Head tilted back, with various humming instruments squirming near my tonsils, I heard something disturbing.
The impending dentist was speaking through a surgical mask with a heavy Nepali accent, her voice rivaling the crackle of fluid sucked from my gums. It sounded like she had said, “Oh my God.”
After trying and failing to get an appointment with the NHS dentist in Britain – recent research found that 91% of UK dental practices refuse to take new patients – getting my teeth fixed abroad seemed like a logical option. But after spending several days battling my worries, before finally agreeing to have five fillings placed at a clinic on the outskirts of Kathmandu, the exclamation suddenly made my heart ache.
Luckily, I had misheard. There was a complication, but it wasn’t serious. I was just producing more saliva than normal. I wouldn’t go in an ambulance after all, but with a mouthful of patched pearly whites – and a very reasonable bill. A consultation, five fillings and a cleaning cost me £130: about five times less than what a private clinic in Britain would charge.
It seems I’m not the only one going to great lengths to fix my teeth. Last month the British Dental Association (BDA) said millions of people in the UK could not get needed treatment as NHS services were at a ‘tipping point’ largely due to the departure of dentists of the profession. Most clinics do not accept new patients for NHS services, those that do often expect waits of more than a year.
So, to circumvent the crisis, many Britons are going abroad, either specifically to seek treatment or to combine their holidays with a visit to the dentist. Popular options include Turkey, where a single dental implant can cost around £300, compared to £1,500-2,500 privately in the UK, and root canal treatment £65, compared to £700 in Britain . Spain and Thailand are also finding favor, with the added bonus of being – like Turkey – brilliant for the holidays.
A growing trend
A recent BDA survey of 944 dentists found that 85% recognized dental tourism as a growing trend, staffing crisis, combined with Instagram-fueled demand for pristine teeth, which would source of the increase.
“I understand people’s motivation from a financial point of view,” said Paul Woodhouse, BDA board member and owner of a dental practice in the UK. “Also, from a societal perspective, young people want the sparkling smile of Love Island – and they want it instantly.”
But this seemingly appealing shortcut is causing widespread concern, with 86% of dentists surveyed saying they have treated patients for complications following treatment abroad.