Scheduling a root canal or wisdom tooth extraction on vacation might seem odd, but more and more Americans are making appointments with dentists abroad. The trend's been dubbed "dental tourism." More than 500,000 Americans traveled out of the country for dental care in 2013, according to the medical tourism group Patients Beyond Borders.
"Most people do so to receive the high-quality care they cannot afford back home," says Alberto Meza, DDS, dentist and director of Meza Dental in San José, Costa Rica. Travel to destinations such as Costa Rica, Mexico, the Czech Republic, and Thailand -- the top spots for dental tourism -- can save people up to 70% on dental health costs.
But before you hop on a plane for dental care, do your homework.
Look at the costs. You need to figure in other expenses, including the cost of international airfare and hotel rooms. Meza says most foreign patients spend at least a week in Costa Rica to fit in multiple appointments -- and some procedures require several international trips.
Find a reputable dentist. Research their education, experience, and accreditations, says Meza, who is a UCLAeducated dentist with accreditation from the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. Check organizations such as the World Dental Federation or the Academy of Dentistry International and Patients Beyond Borders.
Connect your dentists. Before patients arrive at his clinic, Meza requests X-rays, photos, and a treatment plan from the patient’s U.S. dentist. "We believe a patient’s case should be fully diagnosed before they decide to purchase airline tickets," he says.
Plan post-appointment care. Most dentists don’t advise you combine major procedures like wisdom tooth extraction with a vacation. Instead of sightseeing or jetting back home after dental work, Meza suggests you add recovery time into your travel plans, and also make a plan for follow-up care.
Before You Go
Traveling abroad for dental care? I. Glenn Cohen, author of Patients With Passports: Medical Tourism, Law, and Ethics, offers tips to prepare.
Sign up a companion. Arrange to have a relative or close friend in the waiting room if possible. In addition to providing care after procedures that require anesthesia or pain medications, Cohen notes, "a loved one should be there in case something goes wrong."
Purchase insurance. It can offer protection in cases where patients can’t recoup the fees for canceled trips or sue for malpractice. Or, "there can be complications that require extended stays beyond what you planned," Cohen says. Ask your health insurance company if it covers care received abroad.
Pack medical records. Your dentist should send test results and X-rays to the international dentist in advance of your appointment, but request more copies and take them with you.
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