Reading: Smile More, Pay Less: Why Dental Tourism Is the Next Big Thing


Smile More, Pay Less: Why Dental Tourism Is the Next Big Thing

A beautiful location, top-tier technology, and much lower prices. It's time to get filled in on dental tourism

By Julien McRoberts

Did your last visit to the dentist leave you feeling like you could only afford a tiara rather than those new crowns? Maybe a dental holiday is just the solution you’re looking for. 

Dread going to the dentist? Me too. 

Well, that was the case until recently. As a child I endured a dentist that I referred to as Dr. Frankenstein, and I have been a reluctant participant ever since. A couple of my adult dentists told me they wanted to replace all four crowns that Dr. Frankenstein installed decades ago, for a total cost of $8,000 or more. They made it sound rather urgent, which sent me into panic mode. I had visions of more root canals, drilling, and pain… Yikes!  I put it off… and off. 

But when we moved from New York City to Lisbon, Portugal, a few years ago, I knew it was time to get some work done on my teeth. The costs are much lower here. So it was time to set my fears aside and finally take care of this.

I told my very funny and charming Lisbon dentist I wanted to start with one crown replacement to see how it would go. It went well. Painless. It was nothing like the experience of my childhood. The equipment and technology were more advanced than that of our dentists in New York City, which came as a pleasant surprise. And the best part? The costs were low. Very low. 

Dr. Charming told me that my crowns were actually done very well and did not need to be replaced — unless I wanted to for cosmetic reasons. Replacing them was not vital or necessary. Nope, all good. Cost for one crown: $600. Having an honest dentist: Priceless. 

So why am I sharing my dental experience with you? Well, because that first visit to my dentist in Lisbon opened the door to my next somewhat unexpected business opportunity. 

I decided to hang up my camera after 15 years of being a professional photographer and open up Portugal to the dental tourism market. In my early days of living in Lisbon I had become friends with another New Yorker, Mimi Glaser. (New Yorkers tend to find each other no matter where they are.) Mimi is super savvy with a great attitude, and we thought we would be a good match to work together. After months of research and planning, we launched Dental Destinations Portugal.

If this is something you’re not familiar with, let me introduce you to the world of Dental Tourism, a fast growing industry due to the exorbitantly high prices of dental treatments in the US and Canada. Many people, not only from America, travel abroad to a wide range of countries to get more affordable dental work done while enjoying a holiday. That’s one way to take the pain out of dentistry… add in a beach, great food, wine, and a beautiful destination. 

Marfra, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

Let’s dig into this…

Why Is Dental Care Cheaper Abroad?
There are a number of factors that help drive down the cost of treatment abroad. Real estate and office rental fees are more affordable for small business owners abroad, and staff salaries are lower due to the lower cost of living. Additionally, insurance requirements tend to be more flexible or, in many cases, optional. Whereas in the US, dentists are required by law to pay for insurance and liability costs, which can inflate clinics’ overheads.

Quality of Dental Care Abroad: Is it Safe?
Dental tourism is a safe option for many people. The safety of your trip depends on the country you are traveling to, the clinic you visit, and the care you receive. It is important to conduct thorough research before selecting a clinic and country for your dental needs. Check the current safety and political situation of the country you are considering, and research experienced dentists who speak English and who specialize in your needs. Mexico has been a popular destination for dental tourism for some time, but it comes with its share of challenges. Some clinics can be good, but many are 15 years or more behind with the latest technology, and there’s also the issue of safety.

When you try to “go it alone” or simply go for the cheapest advertised package, you can get into trouble. Beware of clinics that offer a flat price (including travel) along with specific dental procedures. While this may sound attractive, once you get there the prices may go up significantly and you are at their mercy. If a deal sounds too good, it probably is. 

Is Dental Tourism Right for You?
Dental tourism is a viable option for those seeking to improve their smile with procedures such as veneers, or more extensive treatments like implants and root canals. By choosing to travel abroad for these treatments, patients can save significant amounts of money and also enjoy a vacation in a beautiful destination.

In Portugal, savings are around 50 – 60 percent less than what you would spend on most treatments in the US. For example, “All on 4” dental implant treatments in the US typically start at $25,000 while in Portugal they are around $12,000. While many people may be able to get their treatments done in one visit, more serious treatments such as implants will require two visits. And yet even with travel one can still experience good savings, depending on the location.  

A New Solution
We recognized the potential for Dental Destinations Portugal to offer a curated boutique concierge service for our clients, providing them with access to preeminent dental clinics and a comprehensive range of services to make the dental tourism experience stress-free and enjoyable. While many clinics in Turkey, Mexico, Thailand, and beyond offer packages, we felt the consumer really was left not knowing whether clinics were legit or if the dentists were well trained. 

Why Portugal?
Portugal is a wonderful destination for medical or dental tourism. It has some of the best healthcare in the world. In fact, it has been ranked number 12 by the World Health Organization; by comparison, the US ranks 37th. And it is incredibly affordable for travel.

While conducting extensive research, we noticed that most dental tourism offerings were advertisements by the clinics themselves. How would one know if they were any good? And of the few large global facilitators, we noticed they simply gave you the referral of a clinic and would not follow through on other key parts of the customer experience. Clients were left on their own. 

Our goal is to provide clients with access to the best dentists in Portugal and to streamline the dental tourism process as much as possible, eliminating guesswork and ensuring a stress-free experience. Being from NYC, we have high standards when it comes to business and only work with preeminent dental clinics. Our team takes care of scheduling dental appointments and arranging transportation to and from the airport and to the dentist. We also educate our clients on what to expect in Portugal prior to their trip.

Will Dental Insurance Cover Your Treatment?
For some people, yes (if your provider pays or reimburses you for out-of-network care or treatment abroad). Generally, dental policies cover some portion of the cost of
preventive care, fillings, crowns, root canals, and oral surgery, such as tooth extractions. They might also cover periodontics and prosthodontics, such as dentures and bridges. If you do not have dental insurance there are companies who will provide loans for dental care, allowing you to spread out your payments. Other people choose to put everything on a credit card to get the points and also spread out the costs. 

Uncle Sam May Even Give You a Break
While dental work is never fun, at least you can make the process more enjoyable with a vacation. And you may qualify for potential tax deductions. Dental care may be deductible as long as it is not solely cosmetic. Part of your travel may be deductible as well (it is important to consult with a tax accountant for specific advice on this matter).

Dental tourism can be a great solution for those seeking affordable dental care without compromising on quality. With lower costs and advanced technology, many countries offer a safe and viable option for dental work. Don’t let fear or high prices keep you from taking care of your dental health. You can have the smile you’ve always wanted while exploring the world.

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