Specialists sound warning on dental tourism

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Dental tourism is worrying the experts.
Dental tourism is worrying the experts.

Specialist dentists are reacting with alarm to recent media reports that private health funds are moving towards directly supporting overseas dental tourism.

Dr Markijan Hupalo, from Sydney Prosthodontics, is a board-certified prosthodontist who specialises in complex reconstruction and regularly deals with the ramifications overseas surgery failures.

He performs restorative dental procedures for patients who have had incorrect or unsuccessful dental treatment overseas, and who require everything from cosmetic corrections to major repairs or replacement.

“There is no doubt that overseas dentistry is increasing in popularity, but I am in no way convinced that an ‘if you can’t beat’ em, join em’ attitude is the right one here,” said Dr Hupalo.

“There is generally only one reason for receiving treatment overseas, and that is cost. Many patients today consider treatment in Australia to be too expensive and are choosing to travel overseas instead.

“What they often don’t realise is that their desire to save money could be putting them at risk of long term damage. I regularly see and help patients who have had overseas dental treatments that have gone very wrong,” he said.

Dr Hupalo held up cosmetic dental implants as a prime example of where logic dictates there must be significant differences in materials used in Australia verses those used in developing Asian countries.

“If a person asks an Australian specialist for a price on an implant crown, the quote they receive will factor in surgical and restorative costs.

“The restorative costs include quality implant componentry and the Australian based technical services. The cost of each of these elements could tally up to nearly $5000.

“It is not possible to provide the same standard of treatment for a fifth of the cost, as is commonly reported for overseas treatment.  By definition, you are likely to have alternative and cheaper implant components often not available in Australia,” he said.

Dr Hupalo noted that complications from complex treatments can take years to surface, and remedial work can be complex and expensive.

“It is a sad irony that patients may end up paying significantly more for repair work than they ever would have, had they had their surgery performed in Australia in the first place.

It’s important that people undertake extensive research before making a decision on major dental surgery. I always encourage people to talk to several providers and get several opinions before they get dental surgery domestically, let alone internationally.

“Certainly there are good dentists in many countries, but it is considerably harder to find an appropriately qualified practitioner in a developing country.

“In an ideal world, and particularly in cases of cosmetic dental issues, I would encourage patients to consider saving longer and staying in Australia for the best dental treatment in the world.

“Performing restorative surgery after failed overseas dental surgery is, frankly, a part of our business that I would rather see decline than grow.

“Ultimately, people need to understand that there can be serious implications in taking their dental care overseas, and consider the fact that many people have gone on to regret it.”

“If you have had dental treatment overseas, consider having your treatment evaluated by a board certified prosthodontist on your return to be sure the treatment you have had is adequate,” he said.

Dr Hupalo gained specialist registration in 1999 after graduating from the specialist clinical training programme in prosthodontics at the University of Sydney. Prior to this, he served for ten years as a Dental Officer in the Royal Australian Air force.

He recently established www.aboutyourteeth.com.au, which is designed to increase general awareness about oral health, and where users can post questions to be answered by specialists.

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