It is now 5 years since I first visited Budapest as a medical tourist. I know that because a selfie of me sitting at a Budapest café appeared this week on my Facebook feed. I remember how happy I was. I had just agreed to a series of implants and cosmetic dentistry for a third of the price my London dentist would have charged me. Over the next 2 years I kept Wizzair in business and experienced the pros and cons of cosmetic dentistry tourism
I found my dental clinic via a ‘dental facilitator’ who arranges these things for British clients and most countries have similar facilitator services. The process is simple, you are pre-assessed in your home town London, Miami, Berlin etc and then appointments and treatments are arranged at your destination. Depending on the service you might be collected at the airport and a hotel might well be arranged for you. In that regard my own experiences were less than VIP but they were super friendly.
Dental destinations such as Hungary, Poland, Mexico and Thailand are full of dental clinics offering implant surgery. With UK prices for an implant ranging to £2500 the budget option of £500 in Budapest makes tempting reading and an ‘All-on-4 ‘ full arch bridge at £6000 looks a real bargain. You must, of course, factor in the airfares and accommodation. Fortunately it was cheap and easy to travel to Budapest with Wizzair who have daily flights at low prices (£35 one-way) and for follow up dentistry I flew in and out on the same day. The dentist even had her dental laboratory on standby for fixing a loose screw.
For other destinations costs may vary enormously and if you want to combine exotic tourism you will make your calculations accordingly. If you are based in the USA then Mexico is going to feature strongly on your travel plans whilst if you are in Indonesia then Thailand might hit the spot for you.
The things you must consider though, with cosmetic dentistry tourism is that implant work is done in 2 stages. Firstly your teeth are removed and implants are fixed into the jaw. Dental implants are made of titanium or titanium alloys. When they are placed in the jawbone, the bone will grow around the implants and bond with them as if they were bone. This process is called osseointegration and allows the implant to function like a natural tooth root. Your implantologist will then place an abutment which will eventually connect to the crown or bridge. Depending on personal aesthetic issue the dentist will create an attachment (like a false tooth/teeth on a plate to hide the empty areas. If the implant area is not visible in the back of the mouth this would be an optional extra. If the implants have been done in the ‘shop window’ at the front of the mouth this is an essential extra to factor in. If you are having whole arch bridges (smile in a day services) then the temporary teeth will be vital and already costed in.
After a period of four or five months the implant will heal and hopefully all the titanium implants will have ‘ossified’ into your jaw and be just like normal roots ready to receive crowns or bridges. You would then schedule a fresh trip for the fitting. This can be more or less a pleasant experience depending on your own pain sensitivity and the skill of the dentist. Personally I have a very good pain tolerance but there is a lot of ‘banging’ and ‘screwing’ that goes on in all stages of the implant cycle. Don’t be unnecessarily brave and ask for a strong dose of anaesthetic.
This brings me to a very important aspect of cosmetic dentistry tourism, certainly in Budapest. The dentist and their team will speak in Hungarian which is incomprehensible to foreigners. It can be very discomforting to be lying in a chair for hours at a time and not understanding what they are saying to each other. Are they discussing potential problems in your mouth or are they discussing last night’s football match? I assume the same would be the case in Poland or Thailand or wherever you go for cosmetic dentistry. Of course, the dentist will speak to you, directly, in English but most of the time they will be talking and issuing instructions to their team in the local lingo. This doesn’t matter when you are having other cosmetic surgeries under general anaesthetic but it is worth bearing in mind for dental work where you are awake all the time. I think if I was going to point out any real downside with dental tourism it would be this language element. You must, of course, weigh this against the enormous cost savings and the fun of doing some tourism.
There is another important point you should consider with cosmetic dentistry tourism. Implant screws and fixtures vary a lot between manufacturers and countries. If the dentist uses an Israeli brand of implant and your local dental surgery always uses a German brand they will not have the tools to adjust any problems locally. So you might have to fly back if you get into serious technical problems at a later date. I needed to do this myself and had to fly to Budapest for the day to fix a problem that I couldn’t fix in the UK because of different tooling. Fortunately there are cheap frequent flights and the Hungarian surgery was very helpful and I could go home that same evening. The flight cost £80 return and the dentist made no charge at all so it was probably cheaper than fixing something at my local dentist who charges £100 to say ‘hello’.
I came to this blog post with my own experience of implant work in the UK, Italy and Finland and I must say that the Hungarian dentist was as good as any and perhaps gentler than some. I have heard great things about dentists in Poland and Estonia and I am positive that they are really ‘ace’ in Thailand and Mexico. So, just bear in mind the few downsides I mentioned and get yourself a great smile at a good price.