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Dental tourism is growing daily and savvy dental providers need to be prepared to handle these patients that cannot afford to be treated in their offices.
Dentists may want to consider working alongside a foreign dentist to create a recipricol working relationship
The patient’s dilemma: She has not been to a dentist in years and decides it is time to restart her re-care program. While the office visit is pleasant enough, the treatment plan has implants, crowns, and a $25,000 price tag. She responds with "I will need to think about this" — a common answer heard by dental staff after assessing a mouth in disrepair. The patient has been doing some more research and now understands the major connection between oral health and the rest of her body. She is newly retired and wants to enjoy it while also keeping up with her oral health needs.
The fee is way out of her budget. What can the patient do? Loans are out of the question and so is borrowing from a family member. What are the alternatives that can be offered to this patient?
While the dentist could remove all of her teeth and make dentures, it is a less desirable treatment option than salvaging the teeth. This is a dilemma for the patient as well as their dental care provider. The patient mentions she has friends that have gone abroad to get some cosmetic surgery done. What about getting dental treatment in one of those places?
With the economy as rough as it is, financially challenged patients still do have options - albeit some scary possibilities as well. In the town of Algodones Mexico, right over the border from Yuma, AZ, there are 600 dentists in one square mile. This area is easily accessible to Phoenix - just a short two hour car ride.
Dental Tourism is a huge business — and its growing. In Yuma Arizona, there are 250,000 snow birds who bring their campers and mobile homes down to the city and stay for the winter. They travel across the border to access inexpensive healthcare services such as eye glasses, medications and dental work. For some individuals on a fixed budget, it's not that they do not have the funds to pay for the work but sometimes they don't have enough to pay for it here. Healthcare costs in the United States are substantially higher for all the right reasons. This does not, however, help patients who simply need access to affordable, simple dental care.
Conversely, there are patients who are still just looking for a bargain. Everyone is now vying for the dollar. Costs for dental providers working internationally, such as those incurred from labor and supplies, are substantially less. Although this may be a great savings opportunity for the patient in the immediate future, they might suffer in the long run when they get what they pay for.
Can dentists confidently send their patients to a dental provider internationally?
Dental tourism companies are popping up all over the world. There are companies that deal with Mexico and South America while some go to Hungary, Latvia, Russia, Poland and even into Dubai.
Dental providers within the United States have to deal with the major restorative failures when patients return home, and things fall apart. There are no malpractice claims from abroad. A patient comes to their home office and the treatment rendered by an international dentist may have caused more damage than was present before.
Fortunately, there are reputable dental tourism companies that are vetting dentists they refer to by visiting their offices on a regular basis and ensuring that the care the patients receive is top notch. Dayo Dental out of Arizona is one such company that has a system of offices in Mexico they recommend to patients. The doctors they select are highly trained, teach in universities, take multiple CE course in the states; some have even been trained at Universities within the United States. They also give a guarantee for their restorative treatments provided that the patients return for yearly follow up visits. Their fees may be a bit higher than the average international dentist but the differences are noticeable since the patients are guaranteed to receive top notch care.
Patients can even choose to visit resort towns, like Cancun or Cabo, to get their dental work done. It can be likened to buying a Mercedes in Germany while on a planned vacation and then shipping the car home. The consumer gets a great deal.
Patients are not guaranteed valuable customer service or a quick fix for their dental needs when they opt for treatment internationally. Even so, dentists should remember this treatment option when presenting a cost prohibitive treatment plan to a patient with financial challenges. Dentists who come across this issue frequently may want to consider working alongside a foreign dentist to create a reciprocal working relationship. Helping the patient connect with the proper dentist will encourage their safety as well as quality of care. Giving up a few crowns is worthwhile if it means keeping the patient for continued care in the long term.
Lee Weinstein DMD, FASDC is a Pediatric Dentist and a consultant with Core Smiles Consulting.
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