Dental Tourism - Make Sure it is Worth the Trip

Clinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
Last Modified:

Table of Contents

  1. Why People Travel for Dental Work
  2. Top Places for Dental Tourism
  3. Pros and Cons
  4. How to Save in the US
  5. Your Long-Term Oral Health
  6. References

Dental tourism is the term that describes when someone travels outside of their home country to receive specialty dental care. For instance, some U.S. citizens travel to Mexico to have dental implants. Some Australians fly to Thailand for different oral procedures.

Dental tourists usually hail from areas where the cost of treatments is expensive. Tourists travel to destinations where the same procedures are much lower-priced. Americans spent $2.6 billion on medical and dental tourism in 2018, nearly four times what they spent ($757 million) 10 years earlier, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The dental tourism market is expected to expand into a $5 billion-plus sector by 2025. One of the main reasons behind this growth is the cost of dental treatments in developed countries. Another reason for the surge is the lack of insurance coverage for certain dental procedures.

Why People Travel for Dental Work

The explanation of why dental tourism exists is that you can find similar quality of service but at a much lower cost. Dental insurance is a factor that drives many to travel for their dental care, but the cost is the driving factor. Examples of cost differences:

Dental Tourism - Make Sure it is Worth the Trip
ProcedureCost in the U.S.Cost in Asia/Mexico
Five ceramic crowns$10,000$2,250
6 Veneers$900 to $1,500 each$1,800
Root canal$1,000 to $3,000$ 150
Root canal and crown$3,000$ 450
Implant and crown$6,500$2,000

U.S. dental care is expensive, especially if you are seeking cosmetic or reconstructive work. Most insurance plans only cover rudimentary dental care, which forces more than 150 million Americans to go without dental coverage.

As a person ages, their teeth begin to wear down. Even with the best oral hygiene, your teeth will begin to wear, loosen, break and fall out. The need for crowns, root canals and other repairs – and upgrades such as veneers – can cos tens of thousands of dollars.

Affordability is the main factor worldwide for dental tourism as the population begins to live 10 to 30 years longer than the previous generation.

Top Places for Dental Tourism

Dental patients who live near an international border tend to make up the majority of dental tourists. In the United States, people who live in Texas, California and Arizona have easy access to Mexico.

Many U.S. citizens and Canadians living near Maine travel to Costa Rica, Argentina, Colombia, Panama, or Guatemala. People living in Florida often travel to San Jose for procedures.

Europeans also use dental tourism to reduce their dental costs. In Europe, Hungary offers much more affordable care than other nearby countries. Romania offers great prices on cosmetic dentistry, and dental costs in the UK are approximately 30 percent less than private dental costs.

Turkey has experienced significant growth in its health tourism. A country known for its relaxing destination among travelers, Turkey also ranks as a popular medical tourist's choice for cosmetic dental surgeries.

Pros and Cons for Dental Tourism

There are two sides to the dental tourism issues. On one side is price. On the other: safety.

Low Costs

Lower costs are one of the primary benefits, although there are safety factors to consider.

The pros for traveling for care is that the procedures won’t break someone’s budget. (More than 30 million U.S. citizens do not carry have dental insurance.) For some, traveling to another country is the only way to afford otherwise expense dental procedures.

Some dentists provide their services as an act of charity. They travel to indigent countries and provide dental care to the impoverished. This helps those less fortunate receive better oral care which is key to overall health.

Security and Safety

The downside to dental tourism is security and safety risks. Traveling long distances can come with hazards. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, traveling increases your risk of contracting the COVID-19 coronavirus. The farther away you travel, the higher the risks. Even before the pandemic, traveling to Mexico increased one's risk of diseases such as hepatitis and dengue.

Other cons:

  • Oral safety. The success of dental implants depends on the health of your gums. If you have a disease or infection in your gums, it will require treatment before the implants can be placed. Dental tourism would be difficult in these cases as it would involve multiple travels.

  • Implant failure. Some implant patients experience bacteria getting into their implants. This condition will not be apparent right away and will only start to show signs once you are home. The condition is treatable but costly. 

  • Sanitation regulations and standards. Sanitation standards in countries where dental tourism is popular are not the same, if any exist, as they are in the United States. In the U.S., the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulate such standards and dentists have to carry malpractice insurance as well as attend ongoing educational programs.

How to Save Money on Dental Work in the United States

You can maintain a beautiful, healthy smile without breaking your budget in the United States. These are how you can save money on dental work:

  • Have regular cleanings. Having a professional cleaning of your teeth every six months will help you avoid problems as well as catch existing ones before they become severe.

  • Prioritize your dental care. If you require more dental work than you can afford, ask your dentist to prioritize your needs. Determine which procedures should be done immediately and which you can elect to have done later. Prioritizing your care will help span the costs out over a longer period.

  • Dental discount plans. Dental discount plans can help you reduce the costs of dental work. Plans usually require a one-time annual fee, and by going to a dentist in the network you can get discounted services.

  • Payment plan. Talk to your dentist about a possible payment plan for services. Many dentists will offer this service or be able to provide you with other services that may help cover your costs.

Your Long-Term Oral Health

There are pros and cons to dental tourism. While not all experiences end up bad, there are significant risks to traveling to foreign countries for your dental needs.

Oral health contributes much to your overall health, so it is important to receive proper care. Be smart and keep your hometown dental specialist informed if you have chosen dental tourism for your dental needs.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.