While dental tourists may travel for a variety of reasons, their choices are usually driven by price considerations. Wide variations in the economics of countries with shared borders have been the historical mainstay of the sector. Examples include travel from Austria to Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia, the US to Mexico, from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland,Hungary,Turkey and Poland. While medical tourism is often generalized to travel from high-income countries to low-cost developing economies, other factors can influence a decision to travel, including differences between the funding of public healthcare or general access to healthcare.
For countries within the European Union, dental qualifications are required to reach a minimum approved by each country’s government. Thus a dentist qualified in one country can apply to any other EU country to practice in that country, allowing for greater mobility of labour for dentists (Directives typically apply not only to the EU but to the wider designation of the European Economic Area - EEA). The Association for Dental Education in Europe (ADEE) has standardization efforts to harmonize European standards. Proposals from the ADEE's Quality Assurance and Benchmarking taskforce cover the introduction of accreditation procedures for EU dentistry universities as well as programmes to facilitate dental students completing part of their education in foreign dentistry schools. Standardization of qualification in a region reciprocally removes one of the perceptual barriers for the development of patient mobility within that region.
The UK and The Republic of Ireland are two of the largest sources of dental tourists. Both have had their dental professions examined by competition authorities to determine whether consumers were receiving value for money from their dentists. Both countries’ professions were criticised for a lack of pricing transparency. A response to this is that dentistry is unsuitable for transparent pricing: each treatment will vary, an accurate quote is impossible until an examination has occurred. Thus price lists are no guarantee of final costs. Though they may encourage a level of competition between dentists, this will only happen in a competitive environment where supply and demand are closely matched. The 2007 Competition Authority report in the Irish Republic criticised the profession on its approach to increasing numbers of dentists and the training of dental specialties – orthodontics was a particular area for concern with training being irregular and limited in number of places. Supply is further limited as new dental specialties develop and dentists react to consumer demand for new dental products, further diluting the pool of dentists available for any given procedure.
There is often concern raised and comments made about the quality of service provided by overseas dental services. While there is anecdotal evidence of some cases of poor service and avoidable complications, this is also the case in countries with very high cost structures. The quality of the service by properly trained dentists on kind for kind procedure is the same.
Aside from the above issues, it is possible to compare the prices of treatment in different countries. With the international nature of some products and brands it is possible to make a valid comparison. For instance, the same porcelain veneer made in a lab in Sweden can be as much as 2500 AUD in Australia, but only 1200 AUD in India. The price difference here is not explainable by reference to the material cost.
|Implants, with crown||$1990 to $5,000||$990||$950||$900||$600||$1700|
|Veneers||At least $800 to 1200||$369||$360||$450||$220||$240|
|Root canal||$699 to $1300||$299 to $329||$350||$150 to $200||$80||$90 to $200|
|Crowns||$750 to $1,000||$299||$285||$280 to $ 800||$80||$210 to $390|
|Bonding||$150 to $300||$70||$70||$60||$25 to $30||$80|
Clearly then from above, there can be significant financial incentives to undertaking expensive treatment overseas. Such activity even including the travel expenses and accommodation can be significantly cheaper than undertaking procedures at home.
Other considerations that a patient may take into account include the lack of availability of a dentists, long appointment time delays and the need to take extra time off work. However, when combined with a holiday, as the name implies, dental tourism can be a great opportunity to do two things for much less than the price of one of them.