Cosmetic Dentistry & Dental Tourism

A recent article in the ABC discussed the growing demand for cosmetic dental procedures. It highlighted concerns that patients are not adequately informed about the associated risks and ongoing costs. This has led Australia’s medical regulator to consider new guidelines. The report also noted an uptick in “dental tourism”, where patients travel to places such as Bali to obtain more affordable dental work.

But what is cosmetic dentistry, how do you know what is misleading advertising and what are the risks and benefits of going overseas for dental treatment?

What is Cosmetic Dentistry

Cosmetic dentistry involves dental procedures aimed at enhancing the appearance of your teeth, such as altering their color, position, or shape.
Examples of cosmetic dentistry include:
Veneers and crowns
Resin composite fillings or composite bonding
Tooth whitening
Replacement of missing teeth
Teeth straightening
However, before undergoing any cosmetic dental procedure, it’s crucial to consider the health of your teeth. This means checking for and addressing any active decay or gum disease in advance. The priority is not only your health, but also the longevity of the cosmetic procedure, as work done in an unhealthy mouth will not last.

Realistic Expectations

Before embarking on any cosmetic procedure, it’s essential that we discuss what your goals are. It is important to us to spend time with you going through the planning stages and consider your factors such as: your facial appearance and expressions, skin tone, lips, gum contour, tooth shape and colour, and any prior dental work that you’ve already had done.

To achieve the smile that you are happy with, it’s important to set realistic expectations.

The planning stage is crucial for this as sometimes the oral health of your mouth may not suit certain treatments. This is always something to keep in mind when you are looking at “before and after photos”. A certain procedure might have benefited on person, but doesn’t mean it is suitable for another person.We consider numerous factors when recommending specific dental treatments. Factors including your general health and medical history, how your teeth bite together, and what the bone support around the tooth is like. Once we have a plan in place, we will discuss each procedure’s potential risks, costs and timings followed by recommended ongoing maintenance and care.

You are unique, therefore it makes sense to us for you to have a tailored plan which is specifically suited to your wants and oral health needs.

Planning for your cosmetic dentistry consultation appointment

Before embarking on any cosmetic work, we will always start with a full consultation and examination. By coming prepared to this appointment, you will get more out of it. See the Better Health Channel’s ‘Questions to Ask’ section that can help you feel better prepared coming into a consultation appointment.

Some things to consider are:

  • What do you like about your teeth?
  • What don’t you like?
  • If we could wave a magic wand and give you your perfect smile, what would it look like?
  • Perhaps you have a photo of what you’d like, or what your teeth used to look like.
  • How much time and money are you willing to invest in this?
  • How much additional home care, including brushing and flossing, are you willing to perform to maintain your new smile?

It’s good to remember that this is an ongoing investment of time and money. Including maintenance time and costs, and eventual replacement costs. No dental work will last forever as everything has a lifespan and eventually will need to be replaced.

What is Misleading Advertising

Misleading advertising can give a false impression of what is achievable and create unrealistic expectations. In the context of cosmetic dentistry – an example are “before and after photos” as mentioned above that advertise procedures that may actually not be suitable for you. Some advertising can also encourage an indiscriminate or unnecessary use of health services. When in reality – there may be options for you that are less invasive and less costly. It’s crucial to determine which procedure best meets your goals – without unnecessarily spending time and money, and most importantly, without jeopardizing your health.

Dental Tourism

“Dental tourism” is when someone travels overseas for both a holiday and to receive dental treatment. For example, in Australia, people may go to Thailand or Bali whilst people in the US may travel to Mexico, and in the UK they may go to Eastern Europe as “dental tourists”.

On Googling the benefits of dental tourism, we found the following:
1. You get to experience a new country
2. Less or no waiting – the clinic knows you are there for a limited time and will get things done in a shorter time frame and in less appointments
3. Treatment may be more cost effective overseas

But let’s look at this in more detail.

The Considerations of Dental Tourism

Yes, you may get to experience a new country. But you may also be spending most of your time in the dental chair! And what about the lost opportunity of trying local cuisine – if you are unable to eat properly?

Time saving – yes, you will likely receive dental work in short period of time. However, there are reasons as to why we don’t rush some things in dentistry. As mentioned above, we want things to be healthy before we start.

A 2017 review of studies into implant failures found that the success rate of implants in healthy mouths, without gum disease, ranged from 91.67 – 100%. However, for those with treated gum disease, the success rate was 79.22% – 100% (1).
Consequently, individuals who travel abroad with active gum disease that is quickly treated and then receive implants may experience a higher failure rate.
Ideally, we recommend treating gum disease and allowing it to stabilize over a period of 3 – 6 months. During this time, we can ensure that the patient can maintain a level of oral hygiene to support healthy gums. Only when we are confident that the situation is stable would we consider advanced treatments like implants.
It’s also important to note that gum disease is a painless problem. Many people are unaware they have gum disease until they consult a dentist.

Consider your return flight when getting dental work done overseas. A 2023 study in the British Dental Journal recommends flying one week after most dental procedures and six weeks after a sinus lift procedure. The minimum wait time between flying and dental procedures ranges from 24 hours to 2 weeks, depending on the procedure. Therefore, you may need to extend your stay overseas or risk discomfort and complications by flying too soon.

The cost of the dental work may be less overseas, but firstly, you must ask: why?

In Australia, similar to the UK and USA, dental care is rigorously regulated. All dentists must register with the appropriate boards and carry indemnity insurance. Dental practices also need insurance and must adhere to stringent standards of infection control, patient safety, and privacy. Furthermore, the materials used in Australia must be registered with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). This requirement elevates the cost of purchases for dental practices, ranging from cleaning supplies to treatment materials.

And secondly, have you considered all the costs?

Consider if you have a complication during or after a procedure, will you have to pay more to resolve it? What if there are complications? Will your travel insurance cover treatment for complications caused by elective dental procedures, e.g, post operative infections, bleeding etc.

You may have to get work re-done if it fails, or what if you are not happy with the result? Make sure to factor in costs to re-do work, whether returning overseas to have it corrected, or getting it redone in Australia. The Smart Traveler Website has a lot of useful information on going overseas for medical and dental treatment. But with any medical procedure, we are dealing with biology. Everyone responds differently to the treatments, and everyone has different results.



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