If you worry whether you can get decent dental care outside the United States, well … don’t!
But will the level of care be up to U.S. standards?, you might wonder. Answer: Probably, and possibly even higher.*
But will it be really expensive?, might be the next concern. The good news there (if you can call it “good”), is that medical costs in the U.S. (and the U.K.) are so high, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any place where it’s significantly more expensive. It’s much more likely, when you see the bill for a dental cleaning or a filling, even for braces, that you’ll be doing a double-take, going over the numbers again in your head to make sure you didn’t drop a zero or two in the currency conversion.
*Our personal experiences are limited to North America and Europe. We can’t claim that every country on the globe will have prices similar to those mentioned here, or that top-notch care will be accessible in every remote village. If you aim to move to a particular place, of course it would be wise to do some research specific to that location. Our goal at the moment is just to provide a glimpse into dental care outside the States, and to show that what at first blush might seem like a concern, might actually prove to be another of the many upshots of a traveling life.
This is dental tourism
These are the reasons — first-rate care at a fraction of the price — why medical tourism (including dental tourism, to the point here) is a flourishing industry in certain places.
The factors behind the low prices usually revolve around lower labor costs and lower education costs in these countries. And the drawbacks are minor, as this article points out — the only real risk being malpractice, which can happen at home as well as abroad; the ability to locate internationally recognized clinics and review their records online somewhat mitigates this risk.
More good news: The bargain locations generally coincide with digital nomad hot spots, in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Southeast Asia. Now that’s something to smile about! Here are lists of 7 countries famous for cheap dental work (graphic at right from this link), the world’s 8 best, and 5 top countries in Latin America.
You can reap the same benefits that dental tourists do when you live in one of the places they’re flocking to. Here are a couple real examples from our experiences living in Budapest, Hungary — where we got top-notch care at a swanky clinic catering to visiting Brits and expats — and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico — where we’ve visited an office that caters to American tourists:
In Budapest, where we lived for two years, we chose a private dental clinic (Helvetic Clinics, if you’re curious) on the grounds that it was close to our apartment and had English-speaking staff. It primarily caters to wealthy visitors from the U.K. who come to have dental treatments while staying in the luxe hotel where the clinic is located. No, that’s not us.
For our needs, it was a bit over and above, but given that their prices were still quite good (and they spoke English, let’s not forget that), it worked for us. Initial exams and even X-rays were free (!!!), and cleanings were a very reasonable €60. The more major treatments — crowns, implants, bridges — are where you see the big-number savings, and I assume are what draw the dental tourists. Fortunately for us, we never needed anything more involved than a filling.
We also sought out a dental office catering to tourists in Mexico for a second opinion on the necessity of braces. The prices there are low compared to the U.S. (though not as low as they could be in Puerto Vallarta — keep reading), while the level of service is high. The office, International Dental Center in Puerto Vallarta, even has “free luxury accommodations” for vacationing clients, though of course they’re only “free” for those undergoing full dental makeovers.
For even deeper savings, find a local dentist
In Puerto Vallarta we’ve gotten most of our dental care at another office. We found this dentist through a recommendation from friends, and we are wholly satisfied with their suggestion. She has an office in a nice, new medical building. She speaks English — not fluently, but well enough when combined with our poor Spanish — and is happy to see our whole family, little kids included.
It’s quality care without any frills: There’s no intake staff, no information-release forms to sign, no billing staff. We arrive just before the appointment time (no paperwork to fill out — whoo!), she works on our teeth, then she tells us the price and takes the payment directly. And the prices are the best part! Cleanings and exams for us adults are just 600 pesos, about $31 (USD), and 300 for each of the kids.
Brittany had a filling that needed replacing, and had that done for just 500 pesos, about $26. Back in the States, when we had insurance that covered dental care, our copay alone for a filling, $50, was almost twice that price! The full cost at that American office, if we’d been paying out of pocket, would have been $90-$250. That works out to a price difference of 71%-90% between the cost of a filling in Mexico vs. in the U.S.
