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Factors To Consider Before Visiting A Foreign Country For Dental Work

After practicing dentistry for 22 years, I have seen my share of nutty foreign dental work. I am not saying all dental work from foreign country is bad. In fact, I have seen some excellent work as well. You have to understand that Canada has a very high dental standard compared to most developed nations around the world.  If you are going to another country for dental work because of because of the high cost in Canada, you are likely to go to a nation which has a lower standard of care in dentistry. Compared to most other first world nations, cost of dentistry in Canada, especially in B.C., is amongst the lowest.

I know if you are hit with massive dental estimate, you may consider taking a trip abroad, especially if you know someone who got the work done at a third of the cost. You are probably thinking, I can get the dental work and get a vacation for the same cost. But, before you go abroad, consider the following examples and avoid the same mistakes.

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Dental implants are probably the number one reason these days to opt for foreign dental work. Many of my patients ask me why dental implants cost up to $3500 in Canada, when they cost less than half that in Korea. Many go back to Korea for dental implants and come back happy. On the other hand, I have also seen many come back with problems that ended up costing more to fix than the original estimate.

Example 1: Not long ago, I saw a long time patient of mine who had recently had dental work performed in Korea. Before she left, I gave her an estimate to treat her gum disease, which was causing loss of several teeth. My estimate included plans for two implants once the gum disease was resolved. She thought my estimate was too high and took a month off to go to Korea for treatment. Her argument was, “I could go to Korea and get the dental work for less than half the cost and essentially get a free trip”.

After her trip, the patient visited our office for a dental emergency. She came in with a swollen cheek which was caused by an acute infection of her gums. Upon examination, it was revealed that the dentist in Korea totally ignored her gum disease, but managed to crown ten teeth and place two implants, and she still needed to go back after two months to place the implant crowns. I asked her why she had the crowns placed when they were clearly not necessary. Her response was the dentist in Korea recommended it to her because they would make her teeth stronger. It turns out she spent slightly more than my original estimate in Korea, but she felt was worth it because she received ten extra crowns out of it.

It broke my heart to let her know that the gum disease still needed to be addressed, and in order for the gum disease to be treated properly, many of the ill-fitting crowns needed to be removed and replaced. The implants that were placed were also questionable as they were hastily positioned in fresh unresolved extraction sites with unknown bone graft material. No one is at fault here; the dentist in Korea did his best according to their standard of treatment in the time that he/she had.

It is not uncommon to totally ignore gum disease in dentistry in developing countries. In Canada and most developed nations, we address the gum disease first as the gums and the surrounding bones are the “foundations” of our teeth.  No matter how strong the teeth are, if the foundation is weak and diseased, the teeth will eventually fall out.

Foreign dental work lessons to be learned:
  1. Know exactly what treatment needs to be done before you go and don’t veer off that plan. 
  2. Find the necessary dentist or specialist that knows how to perform the necessary treatments. 
  3. Take sufficient time off to get the necessary treatment done properly (note healing takes time and things don’t always go according to plan)
  4. Consider the chances of post op complications. How will you deal with it?  Who will deal with it? Is there a warranty on the new crowns or implants?

Korean DentistryExample 2: Mr X, age 40, visited the office last year for an estimate for four implants. His oral health was excellent, except some missing teeth on the lower jaw which he would like to replace with implants. I gave him an estimate for Swiss made Straumann implants, which are considered the best in terms of quality and warranty. He opted to take two weeks off work to go to Korea and have four Korean made implants placed for a third of the cost.

Four months later he had to take another week off to return to Korea to have the prosthetic crown placed over the implant. All the implants were successfully placed and he was happy with the result. After a few months, he bit into hard piece of food and implant crown cracked. He could not afford to take more time off to go back to Korea for the warranty repair and had to pay $1500 to get a new crown made. In the end, it turned out he spent the same amount as he would have done in Canada, if you factor in the lost work days and travel cost.

Implant and crowns need constant adjustments and maintenance. In our office, we do all maintenance and repair work free of charge for all the implants that we place for the first five years. If Mr X needs any further maintenance work done on his implant, which is most likely, his Korean made implant will end up costing more in the long run than the Swiss made Straumann implants.

Before you leave for a foreign country for cheaper dental work, do your research and factor in the cost of possible complications and maintenance. After considering all this and you still decide to proceed, make sure you stick with the treatment plan and don’t be fooled into buying unnecessary treatment.

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