Are you considering going abroad for cheaper dental care? Dental tourism is becoming increasingly popular for Americans and Canadians because of the high cost of dental treatment in North America. There is the potential to save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on treatments like dental implants, veneers, crowns and dentures.
However, it’s only natural to have some questions and reservations about getting dental care in a foreign country. Our aim with this guide is to answer the most common questions about overseas dentistry. Then, you can make a more informed decision about whether to get implants, veneers, or other treatment overseas.
If you’re wondering about the best place for dental tourism when traveling from the US or Canada, keep reading to find information and reviews on some of the most popular destinations. We also share some considerations and precautions so you can be as prepared as possible for your trip.
Table of contents
- 1 Why go abroad for dental implants and other treatment?
- 2 Most popular dental tourism treatments
- 3 Arranging your visit
- 4 What’s the best country for dental tourism?
- 5 Potential risks and other considerations
Why go abroad for dental implants and other treatment?
Some 800,000 Americans travel overseas for dental work each year – mostly to Mexico and Costa Rica – so you’re certainly not alone in considering doing so.
The main reason medical tourism is so popular is because of the cost savings. When it comes to dental treatment, patients can save thousands of dollars by seeing a dentist abroad, even after factoring in the cost of travel and accommodation. If you need extensive restorative or cosmetic work, the savings can be even greater.
In this table you can see how much you might be able to save by traveling overseas for dental work:
|Country||Single tooth implant cost||Porcelain veneer cost||Dental crown|
|These costs are approximate averages and will vary between clinics.|
An added benefit in some people’s eyes is the opportunity to have a vacation in an exotic destination at the same time. But for those who live near the Mexican border, it might be a case of just driving a couple of hours to more than halve their bill.
Why is dental care cheaper abroad?
Be assured that the lower cost of dental treatment in countries like Mexico, Costa Rica, and Thailand is not a reflection of sub-standard materials, facilities, or training. Many patients find that they actually get better care abroad than they have experienced back home.
So how can clinics afford state-of-the-art equipment, professionally trained staff, and modern facilities while still offering prices up to 80% lower than in the US?
The answer really comes down to the cost of living and running a business in each country. In places where rents, salaries, taxes, insurance, and business overheads are all lower, dentists can afford to offer their services for less.
One dental clinic in Tijuana, for example, pays dentists around a third of the average salary of dentists in the US.
Plus, as more clinics have realised there is money to be made from treating foreign patients, the dental tourism industry has become more competitive. For clinics to stay ahead of the game they need the best equipment and facilities while still offering affordable prices.
Standards of care
Overseas clinics that want to treat Americans and other foreign patients know they will be under great scrutiny. They understand that word-of-mouth referrals and positive online reviews are the best way for them to build their business, so they go out of their way to exceed expectations.
Dentists often train in English-speaking countries like the US or the UK, so not only do they meet the same high standards we’re used to at home, they also speak English very well. Many prestigious dental schools in Europe offer their courses in English so students get a good grasp of the language.
There is also a strong emphasis on customer service with many dental tourism clinics. You may get a free pick-up from your hotel or airport, for example, or a shuttle bus from the border with certain Mexican clinics. If you book with an agency, you can have everything taken care of – from flights to accommodation to the treatment itself.
Most popular dental tourism treatments
The most common treatments are typically those where patients stand to save the most. This is why dental implant tourism is such big business; just look at the possible savings for tooth implants abroad:
|Single tooth implant||All-on-4 implants|
|Typical cost in the US||$1,500 - $6,000||$15,000+|
|Possible cost overseas||$700 - $1,500||$5,000+|
Similar savings should apply to any preparatory treatment you need, such as a bone graft or sinus lift. If you want to know more about the teeth implant procedure we have a lot more information in our full dental implant article here.