And keep on saving with orthodontics
Making use of dental clinics that cater to the local population rather than tourists is one way to find even deeper savings. Here’s another perk available to expats and long-stay nomads: You’re can take advantage of cheap orthodontic care.
We have a few mouths in our family that need or will soon need orthodontic adjustment, so we’ve been visiting an orthodontist here in Puerto Vallarta. He makes the trip over from the larger city of Guadalajara once a month to treat patients here for a few days. He recommended 22 months of traditional metal braces (boooo) and quoted us a price of 25,000 pesos — that’s about $1,300 start to finish, from dental imaging through to a final retainer (yahoo!).
Do you know how much braces cost stateside? I’m accustomed to hearing people talk about braces as something to dread for years, then take out a loan to pay for. This price didn’t seem quite that frightful, so I had to look it up to see how they compare.
According to statistics from the American Dental Association (ADA), the cost for braces on average for children is $4,685 to $6,500, and the cost for adult braces is $4,800 to $7,135. The price for braces could be higher or lower than these amounts, depending on how long your treatment plan lasts. Treatment plans last on average 24 months.Average Cost of Braces From the ADA on The Balance
Let’s do a little math, shall we? Taking a price from the middle of the range for braces in the U.S., say $5,500, and comparing it against the $1,300 for treatment in Puerto Vallarta, we can see the price of care in Mexico is less than a quarter of the U.S. price. Now that’s what I’m talking about!
What if my destination isn’t on the cheap list?
Alas, not every country is a bargain when it comes to dental care. So then what?
Here are two options to consider if you’re not living in or traveling through a bargain country:
1. Weigh the cost of a dental vacation
First find a potential dental care provider or two so you know the cost of the procedure you’re after. Start by pulling up a list of common dental tourism destinations, like the infographic above, beside a world map. What’s your nearest option or two? Usually you’ll want to stick within your current continent/region in order to keep travel costs in check. Then perform a web search with keywords like “dental tourism” along with the name of the country you chose.
Or try searching for dental professionals at a dedicated search portal like Clinic Hunter, created specifically for matching patients with medical providers around the world. You could also search in Google Maps for dental offices in a particular city; it will often be apparent which are likely to have English-speaking staff by the name of the clinic.
Once you’ve chosen a possible dentist and have a location and price, you can finish roughing out the cost of the trip. The price of travel to and from the destination and the cost of accommodations are the biggies. Then take those three costs — price of dental treatment, cost for travel to and from, and rate for lodging — and add. Now, how do they stack against the price of treatment where you’re currently located (or will be located)? Don’t forget to consider the value of the trip itself in addition to the dental procedure when you make your decision!
2. Look into medical insurance that covers dental care
The most popular companies for international health insurance, like Cigna, GeoBlue, Aetna and IMG, can cover dental care. You’ll find, though, that most offer non-emergency dental coverage only as part of their platinum or top-tier plans, which are usually very expensive, or as an optional rider along with an increased premium.
In our personal research, we haven’t found either to be worthwhile, but your mileage may vary. If you choose a platinum plan for it’s maternity perks, for example, the dental coverage might come as a bonus. If you’re looking for help with orthodontic costs, Cigna and GeoBlue both have optional add-ons that confer partial coverage for patients under 18 or 19 years old.
One final word of caution
Something to keep in mind if you’re moving place to place is that you won’t have the continuity of care that you could, say, living in one city and having one dentist oversee your dental health for years and years. It’s on you to be your own case manager, so to speak. Be sure to ask questions about whether treatments and dental appliances that other providers have prescribed you in the past are still needed, and learn everything you can about the kind of follow-up care you should seek for work your dentist is doing now.
This can be doubly hard if you and your dentist don’t share fluency in a common language. Know going in that the provider may be less inclined to explain procedures or talk you through future care needs in a language with which he or she isn’t fully comfortable (or that you don’t fully understand). Again the burden will be on you to overcome these barriers, either by pressing your questions or finding someone who can help with translation.