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12 Oct 2012 | Press Release

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Overseas dental holidays fraught with risk warns ADA

Dental Tourism

The Australian Dental Association Inc. (ADA) has issued a warning about the risks associated with "overseas dental holidays".

The peak body representing dentists in Australia says that there has been an increasing prevalence of "dental tourism" where the strong Australian dollar is not only drawing Australians towards overseas travel, but also some travellers are undertaking dental procedures overseas in the hope they will "save" money.1

A Google search on dental holidays reveals approximately 34,900,000 results. Flashy websites reveal picture-postcard locations such as Thailand, the Philippines or India together with claims of "safe, clean and very hygienic dental surgical procedures - just as you see in Australia, USA and UK" - at promises of 60% savings, in a 'top notch' international hospital. Some packages offer 'prepackaged' accommodation, sightseeing tours and activities to 'facilitate the recuperation' of consumers after receiving their dental treatment.

"Offering dental treatment for a third of the price that includes a holiday at the same time seems like an offer you can't ignore but it might well be too good to be true," said Dr Shane Fryer, Federal President of the ADA. "There is no doubt some of the treatment provided can be of high quality. However, most that take advantage of these 'holidays' want fairly complex dentistry done. The more complex the treatment, the greater likelihood that something will go wrong. And so when complex treatment fails, it fails big time."

In the last few years, Dr Fryer has seen a disturbing increase in the number of Australians returning from overseas having received dental treatment with problems that are very difficult to address.

"Teeth are for life. Obtaining dental treatment overseas can be incredibly risky to both your dental health and general health. There is potential for substandard treatment, which may require extensive and costly repair procedures on return to Australia."

Before contemplating or undertaking overseas dental treatment, Australians should be aware of the following:

  • Many overseas dental practitioners that provide treatment to such patients are practitioners that would not be able to register as dentists in Australia. Dentists in Australia comply with high standards of practice quality and safety, and maintain high levels of professional competence.
  • Infection control standards for dentistry in Australia are world's best practice. Infection control requirements in some overseas countries are far less rigorous. Dental treatment requires stringent infection control as it often involves surgery.
  • Australia has recently recorded cases of a new superbug 'NDM-1', the most resistant to antibiotics yet seen to be on the rise in the UK. Like in the UK, the growing number of patients jetting out for 'medical tourism' has been blamed for the increasingly impervious bacteria arriving here in Australia. The origin of 'NDM-1' appears to stem from India, where cases of infection have also been documented in Japan and Pakistan.2 The risks are not dissimilar for dental work conducted overseas and patients need to be aware.
  • Language and other cultural differences may mean that patients receiving treatment in a foreign country may have difficulty in having their needs understood. If complications occur, such communication differences can make the process of rectification more difficult.
  • Dental treatment often needs to be conducted over a long period of time, so as to allow each stage of the treatment to settle before proceeding to the next. Provision of dental implants, for example, cannot be done properly over the typical holiday period of a week to 10 days. Implants especially need time between the various stages of treatment, otherwise you will find work is placed in areas that have not settled and may therefore fail. Fitting such treatment within a holiday schedule without allowing this time risks complications and failure.
  • Patients treated in Australia can seek recourse if there are problems with dental treatment. They have easy access to their dentist to remedy problems, and their rights are protected. Complications to health from dental treatment obtained overseas are not always covered by travel insurance and the treatments may not be covered by Australian health funds. Overseas treatment leaves no recourse if the treatment fails. Patients may need to return overseas for possible rectification. If that happens patients will have paid for the overseas treatment and its rectification, possibly costing more than if the treatment was performed in Australia in the first place.
  • If you do want to risk the consequences of overseas treatment you are very strongly advised to be very careful in your selection of dentist. Your travel agent may not provide independent advice - make independent enquiries from family and friends.

The ADA warns that ultimately for dental tourism, 'buyer beware'.

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