The news has been abuzz about overseas dental and medical treatment recently. The world is growing smaller and flights are getting ever more convenient. Medical and dental tourism is booming. Singaporeans do travel to countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Bali or Cambodia for cheaper dental treatment.
The cost of living in these countries is lower.
Regulation, standards and currency exchange makes dentistry cheaper in these countries.
Is it safe? What factors do you need to consider when you choose a dentist, whether in Singapore or overseas?
You need to consider:
- Education and Training
- Experience and Reputation
- Treatment Timing and Equipment Supplies Available
- Hidden Treatment Costs
- Follow-Up Care / Management of Complications
1. Education and Training
Dentists practising in Singapore MUST have graduated from a limited list of pre-approved universities in Singapore, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the USA.
The National University of Singapore has visiting international dentists from sister universities to inspect the dental school and ensure that it is accredited in accordance with International Standards. They regularly publish research in international journals as well.
As all dentists here must be registered, you can be sure that the person treating you is actually a dentist.
When going to a country with lower costs / standards of living for overseas dental treatment, you do have dentists trained by local schools and foreign institutions. The quality and standards of the local schools can be very variable. This also applies to the standards for dentist registration and for infection control + sterility which may be difficult to assess as a visiting tourist.
2. Experience and Reputation
We often visit a dentist on a friend's recommendation if the friend has been using them for many years. It is less common for overseas recommendations to track many years. Most people research their dentists through the Internet and Google. Then again, anything can be said on the Internet.
Dentists who build their reputation in one place for many years usually learn from their mistakes to improve their skills over time.
If patients stop by for a short while and disappear for months or years, the dentist may not know if there were any issues with their work.
Problems like root-canal reinfection and gum problems from improperly done crowns / veneers can take years to show up.
3. Timing and Equipment
It is commonly observed that people do not go overseas for basic treatment like cleaning. Instead, they go for complex and tricky work such as full mouth crowns or cosmetic dentistry. These are skill-sets which many dentists do a lot of extra training and put in a lot of dedication and time to learn and master.
The difficult part for such treatment usually involves adequate time. To do things properly, the dentist often needs to get the basic foundation work and active disease sorted out before fixing the teeth properly.
It is frequently not a good idea to hurry through this delicate process in the short time-frame of a holiday. People do not often understand the risks adequately, but when they do, they are afraid. This can be observed in the aftermath of a plane disaster when prices have fallen greatly and yet nobody wants to fly on that airlines.
4. Hidden Treatment Costs
There are many costs for dental treatment not immediately apparent to the average consumer. For example, a root canal treatment is done to remove bacteria from an infected tooth and seal it to prevent re-infection.
Every dental school in the world will tell you that the success of this treatment depends on how stringently the dentist observes sterile / aseptic technique for every step of the procedure, while working with tiny instruments in the space of a pin-hole.
A final x-ray is taken which shows the final appearance of the completed root canal. Only the dentist will know how strictly standards were upheld to have the best chance of preventing re-infection, as we cannot see bacteria on an x-ray.
A reinfected root-canal-treated tooth may require re-treatment which is often more expensive / difficult or extraction and maybe an implant if that is no longer possible. That equates to more time and money spent with the sufferer being worse-off.
5. Follow Up Care / Management of Complications
The techniques and equipment such as implants used overseas can differ from what is used locally. Singapore dentists are well equipped to source for compatible parts used locally.
Should there be complications, dentists here are well-familiar with the appropriate referral and management protocols as needed to reduce your discomfort and suffering. You may not be in the best condition for extensive travel during a dental emergency as a consequence of previously done work.
Our dental clinic has seen patients with dental work done in other countries that fell off. The work was not fixed on well with excess cement glue all over the place and the tooth needed a proper crown done. Upon delivering the news, the patient said with some shock that the work had been done extremely recently and asked why it turned out like this.
The only possible honest reply we could give was: "We do not know. You'll have to go and ask the dentist there."
It is true that there are excellent dentists in every country. Just be aware that it may be harder to verify credentials in a foreign country. Even in the best of hands, rushed work can and does go awry.
This may not be as critical for a piece of equipment purchased overseas as it may be for your health and well-being. You can possibly get high quality work for a lower price when seeking overseas dental treatment but there are risks to be aware of.
Article by: Dr. Hong Qixian