02.The downside to overseas dentistry
The Australian Dental Association (ADA) acknowledges that dental tourism is on the rise but warns of the risks.
“For a third of the price and a holiday at the same time it sounds like an offer that’s too good to be true, but it isn’t that good.”says former Federal President Dr John Matthews. “Most people go overseas because they want fairly complex dentistry done, and the more comples it is themore likely that something will go wrong. And when it fails, it fails big time.”
Dr Carmelo Bonanno, a Canberra dentist and Federal Executive of the ADA, says people need to understand the implications of taking their dental care offshore. “Overseas dentists may or may not have the training and experience, but with your Australian dentist it is very clear. If you see me you know where I’ve been trained and that I’m registered, and if you’re not happy with the work there are avenues to complain.”
Bonanno says if people choose to head overseas, they may be in for unexpected additional costs.A former patient of his chose to have cosmetic dentistry done in Asia that was so badly done it will take significant work and a lot more money to get it fixed at home.
While Bonanno says he understands dental costs can be expensive in Australia, he urges people to weigh up the risks of taking their treatment out of the safety net provided here. “You might have work done that’s absolutely fine but what if it isn’t? Fixing bad dentistry is no fun.”
In the Australian dentists' corner
The ADA says there are many reasons that Australians should avoid dental holidays.
- In a public document it cites issues including poor training and infection control.
- Time and continuity of care is another problem where dental treatment overseas is fitted in around a holiday, and should ideally be conducted over a longer period of time.
- And, of course, there’s the risk of something going wrong. Most travel insurers will not cover medical tourism.
- It's also unlikely there will be any suitable avenues for complaint.
The ADA states that “Australians must ask themselves [whether] the overseas treatment will remedy dental problems long term. Will it be safe? Can patients be assured they will not be worse off? Are they fully aware of what treatment is actually being provided?”
Arguments for dental tourism - The travel agents have their say
In the other corner, the medical travel agents CHOICE spoke to say they’ve had no complaints from the customers they deal with and that they provide a full estimate of the time required for treatment before their clients even book a flight, as well as a high level of care in quality hospitals.
“Our clients’ cases and X-rays are reviewed by the head of dental in The Bangkok Hospital and all the details are put into place meticulously,” says Sheriff.
While it’s unfair to put all overseas dentists in the same category, Italia says she feels that detractors of medical tourism have a level of ignorance about the countries in question.
“A lot of people in Australia have a perception that countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and India would have bad conditions in the hospitals, maybe slack infection control and be very Third World. Certainly from my experience visiting the Bangkok and Bumrungrad hospitals, I didn’t find this the case. Bumrungrad has a surgical site infection rate of only 0.39%, which is well below the worldwide benchmark.”
Italia believes much of this talk is scaremongering by those wanting to keep their patients. She says many of her clients have been refused access to their dental records or X-rays by local dentists if they want them to take overseas. “We tell people to get a referral from a GP to see a radiologist in order to get the X-rays,” says fellow agent Sheriff.
In the meantime, for patients who do decide to go overseas for treatment, the one thing all parties agree on is that if you do, you will be going it alone.
It’s unlikely you’ll be able to get travel insurance, and with no clear avenues to complain if you aren’t happy with the work, there are risks.
Furthermore, the agencies that organise your treatment and travel make it clear they’re only providing the tools and information to allow the customer to make the final choice.
Global Health Travel’s website clearly states: “We will not encourage, advise, advocate or underwrite any of the doctors or healthcare facilities in our network. The final choice is completely yours.”