Thursday, October 15, 2009

Health Care and Dental Tourism

With only half the U.S. population covered by dental insurance, Americans are flocking overseas for high-quality, low-cost dental care as reported by BusinessWeek.com. Also, according to the National Coalition on Health Care, more than 500,000 Americans traveled abroad to receive medical and dental work in 2006. And this is not an isolated trend. As reported by Worldental.com, dental procedures are a common choice because only about 50 percent of Americans have insurance for such care. And those people who are insured often face stiff dental bills. Plus, insurance plans, typically offered through employers, require patients to pay a significant share of the costs of procedures beyond standard preventive care. Every year, millions of patients from around the globe flock to some of the hottest dental tourism destinations in order to receive five-star dental treatment at unbelievable low prices. Dentists can charge $300 to $400 for a Dental Filling in USA & Europe. It costs only $20 to $40 in Dental Tourism countries. A root canal is $3,000 in the West but only $100 to $200 in the East. Dentures can cost $1,000 overseas but only $200 in Dental Tourism countries.

According to BusinessWeek, the U.S. is facing a dental crisis. Only about 50% of the population has dental insurance, compared with the 85% who have medical benefits. Medicare doesn't cover dental procedures, despite the fact that aging teeth are just like aging bodies—vulnerable and brittle. That means more and more patients will be traveling abroad to take care of their pearly whites. The problem in the U.S. is aggravated by the fact that even people with dental insurance aren't that well covered. The vast majority of policies have a $1,500 annual cap on payouts, a level that hasn't changed since the 1970s, though premiums have been rising. That $1,500 can easily be wiped out by one complicated root canal or a crown.

Cosmetic dentistry is booming in the UK and Europe in general, according to Worldental. The number of people engaging in veneers or other cosmetic dentistry procedures has tripled. The demand for tooth whitening, repair of worn teeth, or dental implants is soaring. A major underlying reason for this is that many people abhor the visual effects of age. The teeth and the mouth have a major impact on our smile and thus our appearance so that people are increasingly looking for ways and means to look younger. Cosmetic dental surgery is one way this can be achieved. Yet, dental surgery in Western Europe and the US is horribly expensive. There are three major factors that decrease the cost of dental surgery in other countries:
--The quality of materials used may be lower, for example cheaper implants may be used.
--The costs of living in those countries are lower than in the West so that dentists charge less.
--The costs of running a dental practice is lower because wages are low and other associated costs such as rent and materials are also low.
In the West, on the other hand, overheads form a great part of the cost. The dentist will need to pass these costs to the patient in order to survive economically.

According to MedicalNewsToday.com, levels of satisfaction among the thousands of dental tourists recently questioned by RevaHealth were very high on average. Patients who had travelled abroad to receive treatment revealed an average satisfaction rating of 84%, along with an average cost saving of $6,400, or 60% of the cost of their treatment locally. More than 95% of respondents stated that cost was the main reason why they considered Dental Tourism in the first place, but when it came to choosing which clinic to visit, quality was the deciding factor. Patients reported wide variations in the amount of the money they saved and in the abilities of certain clinics to communicate effectively. Unsurprisingly, there were also variations in satisfaction between countries as a whole, with patient satisfaction highest overall for clinics in Hungary, Poland and Thailand. Only 54% knew exactly what treatment they needed, and a full 30% had no idea of where they intended to travel to. In addition to this only 50% of patients had visited their local dentist prior to making their enquiry with an overseas clinic.

According to BusinessWeek, certain areas of Budapest, Prague, Tijuana, and Bangkok are lined with dental clinics advertising their services and prices in foreign languages. For years dental tourism has been a thriving subset of medical tourism, as American and European patients seek affordable care for decaying teeth. Some surveys estimate that as many as 30% of the population along the Texas side of the Rio Grande cross the border into Mexico for cheaper dental services. British dental patients have long traveled to Eastern Europe for care. The savings those patients rack up can more than compensate for their travel costs. Teeth caps that range from $750 to $1,000 in the U.S. cost $150 in Mexico. In Hungary, a top-quality crown costs $780, compared with $1,200 to $2,000 in the U.S. However, dental tourists are seeking far more than cosmetic improvements. Dental problems can be painful, can prevent a person from eating nutritiously, and can affect one's ability to talk, smile, and even find a job—it's tough to make a good impression if you're missing teeth. Links have also been found between advanced gum disease and heart disease, stroke, and bacterial pneumonia.

