Dental tourism is a buzzword that has gained significant traction in the past decade.
Simply put, it is the practice of visiting another country for dental care or denture work. Individuals coined as “dental tourists” seek more affordable prices as an alternative to local dentistry or denturist care.
And alternatives there are: in the last decade Mexican dental and denture clinics have been popping in border towns at an alarming rate, promising savings up to 70% off the cost of U.S. and Canadian dental care. And many people are taking advantage.
And that’s understandable. For people with limited dental insurance and a restrictive income, the promise of lower prices can be extremely compelling. However, as a denturist, I can’t help but see beyond cost and focus on more worrisome issues - things such as safety, lack of industry regulations, and quality of materials.
And I’m not alone. As pointed out in an article by the Canadian Dental Association, dental tourism continues to be a popular media topic but receives little attention from medical researchers in dentistry, bioethics, health law, and health economics. It’s widely agreed much more serious critical analysis and study is needed before it’s considered a safe, viable option.
Although I’m not in a position to launch a national clinical study, I am increasingly interested in this topic. Specifically, is it really more affordable when you consider all the accompanying costs? What about safety, regulatory considerations, and warranty issues? Let’s look at these considerations in more detail.
Do the Math & Consider All Costs
It goes without saying that the majority of dental tourists are motivated by cost savings. There’s no denying that dental care and dentures can be expensive - and for patients without dental insurance and a limited income, the promise of discounted dental care is tempting.
However, as attractive as these seemingly low prices sound, there are many accompanying costs to consider.
Transportation & Accommodation
Whether flying or driving, the cost of travel is expensive. And if you are going in peak season, transportation fees can escalate quickly. Similarly, accommodation costs must be taken into account. Many Mexican cities and towns popular for dental care, such as Tijuana, Los Algodones, and Juarez, increase tourism costs based on supply and demand. In other words, you could be paying a lot more for reasonable accommodation, meals, and activities than anticipated.
Unless you are a retired snowbird, you should take into consideration the cost of time off from your job or family. Not only the time you spend in Mexico, but any time you require to rest and recuperate from your denture work once you return home.
Many people with Mexican dentures will tell you the same thing: they ended up paying more than originally anticipated. Upselling is an extremely popular tactic in dental tourism - and it is something to be watchful for. If not careful, you could end up paying thousands more than you originally bargained for if you are not prepared.
Regulations, Liability & Governance
In Canada, the dental profession is regulated. And for good reason. Dental professionals require a minimal level of education to become licensed. This ensures that the rules, ethics, and regulations of the profession in all jurisdictions are upheld.
The Canadian Dental Association confirms that dental regulatory bodies are responsible for:
- Determining the educational qualifications necessary to enter the profession
- Setting standards of professional practice for the dental profession
- Establishing ethical standards
- Investigating complaints
- Taking appropriate disciplinary action as necessary
- Protecting the public's right to quality dental services
- Providing leadership to the profession in self-regulation
Not only does this protect the profession, but more importantly, it protects every citizen from questionable and potentially dangerous dental work.
So why is this important to understand? For one reason: there is no similar governing regulatory body in Mexico.
That means environmental and safety standards, material quality, and ethical standards are not federally controlled. As a result, some patients receiving negligent cross-border dental care find they have few legal remedies.
Research, Research, Research
If you ultimately decide Mexico is your destination for dental care or dentures, it is incredibly important to do your research. Because of the lack of regulatory compliance, please consider the following:
Word of Mouth
Word of mouth may be the best resource you have to make an informed decision. Ask around: find people or friends you know who have received similar denture work. Ask them as many questions as you can think of in order to gather the information you need.
Google Reviews & Testimonials
Google reviews and patient testimonials are effective research tools. Other patient’s perspective and experience is a step in the right direction toward making an informed and safe decision.
However, be wary that not all Google reviews are authentic. While Google regulates this as best they can, purchasing Google reviews for next to nothing is a very real internet tactic. And unfortunately, many businesses are doing it. Of course, that’s not to say that your potential dentist or denturist is, but it is something to be vigilant of. Do not rely solely on Google Reviews when making a decision.
Hygiene & Quality of Materials
Keep in mind: what you see or read on a website may not be what you get in person. Because Mexican dental regulations are not standardized, you must ensure the clinic you visit is not only physically clean but following basic hygienic practices such as clean instruments and sterilization protocols. Transmission of bacterial and viral pathogens in dentistry is serious and real; and can lead to a number of conditions, such as HIV, hepatitis, and Legionnaires’ disease.
Perhaps, more importantly, are the safety of the materials used in dental and denture care. Ensure materials used to fabricate dentures, like resin, composites, and metals are of the same quality of regulated Canadian standards.
Investigate Doctor Credentials
Ensure that the dentist or denturist you are considering has the appropriate credentials. Sometimes it is not enough to take their word for it - do your research and ask around. Try to ask as much information about their education, certification, and practice as possible.
Many cross-border clinics promise expedited care, also known as compressed care. They often boast “one-appointment” dental care in a single appointment instead of many. While this may seem time-efficient, this compressed form of dental care could expose patients to complications. Do thorough research on your specific procedure to ensure you are fully comfortable.
Dental Maintenance & Follow-Up Care
This is where denture work in Mexico can get tricky. Even if you’d have a wonderful experience and you are completely satisfied with your dentures, many dentists across the border will not guarantee their work. And if they do, you will have to pay for another expensive round trip (or trips) back to have your dental work or dentures fixed or adjusted.
Also, many Canadian dentists and denturists will not work on dental work or dentures made and fitted in Mexico. The reason for this is simple: because we don’t fully know how the procedure was completed or the composition of materials used, we will not gamble your dental health by trying to fix something we know little about. And although the Canadian regulations discussed earlier protect us from certain liability, we are extremely hesitant to maintain or fix dentures that have been done elsewhere. Because of these unknowns, it can be dangerous for us to investigate.
For this reason, it is extremely important to ask your Mexican dental professional about their guarantee and warranty policies. It is equally important to ask your Canadian dental professional if they will work on procedures done across the border.
Talk to Your Local Dentist or Denturist
As a denturist, when I see so many people flock south of the border for dental care, I feel concerned. I feel concerned because I’m passionate about safe, high-quality dental care. It’s something I feel strongly and perhaps a little protective about.
So if the cost is a factor, talk to us. From features and specials to an array of available financing options, dentures or other dental work completed right here at home may be more affordable than you think. Especially once you weigh all the factors discussed here.
And cost aside, your denture care is important. If you are thinking of going elsewhere for dental work, don’t be afraid to talk to your health care professional. We truly care about your oral health and will give you friendly, honest advice.