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Monday, July 28, 2014


Are the Australian dentists protecting patients seeking affordable dentistry in Asia or are they just protecting their turf?

Recent articles in the Australian press and on the Australian Dental Association website have discussed the pros and cons of seeing a dentist in Asia. 

 It’s been much the same story in the US, Canada and the UK for decades now. Dentists in developing nations such as Thailand or the Philippines, healthcare tourism ministries,  travel agencies and consumer advocate groups promote dental tourism  while dentists in the Western countries cry wolf and shed alligator tears.

The attacks by Western dentists are always the same. They suggest that patients have little recourse should things go wrong after returning home. Then there’s the sly hints of poor hygiene, training, inferior materials and equipment.

Actor Steve Martin playing dentist gasses himself rather than the patient before beginning treatment

Hey, Lay off the laughing gas guys! Top quality Seimens dental chairs and Nobel Biocare dental implants are sold to dentists around the world. Not just in Australia. Dental colleges and health authorities abroad teach and inspect for sanitation, sterilization, proper hygiene and proper disposal of medical waste. The dental dark ages are long gone.

Here’s a typical quote from the Australian Dental Association’s recent blasts on dental tourism:

“...Australian Dental Association federal president Karin Alexander said that, while prices for offshore treatment seemed cheaper, there was no way that the quality of work performed overseas could be guaranteed.”

Show me one dentist in  Australia or anywhere on the planet who will guarantee their work. Dentistry is both an art and science and one’s mouth is a dynamic entity.  Teeth move around and sometimes skip town. Teeth and gums are affected by smoking, alcohol, drugs, poor oral hygiene and bad habits such as teeth grinding, crushing ice, opening beer bottles and from people ingesting copious amounts of the sugar found in our modern diet.

Professionals of any sort from dentists to heart surgeons would never guarantee their work. Only that they will do their professional best.  Reputable dentists anywhere will fix any problems should they occur.  But dentists get off easy compared to some professionals because "architects have to hide their mistakes with trees and bushes, while doctors have to bury theirs."  

Any other corrections such as re-cementing a crown, a bite, plate or denture adjustment can be handled by a local Australian dentist for a price far less than returning to your dental holiday dentist in Manila. But you can reasonably expect that if you are saving substantial money on your dentistry in Asia and you have to get an adjustment back home you will still come out money ahead (unless the Aussie dentist wants to punish you).

Why all the scary stuff by the Australian Dental Association?

One Sydney dental dental patient suggested that the reason could be that  Australian dentists  are more concerned about making their Mercedes, luxury home and country club payments rather than their patients ability to afford dental treatments. I don’t buy that. Not all Western dentists drive a Mercedes.  My dentist in South Pasadena California drove a Lamborghini.

But finding the right dentist in Manila, Thailand, Vietnam or in any developing nation can be problematic. And here’s where Australian dentists have a real toothache with dental tourism. Specialist and general dentists in Australia are separated legally (and in the minds of the patients) into 2 distinct camps. And they don’t cross-dress.

In many developing nations, both general and specialist dentists can legally perform advanced dental procedures.  Learning as they drill away on unsuspecting patients. Yikes! You better read that again.

That means that if one is not careful, and one selects a general dentist in Bangkok or Vietnam  for their crowns or dental makeover - they are getting a dentist who is not formally trained and certified by a dental specialist school for advanced dentistry. They are trained for basic general dentistry i.e. drilling, filling and pulling teeth.  

A general dentist in a developing nation may have taken a quickie course by a dental implant manufacturer to be able to hustle their product but a weekend course does not in any way equate the years a specialist dentist spent learning oral or maxillofacial surgery in order to do dental implants properly. Dental implants and oral restoration involves oral surgery and don’t let anyone tell you different.  

A general dentist normally has only 4 years of basic dental college. A specialist another 2 to 6 years. Yet both can cost the same in developing nations due to competition by general dentists seeking large treatment foreign patients. I say ‘foreign patients’ because the locals are savvy enough to head for a specialist when they want the best work.

One can safely assume that a dentist offering dental implants in Sydney or cosmetic dentistry in Brisbane has been properly trained, certified by a board of specialists and knows his craft well enough to do it in his sleep. But not necessarily that general dentist in Thailand who is offering you the best deal in Phuket.

The safest and best way to get your moneys worth when taking a dental holiday in Asia is to select a Board Certified Asia Dentist Association member dentist. Their staff gives free dental estimates, dentist resumes, referrals, dental tourism advice and can set appointments for its member dentists in Manila, Bangkok, Seoul, Hong Kong and India.

With a certified dentist in Asia you can be assured that you will be getting the high-quality dentistry you would expect from a cosmetic dentist in Sydney. Or South Pasadena.

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