Dental tourism: Patients need to know the risks
14 July 2022
We have been working with the BBC to highlight the pitfalls of seeking dental treatment overseas.
BBC Interview on dental tourism
Earlier this year we asked dentists to tell us about their experiences. Now it's leading the news, shining a light on the rise in demand for treatment overseas and the issues patients can face on their return.
Over 1,000 dentists responded to our survey, and the results are shocking:
Nearly every dentist is seeing the results. 95% of dentists reported that they have examined patients who have travelled abroad for dental treatment. Of those 86% say they have treated cases that developed complications. Crowns were identified as the treatment most likely to need follow-up work, closely followed by implants.
There are hidden follow-up costs. Two-thirds of dentists said that it cost patients at least £500 to repair the damage done to teeth. Over half reported that it cost more than £1,000. One in five of these dentists said the cost exceeded £5,000. Just over 40% of respondents said the remedial treatment was provided on the NHS.
Dental tourism is on the rise. Over half reported seeing cases in the past three years, with a fifth seeing cases during the pandemic. Nearly 85% of all dentists said in their view dental tourism is a growing trend.
Beware the hard sell. Cheaper costs were cited by 98% of dentists as the leading factor driving patients to seek treatment overseas, with nearly a third highlighting the perception of shorter waiting times. Many dentists highlighted the ubiquity of social media promotions touting the "perfect" smile.
Patients need protection. Nearly all dentists surveyed said they had concerns about continuity of care for these patients. There were also concerns about the quality of care offered, worries about how patients would be able to complain or seek redress, while two-thirds flagged concerns over communications between the patient and the practitioner doing the treatment.
"Dentists are aware that many people are struggling to access care and may be tempted to go overseas for cut-price treatment" says our chair, Eddie Crouch.
"Patients need to provide informed consent for any treatment they have and be wary of a hard-sell, as the reality is rarely as simple as it appears on Instagram. Sadly, many UK dentists are now picking up the pieces when things go wrong."
The NHS advises people to think carefully before booking any treatment abroad, and issues a list of warning signs, many of which have been echoed by the dentists who took part in our study. The GDC also advises people to be fully aware of what to expect and what risks are involved.
But we need more. Dentists want the authorities to step up, and raise awareness of the risks, including genuinely proactive campaigns to inform the public.
However, it doesn't end there. Many are struggling to manage expectations that 'like for like' replacements will be offered on the NHS when things do go wrong. Dentists clearly need more guidance on the medico-legal ramifications of treating patients who have sought treatment overseas.
We will continue to work with government, regulators and the indemnity sector to help bring clarity to these issues, and ensure our patients are fully informed of the risks they face.
The documentary Turkey Teeth: Bargain Smiles or Big Mistake? is now available on BBC iPlayer