What can we learn from dental tourism?

Dental Tourism cancunAfter visiting Cancun, Mexico, Jana Denzel reflects on dental tourism and what practices in the UK can take away from this growing industry.

Ready to go on holiday? Yes indeed! Did you schedule your historic site tours? Your boat party? Your dental implants?

Wait…what?

When you think of tourism, you most likely think sun, beach, pool and famous attractions in a new city. But now, more and more people are planning their holidays around their dental needs!

‘Dental tourism’ – a trend that is rapidly on the increase.

Many want that perfect dream smile, yet with ever increasing costs and lengthy waiting times, it may become easier to achieve it with an all-inclusive package of a five-star hotel, flight and holiday.

Yes, there has always been much speculation around the topic. But now, after Covid-19 has caused a huge waiting list for the NHS, we see more patients than ever in the UK going abroad for their dental treatment.

However, the question is – is it safe or just a quick fix? How has this area in our industry been growing? And what can we as dental professionals learn from it and safely implement into our own practice?

The patient journey in Mexico

I wanted to find out first-hand what dental tourism was all about. So I travelled to Cancun, Mexico, which is known to attract thousands of patients from across the world (mainly from America and Canada) and find out why it was so popular.

I wanted to see the workflow and the quality of work, but more importantly the ethics put into place.

Dr Maria Parra, a dentist originally from Venezuela, kindly welcomed me to her work place known as ‘Dental Clinic Cancun’.

She was completely open to me viewing all the facilities on offer and answering all the questions I had.

Being here, it was clear to see that dentistry is becoming increasingly consumer-driven around the world. Patients will visit multiple dentists to find the best clinic, the best ’deal’ and to carry out treatment with a dentist they are truly comfortable with.

So, what can we do to stand out?

Dr Maria Parra explained how important the patient journey is within their clinic.

She spends more time than anyone else in the practice emotionally connecting to her patients and really getting to know their needs. ‘If a patient is trusting you with such a sensitive area as their mouth and oral health, it’s essential you spend the time to connect with them and get to know them and their needs personally,’ she told me.

The key to successful treatment

Another key factor that runs in the clinic, is ‘minimally invasive’.

They always present the option of what is minimally invasive to their patients and prefer taking that approach. The practice even has many patients on Invisalign and teeth whitening who originally came in wanting a full set of veneers.

This was so refreshing for me to see. I always associated dental tourism with quick fixes and dentists taking aggressive preparations to crown multiple teeth.

However, I realised not all that we see or read about dental tourism in the media is true. If you do your research you’ll find clinics like this that have this refreshing approach.

Another huge component to how the practice can have such fast turn arounds is by having in an in-house laboratory. Here they have a team of skilled dental technicians that work around the clock. As clinicians, this is a huge benefit for a number of reasons. For example.

  • Quality control – we can really set the quality and ensure the patient gets what they want in real time. The dental technicians and ceramists who create the patient’s crowns, veneers, implants and dentures, are able to meet with the patient face-to-face to create a restoration that is right for them
  • Precision – here they can assess the patient’s smile in person. They can make an exact match with the rest of their mouth to create a natural result for their cosmetic appearance
  • Convenience – patients will never need to visit an external laboratory for fittings. Nor have to wait for their restoration to be shipped and received from an outside location
  • Fast and efficient – direct access to immediate correction and adjustment.

So, a great lab, a minimally invasive workflow and spending time with patients and emotionally connecting with them are the three takeaways I’ve learnt from Dr Maria Parra on why herself and the clinic are so successful.

Dental tourism

Overall, it’s important to note that every clinic may not be like the Cancun Dental Clinic. It’s always important to do your research.

If the clinic is credited with a dental governing body (eg Cancun Dental Clinic is an American Dental Association accredited clinic) you have more reassurance that patients are in safe hands.

With travelling and oral health, patients need to ensure that the clinic isn’t too far from home. If complications can occur, they would need to revisit the clinic. Or if they are undergoing a course of treatment that requires multiple visits (eg Invisalign), they need to ensure the clinic is in a place that they can afford to revisit.

If complications occur and they can’t revisit the clinic, it becomes very costly to fix what’s wrong with another dentist new to the patient.

Finally, I learnt that as dentists, especially if reading this and you’re based in England or London (the third most visited city in the world), it may be worthwhile learning about dental tourism.

London is a city that attracts so many tourists from around the world. We could offer international patients a truly great experience on their holiday. It could also include quality dental work as well as a visit to the newly refurbished Big Ben!


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