Dental 'tourists' provide Kiwi dentists with steady work - study

  • 13/04/2018
teeth dentist
Thailand was the most common country for treatment. Photo credit: File

New Zealand dentists are warning people about heading abroad for cheap dental work as they deal with an increasing number of botched operations.

A University of Otago survey of 337 New Zealand dentists in 2016 found 96 percent had encountered dental tourists once or twice a year, usually because they required remedial work.

Dental tourism is already a massive phenomenon in the UK where 40,000 to 50,000 patients seek dental care abroad and is becoming increasingly popular in New Zealand, researchers say.

New Zealanders were typically seeking dental treatment because it was cheaper and they could also go on holiday at the same time.

Thailand was the most common country for treatment, with nearly 90 percent of dental patients having been treated there, the research published in the Tourism Management journal says.

More than half of dentists acknowledged dental tourism provided access to affordable treatment but 21 percent believed it should be discouraged due to its negative impact on the New Zealand healthcare system.

One dentist told researchers they had seen a patient with a full mouth of crowns and bridges in pain.

"I wasn't prepared to treat the patient as the quality of work was absolutely appalling. The dentition had been absolutely wrecked and I wanted nothing to do with it," they said.

Many dentists were concerned that patients are unaware of the poor quality of work being carried out.

"Patients are often over-treated and inappropriately treated with irreversible damage to their teeth and no apparent discussion or awareness of treatment options," one dentist said.

The most common type of treatment sought abroad was crowns, while implants and bridges were also common.

New Zealand Dental Association chief executive Dr David Crum says dental tourism will appeal to a small sector of New Zealanders.

"It comes with risks most often related to quick care supplied over a very short duration by a practitioner unknown to the patient."

The New Zealand Dental Association continues to believe patients are best served by establishing a long-term relationship with a dentist who meets mandatory New Zealand standards.