The tooth about dental tourism

21:00, Aug 09 2014

As my auto rickshaw wound through the smoggy streets of New Delhi I leaned my head out the side door and spat a mouthful of blood into the gutter.

Two wisdom teeth had just been pulled from my gums and I was feeling surprisingly good.

It was 2009 and I was half way through a six-month India adventure.

A sharp pain at the back of my jaw had been getting progressively worse so I decided to see a dentist while passing through New Delhi.

With no idea where to go I phoned up the New Zealand Embassy in India and was recommended Dr Ghandi's clinic on a street called Mahatma Gandhi Marg.

With a name like that I felt in safe hands.


X-rays showed two wisdom teeth needed extracting and the next day I was back in the chair getting local anesthetic injected into my gums.

Thirty minutes later I walked out the door with a bag of painkillers and my two wisdom teeth in an envelope. The whole procedure cost about $200.

A few years later I had the remaining two wisdom teeth removed while travelling through Cambodia for an even cheaper sum of $50 each.

Medical tourism or health tourism is an increasingly popular option for people wanting to take a holiday and get medical treatment at the same time, all the while saving sometimes considerable sums of money.

Dental holidays would have to be the most common form of medical tourism with destinations such as Thailand and the Philippines proving popular with Kiwis.

The clinics I went to in India and Cambodia were professional, hygienic and affordable.

But needless to say there are numerous risks associated with undergoing medical treatment in a foreign land.

The internet is full of medical tourism information and first hand accounts of people's experiences.

Some stories recall seamless, cost effective operations and others, nightmare scenarios. Each person will have differing opinions about the safety of medical tourism so carry out your due diligence and weigh up the associated risks.

The New Zealand Dental Association takes a rather pessimistic view towards dental tourism.

New Zealand dentists are increasingly being asked to "pick up the pieces" after overseas dental treatment goes wrong, it says. An advisory on its website outlines the dangers associated with getting dental work done overseas. And the list is long.

Some considerations include:

Can you verify your overseas dentist's qualifications?

Are you happy meeting your dentist only briefly before treatment?

Is the procedure right for you?

Are the dental materials and equipment the best available?

Who will manage any necessary follow-up care?

Is price your only concern?

Can you be confident that you will not be exposed to the Hepatitis or HIV viruses?

Flying after surgery increases the risk of complications.

Dentistry is both invasive and irreversible.

Now, I may be a bit of a sceptic but I think the association has a vested interest in keeping as much dental business in New Zealand as possible.

Mull the warnings over, do thorough research and draw your own conclusions. Personally, I would do it all over again given the chance.

Sunday Star Times