Dental tourism

You probably know of someone who has already done it- gone to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, India or China and had a complete “makeover” for a price of a night out in Sydney. They tell their stories around their dinner table and flash their ‘pearly whites’ to the envious party of friends, who haven’t yet gathered the courage to do it themselves. “So what if you don’t need 20 veneers, go get them anyway, they are so cheap and they look great!”, they’ll say to you.

Things we do for love: Matt Dillon in “There’s something about Mary”

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that most dental treatment is irreversible, permanently removing tooth structure so that it cannot be retrieved. It only leads to more complex treatment down the track.

People are usually very interested in the rationale behind why we recommend certain treatments.  Everyone wants to know if the treatment is “really” needed or elective, how long they have before it has to be done, how long will it last once it is done. This informed consent is the most significant aspect of modern healthcare it allows patients to understand their condition, their treatment options and risks attached to each option, their outcomes and prognoses.

I wonder what it would be like receiving this information from someone who speaks or has studied in another language… or someone who has a week to give you what you came for: a smile makeover!

Shane Warne is famous for many things, even his teeth! Who picked the colour? I think this is informed consent in action!

Often, when a patient of ours is contemplating complex treatment, the planning of the treatment takes longer than the treatment itself. We engage a laboratory we want to work with, to give us a ‘mock up’, a sort of a 3D 3model of what the teeth will look like once completely restored. We can judge from that how many teeth need to be restored, how much tooth needs to be taken away, how much added, will there be a difference to patient’s lip support, speech, bite? Does the patient need to get used to this possible end-result first, before we do anything permanent? In that case, we may produce a ‘fake’ or temporary smile makeover, without reducing teeth, which we can remove after a few weeks…

I would find it difficult to believe that any dental tourism destination in the world would perform this type of dentistry. It is simply not good business sense when your clients are short-term visitors, who had bought into your marketing of ‘making dreams come true for pittance’.

I also struggle to understand why anyone would go through the effort of travelling overseas to be diagnosed and then hear the treatment options, while clearly in a position where they have no choice but to have the treatment done there, to avoid another trip back. That is throwing away one’s right to choose their practitioner and their treatment.

Even in ideal circumstances, a large treatment plan may take 9-12 months to complete, together with stringent preventative care visits every 3-4 months. In that case, over the 12 month period, you would have to make at least 4 trips to your destination, but realistically, it would be more like 6 or 8.

Lastly, let’s not forget the truly important part: ongoing prevention of problems and maintenance of complex restorations which had been placed. Every 3-6 months you would have to see a hygienist or a dentist for ongoing preventative maintenance. Some people choose to do this in Australia. However, be aware, should problems arise, as they often do, dentists here will not necessarily be able or willing to replace complex work without referring you to a specialist prosthodontist. If cost is a concern, it will become more of an issue if it comes to re-doing this work!

When travelling overseas for treatment, your rights and options can often get lost in translation!

We often go through hours of consultations with our patients regarding their treatment, before a single tooth is touched. The information our patients collect from us, from the specialists we may refer them to and sometimes even from second opinions from other colleagues, is extremely valuable in forming a clear treatment plan which would put both our patient’s and our minds at ease.

By going overseas, especially to a developing or third-world country for treatment, you forego the privileges and rights which have taken many years to crystallise in our society. By choosing not to be fully informed and consulted about the treatment which you are about to undergo, you are taking full responsibility for any adverse outcomes and failed treatment which can occur.

Tijana Fisher

Tijana Fisher

Tijana Fisher is a dentist, a wife and a mum (not in order of importance, of course)! She loves her life because she has been blessed with great variety and complete absence of the mundane. Every day, she puts on her different hats and slips into her different roles, all thoroughly enjoyable and challenging. She loves writing and sharing her knowledge (and opinion) with others. She also loves hearing other points of view, even if polar opposites to hers. This makes life rich and interesting and even teaches her a thing or two!

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