Is Dental Tourism Safe?

Do you wish your smile was just a little bit straighter and whiter? Do you also wish you could take a tropical vacation while getting the smile of your dreams? How much would you pay for this fantasy treatment? If dental tourism packages are to be believed, less than you might pay here in the United States at a board-certified licensed dentist. But buyer beware: You may be getting more than you bargained for – and not in a good way.

“You see it all the time with plastic surgery,” says Dr. Alexandra George, a cosmetic dentist from Wexford, Pennsylvania. “A patient travels overseas for so-called discount plastic surgery, only to have it botched by an unlicensed practitioner. Then they’ve got to fly home and have it fixed by the board-certified surgeon they should have gone to in the first place. It ends up costing a lot more than it would have if it were done here to begin with.”

And those are the lucky ones. Some patients’ plastic surgeries have been so badly botched they’ve died on the operating table or shortly after.

But what about cosmetic dentistry? After all, we don’t see a lot of headlines about botched veneers that lead to death. But George says it can still be extremely dangerous.

“A recent study out of New Zealand found that, of nearly 400 dentists surveyed, 96 percent see at least two patients a year with botched dental tourism dental work,” says George. “Those are alarming numbers.”

George says if patients really want cosmetic work, the safest bet is to save for it domestically or find a cosmetic dentist who offers financing.

“It’s called cosmetic dentistry, but there’s nothing cosmetic about your oral health,” she says. “Don’t put your health in the hands of a stranger who may have no idea what he or she is doing.”

Dr. Alexandra S. George

Medically reviewed by Dr. Alexandra S. George - D.D.S., L.Vl.I.F. on November 8th, 2018