In a survey by the British Dental Association (BDA), 85% of dentists considered dental tourism to be a growing trend, but why, and what are the risks? In this guide, we explore why dental tourism is rising in popularity, and what precautions you should take if it's something you're considering.
Dental tourism describes the trend of people travelling abroad for dental treatment. Typically, the procedures are cosmetic, for example, veneers or crowns, but you can also have essential treatments such as root canals or fillings. Some clinics offer more routine procedures, too, such as hygiene sessions.
More often than not, people choose dental treatment abroad because it can be cheaper.
Procedures carried out abroad also often take less time; for example, you can have a full set of crowns in just a week. In the UK, while fitting a crown itself takes just a couple of hours, the entire treatment, from start to finish, usually takes place over a couple of appointments, which could be spread across two or three weeks.
The rise of so-called dental holidays also makes travelling abroad for treatment convenient. Packages often include airport transfers, hotel accommodation, and the procedure itself.
Research has also found that for some people who have recently moved to the UK, dental visits were often tied to trips back to their country of origin.
Yes, dental implant surgery is offered at many overseas dental practices. Depending on the clinic, you can access a range of dental implant treatments. Some clinics also offer All on 4, which is a procedure that provides implants along the entire jawline, replacing a whole row of missing teeth.
Dental treatment abroad can be considerably cheaper than having work done at a private practice in the UK, but it ultimately depends on the type of treatment you have and where you go.
For example, in the UK, porcelain veneers (which are stuck to your natural tooth, much like an acrylic nail is fixed to your natural nail) can cost up to £1,000 per tooth. Composite veneers are a slightly cheaper option but will still set you back up to £400 per tooth. In contrast, dental packages in Slovakia are offering full porcelain veneers for just £397 each.
Dental crowns are another popular procedure often carried out abroad. In the UK, a full porcelain crown (which is fitted around your natural tooth) can cost up to £1,200 for one crown. Mid-range options can cost between £600 and £900 per crown. Lithium ceramic E-Max crowns (considered stronger than traditional porcelain) are offered at some dental clinics in Turkey for just £215 each.
Often, treatment is cheaper simply because general running costs are lower. The BDA found that UK practices struggle with rising overheads as inflation surges. Not only has the cost of utilities increased by an average of 35%, but lab costs (where crowns and implants are made) have increased by 15%, too.
Don't assume that cheaper treatment abroad indicates lower standards. Plenty of overseas clinics offer the latest treatments and excellent care, all for less money compared to the UK.
There's nothing intrinsically wrong with having dental treatment abroad, but bear in mind that there are risks involved (as there would be for any dental surgery in the UK).
In their survey of more than 1,000 dentists, the BDA found that 90% had examined patients who had been abroad for treatment. Of them, 85% had treated patients whose overseas treatment had left them with complications.
Procedures that were most likely to need additional follow-up treatment back in the UK were dental crowns and implants. But it's not just about the need for corrective treatment; it's the cost involved, too.
Around two-thirds of the dentists in the BDA survey said that patients spent at least £500 repairing their teeth after having treatment abroad. Over half needed to spend over £1,000 on corrective treatment, while an unlucky one in five spent more than £5,000 fixing their damaged teeth. The NHS provided 40% of this corrective treatment, which is already struggling to fund basic essential dental care.
To help keep you safe, the NHS highlights several warning signs to look out for if you're considering medical or dental treatment abroad. You should be wary of:
As well as NHS guidance, the General Dental Council (GDC), the UK's dental regulator, recommends that you consider the following:
In the UK, the GDC regulates dentistry. All dentists that practice must be registered with the GDC and abide by their standards.
If you decide to go abroad, check if the clinic's host country has a regulatory body. If it does, how does it work? Do all dentists have to register, and what standards must they follow? If anything goes wrong with your dental treatment, find out how to complain.
It's worth speaking to your dentist before you decide to undergo treatment abroad. They'll be able to give you advice and also discuss any risks.
Remember that if you develop complications from overseas dental treatment, your UK dentist may decide not to treat you. There have been cases where dentists have refused to correct work carried out abroad.
Some overseas clinics offer UK-based initial consultations. If they do, these should be with a qualified dentist – who must be registered with the GDC. If they aren't registered, this should sound alarm bells as it means they are working illegally. You can search for a dentist on the GDC register.
Dental practices offering good care will be happy to answer any questions you have, and most will encourage you to ask if you're worried or need to clarify something.
To ensure you're clear about your treatment and the procedures involved, the GDC recommends that you ask:
In the UK, NHS dentistry only covers treatment for which you have a 'clinical need'. In other words, it only provides essential treatment to keep your teeth and gums healthy.
If your dentist thinks you need work carried out, you'll pay a fixed price according to which band the procedure falls into.
If you want any cosmetic treatment (work that isn't clinically necessary), you'll usually need to pay for this privately; this could include:
Generally no, dental insurance does not pay for cosmetic treatment. However, they can cover the cost of routine dental and hygiene appointments, which can help you keep your teeth and gums healthy, minimising the need for future cosmetic work.
Policies can also cover some or all of the cost of restorative treatments – such as fillings, crowns and bridges. Plus, a handful of policies may even pay for clear aligners (for instance, Invisalign) up to a specific value.
Let us know if you want to learn more about how dental plans work and how you might benefit from one. We can put you in touch with a regulated broker who can take you through your options.
You can also find out more from our dental guides:
Disclaimer: This information is general and what is best for you will depend on your personal circumstances. Please speak with a financial adviser or do your own research before making a decision.
As with any procedure, you should familiarise yourself with as many facts as possible so that you can make an informed decision about your treatment.
Many people have travelled abroad for dental work and been happy with the results and their aftercare; many have not.
Before you decide, speak to your dentist and thoroughly research the treatment you're considering. If you find a dental clinic abroad, see if you can talk to previous patients and ask for their feedback. It's also worth remembering the GDC's guidance on asking questions and the NHS' warning signs.
As with any health procedure, no one 'best' country exists. Some countries are more popular than others – for example, Turkey has become so popular for crowns, resulting in the nickname 'Turkey teeth'.
For others, going to a dental practice abroad may be a matter of practicality, such as tying it in with an extended visit to family overseas.