The American Dental Association does not take an official position on dental tourism, according to BusinessWeek; and, it is possible to get high-quality dental care in places other than the U.S., but patients should be aware there are no international standards. There may be few legal protections if things go wrong, and the advice to people seeking to go overseas for care: you should find a dentist overseas the same way you find a dentist in the U.S.—through referrals. So, according to Worldental, while price seems to be the preponderant factor that motivates people in their choices of dental treatment, there are significant downsides to seeking dental solutions abroad. Firstly, follow-ups and after care service are generally out of the question, unless you are willing to book another flight to visit your dentist. Secondly, even the best dental surgeons have bad days. In the case of implants, about 5% of them will fail. In these cases, it is much cheaper to contact your local dentist rather than making the trip back to the other end of the world. A very important consideration is the aspect of quality of care. British and European dentists have to abide by very stringent regulations that are enforced by their respective dental councils. But what about care in developing countries or third world locations? Moreover, there is an inherent unease in trusting your mouth to a stranger. In most cases, people are familiar with their neighborhood dentist and have developed a rapport with them. At every incident, he can be contacted for a rendezvous. Familiarity with the dentist is sometimes a motivation for patients to visit them!

Dental tourism, according to Worldental, can be organized by the individual himself or through a travel agency. If you have gone to a country, you try to find out the charges of the local dentists. You may then take an appointment and have your treatment scheduled. The disadvantage is that you may not be aware of the level of professionalism of these dentists or you may have to rely on the advice of people you are not really familiar with. The experience of the dentist as a professional and in the treatment of foreign patients is essential criteria for you to look at before choosing a dentist. A second option is the travel agency who may contact the dentist for you beforehand and pre-plan the treatment before you actually board the plane. Even then, you would not be sure of the quality of the dentists being contacted. A third option is an agency specializing in dental tourism. There are not that many but the services they offer would offset some of the fears associated with treatment abroad. The dental tourism agency would be based locally but would already have contacts with dentists or dental institutions abroad. They would offer a consultation with a local dentist but the treatment would be done overseas. Thus, in the case of a problem, the agency can still be contacted for help.

Careington International, a national leader in discount dental and health care plans, has just announced the opening of a new affiliate in the UK with a network of about a thousand dental provider locations that have a strong new plan for dental, vision, and cosmetic procedures at a 20% discount from UCR (usual and customary rates). Members pay a fee to join the plan at a low nominal monthly rate, and visit participating dentists in the network. The plan is administered in the UK by Munroe Sutton. Consumers and sponsors can find more information about the plan, the savings, and how it works at www.healthydiscounts.co.uk . The plan can be used upon purchase with no waiting, claims, or maximums. The Healthy Discounts plan is a great way for those living or traveling in the UK to save money on dental expenses. Some of the advantages of this plan include the following:
--Save 20 percent on major dental work, including root canals, cleanings, exams, dentures and crowns, and more.
--Save 20 percent on eye exams, glasses and contact lenses.
--Save on selected cosmetic procedures, including Botox.
--Take advantage of unlimited usage regardless of existing health issues.
--Include your whole family with affordable fees-
--Access a wide network of local dentists and opticians.

For those who need quality dental work, a dental tourism package may be the best way to save money if you wish to combine your vacation and get some dental work done at the same time. If your costs in the US may be significant, the savings with a certified dentist, especially in the UK, may be well worth the cost of travel. A plan like Healthy Discounts for those who need a great way to save money is also a very good option. Do your homework, and then get those pearly whites to sparkle in the sun.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

48 comments:

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High quality and low-cost dental care could be found also through using online services. I heard that many dentists are already promoting their dental services through the net. That's why finding a specialist dentist won't be that hard anymore.

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