A growing trend that a lot of patients have been raving about recently is dental tourism, like getting veneers in Bali. It sure sounds perfect at first - who doesn't want a smile makeover and a vacation all rolled up into one magical destination? But this journey is not without dangers and risks. Having experienced it myself, I want to highlight some factors to consider before taking your smile overseas, including my own personal story.
It's no surprise that the first factor is communication. This goes beyond the language barrier. We communicate not just with words, but also tone, facial expression, and body language, all of which are influenced heavily by culture. While this can be a fun and enlightening experience, a serious medical procedure is probably not the best time to try to bridge the cultural gap. This is especially true when trying to communicate something decidedly subjective - aesthetics. All of this is assuming that you are already speaking a common language.
Not sharing a language where both parties have a high level of proficiency is also a huge risk. With many moving parts, and interdependent steps to the process, miscommunication at any stage could lead to an ultimate result that is not what you pictured. Take special consideration for this point if the procedure is not easily reversible.
Training, regulation, and qualifications
It is difficult to research and understand the training and qualifications required at your destination, or which regulations apply to protect your interests. How many years did your practitioner have to study? Did they have to pass practical tests to become licensed? What equipment are they required to use if any?
Within Australia, you can check the ADA for all these answers.
The most immediate risk in this category is infection control and sterilisation regulation. Did you know that infection control standards in Australia are among the strictest in the world? (1) These standards are in place to protect both you, the patient, and the practice staff, and even the public. Without in-depth understanding of the laws at your destination, you may be putting yourself at risk for contracting and spreading infectious diseases and bacteria. This risk is all the more apparent in our current times.
This goes for all health procedures: aftercare is crucial. Our bodies react in different ways to different things. Follow up or maintenance appointments are important to see if your body - that could be your gums, your teeth, or your jaw - has adapted to the change. A qualified professional should be checking-in after an appropriate amount of time. Unless you are flying back for your follow up appointments, the level of care will be different between your procedure and aftercare. This may manifest as difference in materials or equipment, which may be only accessible overseas but not in Australia. It could also be a difference in procedure, leading to inconsistent results. Plus, your insurance company will likely not cover any expense relating to required aftercare resulting from treatment completed overseas.
That leads us to the big one: what happens if something goes wrong? If something were to happen to your treated tooth or teeth, there is a low likelihood that you will be seeing the same dentist that had worked on you. Of course, you can always fly back, adding the cost of flights, food, cabs, accommodation... All additional expenses will most likely be out-of-pocket. Want a refund? Good luck!
Let's talk about the elephant in the room - the most significant, and possibly only, pro of dental tourism - the price. My friends, I've been there. Yes, the treatment is most likely considerably less than what it costs here in Australia. But is it worth the risk? If things were to go suboptimally in the least, the additional cost may equal or be greater than the initial cost in Australia.
We have a revolving door of patients who have come to us to fix or check their smile after they had it completed overseas. The outcome? Often, they require additional dental work as a result of what was done on what was otherwise healthy teeth to begin with. This may include fillings, root canal treatment, extractions and sometimes, even a removal and replacement of their crowns or veneers.
My Personal Experience
I, myself, have intimate knowledge of this experience. Prior to Vogue Dental Studios, I had gone to Asia to get my porcelain veneers done. I was so excited to get the smile of my dreams at 1/12th of the cost of what I was quoted in Australia. I was willing to take the gamble. Deep down, I knew it was a bad idea. That's why I didn’t tell a single soul about what I was doing. I didn’t want to be talked out of my decision.
When I had arrived, there was no communication of the procedure, what was going to happen, what shapes I wanted or anything. The only thing we discussed was the finalisation of the bill which I had to pre-pay. I did not know what was going to happen, how long I’d be in the chair for, what they were doing or who was going to do it. They barely spoke any English at all. Despite this, at the end, I was still ecstatic and over the moon with the result they had given me. After all, it looked better than what I had to begin with.
When I met Dr. Dee many years later, I decided to re-do my smile. When he removed the veneers I had, my teeth were heavily, heavily and I mean heavily shaved and I didn’t even know. To say they were shark teeth is an understatement. Dr. Dee also brought to my attention that my two front teeth were not sealed properly and had heavily decayed. If I hadn’t gotten my veneers re-done, I would never had known what was wrong below the surface. In time, this would have caused serious long-term complications.
If you are anything like I was at the time, then I know that there is probably nothing that would change your mind but doing your research is a great start. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure that there are a lot of success stories out there as well for those who have gone through the dental tourism journey. I definitely read a lot of them before starting on my own trip.
My best advice, if you choose to fly down that path, is to get your teeth checked by a qualified healthcare professional when you get home. Do some investigation, discuss in forums, reach out to people who have gone to that specific clinic and stay safe. Remember, most cosmetic treatments are irreversible.
An appreciator of art, novels and high intensity sports. With a passion for work and a dangerous addiction to tea.