Dental Tourism: 5 Risks of Traveling for a Dental Procedure

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It might sound like a no-brainer: score dental procedures for pennies on the dollar and get a vacation, too! But before you book a trip to see a dentist in Mexico or Malaysia, you should understand the risks of going outside the United States for your dental care. In some cases, the risks far outweigh any benefits. Cheaper dental care and less expensive procedures like veneer placement seem tempting, but the true cost of dental tourism might be more expensive than you think. Here are some of the risks you should be aware of before you go.

1. Lack of Regulation

Dental care in the United States is highly regulated, by the American Dental Association (ADA), governing dentists, their offices and their reputations. Choosing a dentist who is ADA-approved means you're choosing a professional and office that meets regulations for safety, cleanliness and certification. The ADA points out that the instruments and medications your dentist uses are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), ensuring that you'll have a safe and healthy experience. Unfortunately, those same regulations and protections don't extend to dental tourism locations, meaning you won't have the ADA and FDA behind you when you visit. A lack of regulation means you can't guarantee hygiene, sterilization of dental instruments and overall safety.

2. Germs and Bacteria

When you travel to other countries, you expose yourself to pathogens and bacteria that your body may have not had contact with before. In most cases, hand-washing and being vigilant about what you eat and drink can keep you safe from these germs, but opting for medical or dental procedures in another country could leave you at risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that medical tourism can increase your chances of picking up antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and even the water used in dental procedures can make you sick if you have no immunity to the disease-carrying organisms in it.

3. Recovery Issues

Most dental procedures are safe, but there are times when a complicated recovery can hinder even small procedures. Traveling for dental care increases your risk for recovery issues, particularly if you opt to travel while still recovering. The CDC warns that surgery abroad can lead to blood clots when traveling home, while an infection can make you seriously ill. Additionally, you may misunderstand and fail to comply with recovery instructions if there is a language barrier between you and a foreign dentist. If you do choose dental tourism, give yourself plenty of time to recuperate and make sure you have contingency plans in place in case of a slow recovery or complications.

4. No Insurance

When you visit an ADA-certified dentist in the United States, your dental insurance will help you to pay for some or all of the visit. Unfortunately, that same coverage is unlikely to extend to out-of-country dentists, unless the visit is an emergency. Check with your insurance company before you book the trip, since it might actually be less expensive to have your dental work done by a dentist you trust in the United States than paying out-of-pocket for dental work outside the country.

5. Medical and Dental History

Your dentist keeps a detailed record of your medical and dental history and uses that information to make decisions about your care. Whether you're sensitive to certain drugs or instruments, or you've had procedures done in the past, your dental history makes up a complex puzzle that your dentist uses to enhance your care and keep you safe. When participating in dental tourism, the dentist you visit may be capable, but definitely lacks the medical history and personal relationship you enjoy with your family dentist. Without that history, you could have a less effective and even dangerous experience.

At first glance, dental tourism seems like a great idea: who wouldn't want dental procedures on the cheap? But that lowered cost might actually cost you in the long run, especially when it comes to a safe and healthy experience. There are plenty of resources to help you find affordable dental care closer to home. In the end, an ADA-certified, experienced dentist will always offer you the best care for a great price – no suitcase necessary.

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What To Expect During a DENTAL VISIT

On your first visit, your dentist will take a full health history. On follow-up visits, if your health status has changed, make sure to tell your dentist. Here’s what you can expect during most trips to the dentist.

  • A Thorough Ceaning – a dental hygienist or dentist will scrape along and below the gum line to remove built-up plaque and tartar that can cause gum disease, cavities, bad breath and other problems. Then he or she will polish and floss your teeth.

  • A Full Dental Examination – your dentist will perform a thorough examination of your teeth, gums and mouth, looking for signs of disease or other problems.

  • X-Rays – X-rays can diagnose problems otherwise unnoticed, such as damage to jawbones, impacted teeth, abscesses, cysts or tumors, and decay between the teeth.