Dental tourism – should you go the extra mile for treatment?


Dental tourism – should you go
the extra mile for treatment?


Every year, more and more New Zealanders are jet-setting off on ‘dental holidays’. These trips are to countries such as India and the Philippines, where dental treatment, implants and surgery are perceived to be significantly cheaper.


It’s no surprise these holidays are gaining popularity with Kiwis – dental work in New Zealand isn’t often covered by health insurance, and the perceived cost of dental work is extremely high (in fact, with regular maintenance and hygienist visits, you will likely never need costly large-scale treatment).


The internet is riddled with conflicting information about dental holidays. Some patients return all smiles and no regrets, but for every one of these patients, there is a nightmare story and a patient returning full of pain and disappointment, with much more work to be done. Noble Dental’s own specialist periodontist Dr. Richard Longbottom sees, all too often, the nightmare scenarios. Here, Richard discusses your ‘need-to-knows’ before you seek dental work overseas.

Why are people choosing dental holidays instead of getting work done in New Zealand?

“Because of the perceived high cost of dentistry in NZ. I often hear of people who have major problems going to get a lot of work done that has been deferred – maybe 10 years or more without having a dental exam. It’s such a shame because the right treatments could likely have prevented all of it, at a fraction of the cost.”


What work are they getting done?

“Everything!  The problem is that complex work takes time to do.  You can’t fix a gum problem with one long appointment!  You can’t get implants and put teeth in straight away without risk.  If you rush complex work, you risk irreversible damage to your mouth.”


What is the cost difference between NZ dental work and India?

“Not much if you go to an Indian dentist who does quality work using the most advanced techniques and best materials.  Remember there are a billion people in India and many live better off than wealthy people who live in NZ. They go to quality people who are busy and don’t need to advertise outside of India for work! That being the case, it makes sense to save on the cost of travel and visit specialists like Noble Dental right here in New Zealand.


What is the difference in facilities and quality of results?

“Facilities can look nice but there are reports of clinics with superbugs that can compromise results. Patients often come to us because they are unhappy with the work they had done or are in pain and want to be sure they’re getting the right expertise this time around. I find awful things: implants placed in the sinus, untreated gum infections, crowns and bridges that don’t fit and cannot be cleaned, incomplete root canal fillings, infected bone grafts and crowns and bridges that can’t be used for chewing.”


What are the risks associated with dental holidays?

“Mainly complications associated with dentistry done in a week or less – these are cases I often end up fixing for people afterwards.  A former staff member of mine went to Thailand for a medical procedure and developed an infection while she was still in Thailand.  Her stitching all came apart and she returned to NZ to have multiple repeated dressings done.  The wound finally healed but it was not without pain and suffering and a compromised result. 

There are a few large risks. First, how do you complain or get the surgeon to fix things once you’re across the world from the dental practice?  You may get your money back, but will you ever get your health back?

A lot of dentists in these countries ‘over-treat’ for extra money.  Sometimes you go to have a gap filled with a dental implant and the overseas provider can suggest more implants where they are not needed.  I have seen many of these patients who have had implants placed where they cannot be crowned or cleaned.”


What happens once you’re back in NZ if things don’t work out?

“Often regular dentists won’t see you and will ask you to go back to your overseas dentist to sort things out. So many people get sent to me for Nobel’s specialist expertise and state-of the art treatments – after what they’ve been through they want to know they’re finally in the right hands. I honestly feel sorry for people who have problems.  A few are easily sorted out, like gluing back a crown that falls off, but some are complex and require multiple stages to remove the bad work and allow healing of the jaw, gum or tooth.  Needless to say, redoing bad work can be expensive.  It’s important to note that there is no cover by ACC or insurance if medical or dental work is electively done overseas and problems arise.”


So, our advice?

Firstly, don’t be seduced by dental holidays! You’ll find that in New Zealand treatment can often be spread out so that you can still fit it into a budget. For instance, you can get your dental professional to treat infections and decay first, then you can do the ‘pretty’ work to enhance your smile or fix your bite! And don’t forget, in cheap dental-holiday countries, you have no recourse to professional standards, whereas in NZ dentists are accountable to provide work to a high standard – as specialist periodontists and members of numerous international professional organisations we at Noble Dental hold ourselves to even higher standards.

Secondly, don’t do what far too many Kiwis do and delay getting the right treatment if you have dental problems – fixing a problem when it’s small is not nearly as expensive or complex as doing something that has become major. In this respect, nothing is more effective than improving gum health with a specialist periodontist like Noble Dental –  as Richard says, “Gum health is a bit like cancer – if we find it early enough we can treat it, reducing the huge burden of cost and loss of time for people.”  

If you’re having problems with dental work you have had done overseas, we at Noble Dental are experts in resolving the issues that can arise.


Dr. Richard Longbottom