The DANGERS of Dental-Tourism: Buyer Beware!
By Dr. Max Zaslavsky
Dentistry in this country is expensive. Medicine in this country is expensive. Trust me I know. I recently went to my local hospital and was billed $1200 for a stress test (and this was after insurance). We do not live in a socialized medicine system. Not yet, perhaps not ever. And if you think that would be a viable solution, well think again. There are pluses and minuses to any system when it comes to individual healthcare. At times, however, I will have a patient tell me they plan on going to a 3rd world country to get their dental concerns and needs cared for.
Medical tourism is becoming a hot ticket these days, especially for dentistry. Why pay so much money here for needed care when you can stay in a nice hotel and get all the work done in a matter of days? Then poof, off you go, back to the good ol’ US of A, and back to reality. Well I’m here to tell you that there are a lot of problems these days with medical tourism.
First off, what people proclaim as, “I do my research!” are merely them going onto a website that looks good to them; and feeds them what they want to read. People, you cannot believe all the hype that a website gives you! Not all dentists are created equal, not even in this country! There is a good and bad everywhere. At least when you go to a dentist in your local market, a friend or a neighbor may know the practitioner and can give you the real low down. This leads to problem No. 2…
You’re back in the USA and there’s a problem
You just had all this dental work done. You think you are stellar and now you’re back in Fort Lauderdale ready to take on the world. Uh oh, you have a tooth ache. How can this be? You just stayed at the Costa Rican/Brazilian, etc. resort and had all this work done. Dentistry is a practice. Adjustments, corrections, and especially infections happen. Even the best of what I do can succumb to really bad events depending on the patient and their host response. I once had to take over a case from a patient who had gone to Colombia for his dental treatment. He walked into my office with 3 implants in his hand (yes his hand, not in his mouth). The treatment for this patient was far more expensive in the long run than if he had just done the work in this country. No dentist here wants to take over something in the middle rather than the beginning. Reactive dentistry is not fun.
Implants and other medical devices in other countries are not FDA approved.
In my office, we use grade 4 titanium implants. The majority of implants are grade 4. But it’s not just the metal. It’s the engineering of the metal that creates the integrity or success into bone. Implants come with an expiration date. Meaning if my Straumann Implant is not used by a certain time, it is no longer covered under warranty, nor should it be used. If I use it, and it fails, I can be sued. I may lose my license if I tried to pull that off unsuccessfully.
In other countries it’s not like that. There are companies in this country that take expired medical devices and sell them to other countries where there are no rules or regulations. So although I have to follow certain amount of ethics if for no other reason than to be law abiding, it does not work that way in another country. That Straumann or Astra implant I use here in my office is not the same used in another country; especially if you are paying half the price. If it’s too good to be true, it is.
My crown fees are higher than what you would pay for in most other countries. Again, I have to abide by certain rules and regulations. My labs charge me more, because just like what I do, they are based domestically. When, at times, there is a problem, our local lab can make the necessary adjustments within 5 days or less. This is a huge shift than if we sent out to a lab outside of the country. Generally there would be an additional 2 week hold on even the most minuscule of adjustments.
Frankly, you as a patient who had something go wrong will not go back to that country to sue. If you were that cheap in the first place to save some cash by going to a third world country, you’re definitely not going for a legal retaliation. It’s time consuming, cost too much, and doesn’t solve anything while you are in pain. Being a smart consumer when participating in medical tourism is to know your legal ramifications when (not if) something goes wrong. You will have to abide by their laws and speak the language of that country. If you are willing to make the travel arrangements, do the true amount of research (which should be a month or so of dedication), and deal with what may occur thereafter, then go for it. If you think going on a site, and believing whatever is told to you will be perfect….well I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.