Dental Tourism: Worth the Hype or Dangerous?

We are bombarded by it aren’t we? Every time I open my phone or laptop and look at social media; there is another influencer or someone I know showing off their shiny new teeth from Turkey on Instagram or Tiktok. The phrase ‘Turkey Teeth’ is commonplace and it isn’t unusual to have a patient in my clinic say to me ‘I was thinking about going to Turkey to have them done.’ And it sounds like a great deal, doesn’t it? A bright white straight smile of your dreams, at a good price and a sunny holiday added into the bargain; what’s not to like? But with everything in life, surely there’s a catch? What is the hidden cost? And actually, is it something dangerous?

One report1 suggest that the Global Dental Tourism market is growing fast and going to be worth $5.83billion by 2025. Anecdotally, Turkey appears to be the most common destination for Brits to seek dental work, however packages appear to be offered in countries such as Romania, Poland, Spain &; Ukraine or even as far as India and Thailand to name but a few.

The main attraction to heading abroad for treatment seems to be cost; where it appears that cosmetic treatments can be offered at a significantly lower price than the UK. There is also the holiday aspect; most of these clinics offer packages including flights and accommodation in the deal. It has also been glamorised by numerous social media influencers taking the opportunity and advertising it through their channels.

It is important to note that these influencers may have been paid or had their treatment for free in order to advertise that particular clinic and may not be a paying regular customer.
One story that starts to highlight the dangers of going abroad is from one of my own patients.

This particular patient is a social media influencer &; has been on reality television and I had treated her for many years. One day, she attended my clinic for a check-up and showed me her twenty new ‘360o veneers’ that she was given for free as long as she advertised the clinic on her Instagram feed, documenting the whole experience and tagging them in the selfies taken afterwards. I was shocked as I had never heard of 360o veneers. Was I a terrible dentist for not knowing this treatment? Was this something cutting edge and modern and I was behind the times?

Upon examining her mouth, I was even more shocked. These ‘360o veneers’ were, in fact, full coverage crowns. This sort of treatment in the UK is reserved for severely broken down or root canal treated teeth; where it is clearly indicated to protect the tooth. This lady’s teeth were perfectly sound before having these crowns placed. Where crowns are placed on healthy teeth it requires a lot (and I mean a lot!) of tooth structure to be shaved off. You may have seen the photographs of Katie Price’s teeth after they were prepared for crowns on a dental holiday – something out of nightmares! Once this is done it is irreversible as the removed tooth cannot be brought back and also puts the nerve in the middle of the tooth under severe strain; with one in five requiring root canal treatment and one in ten requiring

1 https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2019/04/11/1802782/0/en/Dental-Tourism-Market-to-Grow-a t-12-CAGR-to-Hit-5-83-billion-by-2025-Adroit-Market-Research.html

extraction after 10 years2. I could not believe a clinician would choose to be so destructive when far less invasive options are available.

Unfortunately a few months later, one of her teeth did require root canal treatment as the nerve had died off leaving her with a very painful infection. As the work had been done in Turkey this patient had to seek treatment from that clinic first however upon telling them about what had happened they blocked her on all channels leaving her with nowhere to go. Luckily in this case I was able to help her but that wouldn’t always happen.

What this story highlights is that when heading abroad for treatment the quality of care cannot be guaranteed and there can be little to no aftercare. In the UK, for both NHS and Private care the regulations are extremely stringent and the quality of dental education and treatment generally is very high. Dentists are held accountable for their actions to their regulatory body and high levels of infection control and cleanliness must be upheld at all times by the dentist and assisting dental team. When you leave the UK for treatment this may not always be the case.

Now I am not saying that there will not be great care when heading abroad for treatment or that clinics will not have their own high standards; but it is a lottery and unfortunately I have seen so many young people have their teeth shaved to stumps for absolutely no reason other than cosmetics.

My advice to anyone seeking cosmetic dentistry in the UK or elsewhere is: do your homework. Research the clinic, the dentist, check out reviews, research the type of treatment proposed, don’t necessarily accept the first or cheapest option and check that you will be looked after even once treatment is finished. Make sure you trust the individuals and team treating you. At the end of the day, it is your mouth and you don’t want to end up in a worse situation; in pain or worse losing teeth. My philosophy when it comes to cosmetic dentistry is to be as minimally invasive as possible and not put a drill to a tooth unless absolutely necessary and preserving the health of teeth for the rest of your life which is ultimately the most important thing whilst making them look as fabulous as possible.

2 https://epublications.marquette.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1524&context=theses_open