Going international for dental care: Questions patients should ask

Hundreds of thousands of Americans are traveling abroad each year for health care services.

Many factors are helping to drive the medical tourism trend, including the aging of the baby boom generation, cheap airfares, a growing number of online resources dedicated to health-related travel and the promise of savings on costly procedures such as major dental restorations that patients lacking coverage would need to pay for out-of-pocket care.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo playerBettie Cross of  KEYE-Austin, Texas, took a look at dental vacations in a recent segment. She talked with patients who headed to Mexico for dental care and came back with different stories to tell.

Kim Conley, who decided to get three dental implants in Cancun, returned with video tapes her husband made documenting everything from the resort where they stayed to the dental office where she got her treatments.

“Conley said the chance to save thousands of dollars is the entire reason she decided to give it a try,” Cross reported.

“I was quoted about $5,000 for what I had been quoted $18,000 for here,” Conley noted. That kind of savings is typical for popular dental destinations sought out by American travelers, the report says.

Patients Beyond Borders estimates American patients in Brazil save 20 to 30 percent,” Cross said. “In Mexico and Costa Rica, those numbers can double to 40 to 60 percent.”

Conley said that she is optimistic about the quality of care she received on her trip.

“It’s been eight weeks since my procedures, and I feel like everything is good,” Conley said.

But Cross wrapped up her report with a cautionary tale from another dental tourist.

“We were very selective about who we would go to in Mexico and we thought we had found one of the ones that would be very good,” Priscilla Hagle said. “But I had four root canals done in Mexico and I’ve lost three of those four teeth.”

Hagle said she has spent all the money she saved getting the problems resolved closer to home.

“Bottom line – if you’re thinking about a dental vacation, you need to make sure to do your homework,” Tara Evans of WKMG-Orlando, Fla., warned her viewers.

Dental safety experts agree. They urge travelers to diligently research clinics and ask plenty of questions before obtaining dental care abroad:

  • Where did the providers receive their training and licenses?
  • Are proper sterilization, safety and emergency protocols in place?
  • Is the water used in the clinic filtered and tested?
  • Do the materials used in the procedures meet American standards?
  • How is follow-up care provided?
  • What happens in the case of complications?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has some additional guidelines for patients seeking medical care in another country. Some clinics demonstrate the high quality of their services by gaining accreditation from the American Association for the Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities International (AAAASFI) or the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC).

To learn more about dental tourism, you might want to look over this tip sheet we posted earlier this year.

(Editor’s note: This post originally credited the reporting to Tara Evans of WKMG-Orlando, Fla., but Evans re-packaged the piece from a CBS feed. We apologize for the misunderstanding.)

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