All-on-4 implants are particularly popular for patients traveling overseas because they can be fitted much more quickly and with fewer visits than traditional implants. Traditional implants usually require three visits over a period of 6-9 months, whereas All-on-4 can be fitted in just 1-2 days. You can read more about All-on-4 implants here, including the pros and cons compared to other treatments.
However, there is the potential to save money on other aesthetic and restorative dental work including:
- Crowns (zircona, porcelain or gold)
- Teeth whitening
- Some types of braces
- Root canals, extractions, and fillings
Dental tourism prices are typically 40% to 80% lower than with a dentist in the US or Canada. Although it probably wouldn’t be worth traveling to another country just for a couple of fillings, the savings can be huge if you need extensive work.
For example, a $10,000 dental treatment plan in the US or Canada could be reduced by thousands of dollars at an overseas clinic. Even once you have paid for flights and accommodation, you can still make significant savings. Just keep in mind that some treatments require you to stay several days or make more than one visit.
Arranging your visit
When it comes to planning your trip, there are two main ways to go about it. You can either book directly with the clinic of your choice, or via a healthcare tourism agency.
Benefits of booking with an agency include:
- Everything arranged for you (flights, accommodation, transport to the clinic)
- They help you find the most suitable clinic for your needs
- The process should be relatively hassle-free
- If you have any problems, you can get the agency involved to help
Of course, involving a middle man might mean you’ll pay more overall than if you arranged everything yourself. But if you’re happy with the price quoted for your package, it can be worth paying that bit extra for the peace of mind of knowing someone else is organizing it all.
Check before you book
However you decide to arrange your trip, you should do your own research on the dentist and clinic (and company, if applicable). By all means begin with their website, but remember that it’s easy for them to be selective about the reviews and testimonials displayed there.
There are plenty of internet forums and independent review sites where you can get impartial information online. Also speak to anyone you know who has gone abroad for dental work, as they should be able to offer you some advice and recommendations.
Ask what qualifications your chosen dentist has, and verify them with the issuing body. Different regulatory bodies govern each country’s dentistry industry, but it’s usually quite straightforward to check whether a particular dentist is registered with the right authorities. This will give you the reassurance that your dentist has a legitimate right to practice.
At the end of this article we list some more precautions, potential risks, and things to consider before you book. It’s a good idea to be aware of these so you can be as prepared as possible for your trip.
What’s the best country for dental tourism?
The best dental tourism locations for you will depend on where you live and whether you want to use your trip for a vacation as well. Mexico is the obvious choice for people who live close to the border because travel costs are cheaper. However, there are plenty of other destinations that cater to patients from abroad.
Below you’ll find information and reviews on some of the countries that are best known for their dentistry.
Most of Mexico’s dental clinics are clustered in towns on the border, offering easy access for Americans living in Southern states.
When Mexican dentists first cottoned on to the demand for dental care just across the border, there was an influx of shady characters just in it to make a quick buck. This resulted in a number of sub-standard clinics which caused the industry as a whole to gain some bad press.
Reputations are built through word of mouth, though, and things have greatly improved in recent years. However, it’s still essential to do your research ahead of time and find a clinic that is widely recommended. Shopping on price alone is certainly not the best approach in this market.
Where to head
The border town of Tijuana, a stone’s throw from San Diego, entices around a million Americans a year for medical tourism. The town’s reputation suffered after a spate of drug-related violence around a decade ago, but it has since cleaned up its act and attention has shifted to the standard of medical care available there.
“We’re so close to San Diego that it forces us to have high quality care. People compare us to San Diego, not to other places in Mexico – so we have to have first world standards, and we do.” says Dr Rafael Alcaraz who practices there.
Los Algodones, just across the border from Yuma, Arizona, is another hotspot for Americans needing dental work. A huge 10% of its 6,000 residents are dentists, and as many as 6,000 Americans cross the border every day during peak seasons to seek low-cost dental care there.
Read our full guide to dental tourism in Mexico if you want to find out more about these and other cities.
