New Zealanders having cheap dental work done overseas are creating a headache for dentists here who are left with the job of fixing badly-botched treatments, a University of Otago survey says.
The 2016 survey of 337 New Zealand dentists showed 96% had encountered dental tourists at least once or twice a year, usually because they required remedial treatment.
One dentist said they saw a patient in pain, with a mouth full of crowns and bridges.
“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,” the dentist said.
Faculty of Dentistry Professor Karl Lyons carried out the survey in 2016 with senior research fellow Dr Kirsten Lovelock from the department of public health and Associate Prof Brent Lovelock from the university’s department of tourism.
Crowns, implants and bridges were the most common procedures carried out overseas, and about 90% of the dental tourists went to Thailand.
“I understand why people do it, and for some people the treatment works quite well,” Prof Lyons said.
However things could go wrong, including teeth having to be removed.
Although in a statement the university described dental tourism as a growing phenomenon, there was no hard data saying how many dental tourists there were, or what proportion required remedial treatment, Prof Lyons said.
“It may fluctuate, depending on the economy.”
Dunedin man Ryan Tapsell said he went to Thailand to fix an abscess which developed after root canal treatment at the Dental School about 15 years before.
After approaching the Dental School and deciding he did not want to go on its waiting list, he decided to get it done on a pre-arranged holiday.
He paid the equivalent of $NZ500 to $NZ600 for the work, which his dentist stepfather had told him would cost “thousands” in New Zealand.
Mr Tapsell ended up going to Thailand again when it became clear the treatment had not worked, and the second procedure was free.
However, soon after returning to New Zealand the second time the throbbing pain in his tooth returned.
His tooth bled every day, and the cap on his tooth had cracked after the dentist drilled into it.
Mr Tapsell said he had recently had discussions with the dental school, and he was now on the waiting list.
Despite his treatment being unsuccessful, Mr Tapsell said he would recommend going overseas for some procedures.
In Thailand he had a chipped tooth repaired for the equivalent of $NZ20 or $NZ30, and was happy with how it had turned out.
He also knew the root canal procedure was “always going to be quite difficult”.
Although the survey found dentists were concerned about the poor-quality work carried out, 6% felt it would actually increase their practice’s income due to the increased demand for remedial treatment.
Prof Lyons said it was hard to really know the qualifications of the dentist when work was being carried out in another country.
“If you asked me what I would say to my friends and family I would say really, I wouldn’t do it,” he said.
Prof Lyons said it was often easier for the dentist who had done the original work to fix it, but it depended if the patient still had faith in the dentist.
In New Zealand there were a number of pathways a patient could follow for poor dental work, including having recourse to the Health and Disability Commissioner.