Australians needing expensive work on their teeth are looking overseas for cheaper alternatives. Nicky Park uncovers the risky rise of dental holidays.
Australian retiree Neil Glenister was left with two missing teeth after they rotted away four years ago.
The Queenslander, then 70, got a quote from his local dentist of $6000 for a bridge to replace the missing teeth.
Like a growing number of Aussies, Glenister decided to include his dental work on a South-East Asian escape and booked a two-week trip to Thailand that included his dentistry, for $4000.
A shuttle bus was sent to his Phuket hotel on three mornings, where he hopped on board with other Aussies tourists in town for dental and cosmetic work, and was taken to Bangkok Phuket Hospital.
"The hospital was as good as any hospital here ... I couldn't fault it and there's been nothing wrong with the work that's been done," Glenister said of his successful experience.
Barbara Sherrif, the manager of My Body & Spirit, which specialises in "dental and cosmetic surgery holidays", says the main motivation for international dentistry is the cost.
Dental work is about a third of the price in Thailand compared to Australia, plus "they're getting a holiday at the same time".
"It's way cheaper than in Australia," she says from her travel agency in Tewantin, just north of Noosa, in Queensland.
The most popular procedures she books are crowns, costing $5000 in Thailand, dental implants, priced at $2600 and veneers priced at $350 per tooth.
In Australia the same procedures can cost as much as $11,000, $5,000 and $800 respectively.
But the president of the Australian Dental Association Neil Hewson says overseas dental work is a gamble.
"It's a bit of a lottery," he says from his clinic in Victoria.
"We advise people not to do it, we sort of warn them of the possible, adverse things that might happen."
Dr Hewson says he's noticed a surge in the practice and has heard "quite a few ... disaster" stories from various specialists across Australia.
He says complex procedures, like Glenister's bridge, shouldn't be rushed, and can fit poorly, fall out, and in extreme cases, people can lose teeth.
"All sorts of things can happen ... sometimes you can't fix (them) and you have to have a denture or implants."
Dr Hewson says horror stories are hard to get hold of because patients of dodgy dental work "don't want to look foolish".
"They're very reluctant to talk about it to the dentist ... because your mouth's very personal so people don't want to make that sort of stuff public," he said.
Australian dentists are heavily regulated and should something go wrong there are strict follow-up procedures nationally.
"If you don't get satisfaction there are complaints commission boards and even courts if you need (them) to give you a chance to protect yourself," he says.
However overseas, "you don't have any of those things".
But Sherrif, who gets about 20 inquiries a week for dental holidays, says she has a partnership with the Bangkok Phuket Hospital, the only establishment in the country recognised under the Thai government's Quality Improvement Accreditation.
Sherrif found the hospital about five years ago when her husband, John, was in need of major dental work that would have set them back about $25,000 if done locally.
It cost him $5000 to get it done in Thailand.
Sherrif has noticed a recent boom in the service, especially amongst over-40s, and is toying with the idea of getting a Malaysian hospital on board.
She has offered dental holidays for the past four years and says complaints are minimal and "overall it's been relatively good".
"We've had the odd dental one, we had one client where the crown wasn't quite perfect or something ... (but) honestly, overall ... we don't have many complaints."
IF YOU GO:
For more details on dental holidays visit: www.mybodyandspirit.com.au.
For more information from the Australian Dental Association visit: http://www.ada.org.au/.