Be aware that driving across the border, particularly when returning to the US, can involve lengthy lines. If your clinic is within walking distance of the border or offers a free shuttle service, it can be much quicker to park on the US side and walk across.
For those traveling from the East coast, Cancun is the place to go. Not only does it have an excellent reputation for professional dental care; it’s also a popular destination for vacationers.
In the video below you can see a dental tourism review from one patient who traveled to Cancun for a smile makeover involving implant-supported snap-in dentures. It’s 16 minutes long but it gives an interesting real-time insight into the experience, which took 8 days in total.
A little further south, Costa Rica is another popular location for dental patients from North America. The country is renowned for its natural beauty, so visitors often arrange their dental work as part of a longer vacation. It’s quite possible to enjoy a two-week break in a luxury resort plus get your dental treatment for less than the price you’d pay for the dental work alone in the US.
It’s normal for dentists in Costa Rica to speak good English – they need to since an estimated 90% of patients they treat are foreigners. Plus, many of them have trained in the US.
Read more about the best places to visit for dental tourism in Costa Rica in our full guide.
Hungary is one of the most popular locations for cheap dental work for Brits and other Europeans since travel is quick and affordable. North American visitors typically only visit Hungary if they need extensive dental work since the cost of flights may cancel out any savings on smaller treatments.
Once there, though, you’ll find yourself spoiled for choice. Hungary has more dentists per capita than anywhere else in the world, as well as some of the best dental schools. In the same way that Americans cross the border to Mexico, Austrians and even Germans flock to the Hungarian border for cheaper treatment.
Accommodation is not expensive, even in the capital Budapest. Out of the city you’ll find clinics with their own spa facilities and luxury accommodation, for patients who want to use their trip for some R&R.
Read our full guide to dentistry in Hungary if you want to know more about getting treatment here.
Other popular destinations
For those who prefer to keep traveling to a minimum, Colombia, Cuba, Panama and Brazil are other South American countries offering affordable dental care.
Across the Atlantic, Poland and Spain are well known for their modern dental clinics. Along with Hungary, they receive tens of thousands of patients annually from the UK, Germany, Austria, and other European countries where dental care is more expensive. Low-cost European airlines make city hopping quite affordable, so this could be your chance to see more of the continent as well.
Heading in the other direction, there is a lot of dental tourism in Thailand and the Philippines – both destinations famed for their exotic beaches and rich culture.
In Thailand, Bangkok and Phuket have plenty of clinics catering to international visitors, with dentists often trained in the US. In the Philippines, patients often get treated in the capital, Manila, before going island hopping or heading to a coastal resort.
India is also gaining a reputation for its low-cost and high-quality dental care. Dentists often train in Europe and usually speak good English. Although it has one of the longest flight times from North America, it’s worth it if you go for the cultural experience as well.
Potential risks and other considerations
Dental tourism clinics are usually well run and professional, but some are sadly less reputable. If you have started researching online, no doubt you have come across some horror stories among all the positive reviews.
Of course, things can sometimes go wrong for even the best dentists – just as they do in the US. Often what sets a clinic apart is their ability to handle problems and keep customers satisfied despite any complications.
Therefore, this list of precautions and considerations is intended to help you prepare and research your decision – not to scare you off going abroad for treatment entirely.
Most dental insurance plans don’t cover treatment abroad (unless perhaps in an emergency) but it’s always worth checking the details of your policy, if you have one. Even a small contribution towards your treatment will help lower your out-of-pocket costs further.
You should also check whether your policy will cover any follow-up work or emergency care once you return home. Some explicitly exclude treatment on work that was originally carried out overseas.
If you have a travel insurance policy, this will probably only cover you for emergency dental treatment – not for complications arising from work you chose to have done. If you have to postpone your flights while you receive extra treatment, for example, your policy might not reimburse you for any expenses incurred.
The best bet is to make sure your chosen clinic or agency has insurance which will cover you for any unplanned care you need while you’re in the country. Also be clear on who would pay the bill for extra accommodation and re-scheduled flights in this scenario.
