symptoms and signs of infection. I replaced the healing cap and tightened up two more loose caps.

She was wearing a full removable denture that was meant for temporary use during the healing period. She was told to go back to Macedonia to have a permanent lower fixed zirconia hybrid bridge made in 4 months. Due to the COVID-19 lockdown and travel restrictions, she was not able to go back to have the “permanent” zirconia bridge done. Now she is stuck because she could not use the lower temporary denture for chewing due to wobbling and pain during chewing with the ill-fitting denture.

The fact that her teeth in her upper jaw (severely worn down, decayed and partially edentulous) should be rehabilitated first before the patient can have a lower “permanent” zirconia bridge is not considered by the surgeon/dentist in Macedonia. The results would be disastrous should the lower zirconia bridge had been made to oppose to the existing diseased upper teeth. The treatment provided would require careful planning and proper sequence of treatment implementation. If properly done, her case would either require her to be in Macedonia for at least 7 to 8 months or flying back and forth many times in a year. The total cost will easier exceed what they would be here.

I also have some other cases like that which I am not going talk about here. Due to the long distance to travel, it is generally not desirable to have treatments that normally require multiple visits over a long period of time done in a foreign country. The difficulty and the additional expenses to go back for any emergency care and follow up appointments can be prohibitive. The overseas surgeons and dentists may need to do shortcut in their treatments due to the short time frame available for them to provide the ideal treatment. When the risk is high, the success rate becomes low.

The fact that It is very difficulty to make the surgeons/dentists in the foreign countries to be accountable for their substandard treatments and so they tend not to provide conscientious care to their tourist patients.

They normally do not like to discuss with you about other better options or alternatives as the patients usually mind-fixed on the treatments they want from them before the trips anyway.

If you like to have a consultation before your trip to another country for dental treatment, you can talk to Dr. Kenneth Wong at Affinity Dental Care to discuss what treatments are suitable for you and which one is the best option.

Office Is Open

Call Dr. Wong at his dental clinic at (289)-861-5111, Affinity Dental Care, if you want to speak to Dr. Wong about your oral health issues that can be related to your overall health. Smile is the key to better total body health. Check out our Burlington Affinity Dental Care location.