Finding a reputable dentist
One of the biggest concerns people have when traveling for dental treatment abroad is finding a good dentist. There are hundreds of excellent clinics in places like Mexico, Costa Rica, Thailand and Hungary – but how do you know you’ve chosen a good one? It really comes down to researching as much as possible.
Your research might involve:
- Understanding the different options for the procedure(s) you need and knowing your preferred choice
- Reading online reviews and asking questions in forums to get feedback from other patients who have had that procedure or visited the clinic you’re considering
- Verifying that your chosen dentist is qualified and registered with the local governing body or professional association
Dental clinics may be ISO 9001 certified, which shows they meet certain international quality standards. However, the resources involved with gaining accreditation make it impractical for some smaller clinics, so lack of ISO certification doesn’t necessarily mean worse standards.
It may help to have a consultation with your local dentist so they can advise you on the work you need to have done, especially in relation to your dental history.
Also arrange to speak to your chosen dentist overseas if possible. This gives you the chance to ask questions such as:
- How many times have you carried out this procedure?
- What materials do you use?
- What are your success rates?
- Are there any risks associated with the procedure?
- Can I see some before and after photos of your previous work?
- Is it possible to speak to a patient who has had the same procedure?
If the dentist seems hesitant to provide their credentials or can’t answer your questions satisfactorily, move on. There are plenty of others keen to get your business.
Another worry when getting medical care overseas is communication. The language barrier is one aspect of this, but by speaking directly to your dentist you should get an idea of how good their English is.
But you also want the assurance that you’ll receive thorough communication before, during, and after the procedure. This can help prepare you for the work you’re having done and any possible discomfort or side-effects you’ll experience. You also need to know how to care for your teeth following treatment.
Again, the best way to judge this is to read about other people’s experiences.
Depending on how complicated your procedure is, you may need to stay in a clinic or hospital for a night or two. Alternatively, your clinic may arrange special care for you at your hotel. It might help to have a friend or family member with you while you recover.
Even if you don’t need special aftercare, you may have to return for a checkup one or two days later before you can travel home. If your treatment involves surgery, you probably won’t feel like doing much for a couple of days anyway. Make sure you’re clear on all of this before you book your trip.
You can read up on common dental procedures online, but ask your clinic what to expect too. Also check what you can do if you’re dissatisfied with the results.
Another benefit of having someone travel with you is that they can help if you experience complications. Although rare, complications can develop regardless of where your treatment takes place.
Problems might include:
- Nerve damage resulting in numbness or tingling
- Damage to remaining healthy teeth
- Sinus problems (if you have upper teeth implants)
- Tooth sensitivity (where enamel is removed for veneers, etc.)
Discuss with your clinic ahead of time what they will do if any such complications arise – either while you are staying there or after you return home. What guarantee do they provide for your treatment? Would they cover the cost of you seeing a dentist at home if you needed additional care? If you had to return to the clinic to fix a problem, who would pay your travel expenses?
Although of course you hope everything will happen as planned, it’s good to be prepared by asking these questions before you commit to anything.
Some dental treatments like implants will require ongoing care with your local dentist. There are over 50 different implant systems in use, so it’s a good idea to ask your overseas dentist which system they use and what documentation they provide. Using a brand that’s available in your home country will make aftercare more straightforward.
You should also request a copy of your medical notes in English so your regular dentist knows your full medical history.
If your treatment involves certain planned follow-up work (like checkups or adjustments), find out where you will have this done and whether the cost is included in your original payment.
This might sound like a lot of research and a lot of questions to ask, but knowing all of this information will help you choose a clinic and dentist you feel comfortable with. You will also be in a better position to compare costs once you know exactly what is and isn’t included.
Going abroad for dental implants and other treatment can be extremely cost-effective and needn’t be daunting if you prepare well. We hope the information provided in this article has helped you decide whether dental tourism is right for you.