Kiwi dentists picking up the pieces when 'dental tourism' goes wrong

New Zealand dentists are increasingly having to pick up the pieces for "dental tourists" whose dental work done overseas has gone wrong, research shows.

A University of Otago survey of 337 New Zealand dentists in 2016 showed 96 per cent had encountered dental tourists at least once or twice a year, usually because they required remedial treatment.  

The most important issue dentists identified from their patients receiving treatment abroad was a lack of follow-up maintenance and a lack of availability post-treatment.  

About half of the respondents identified lack of treatment planning and lack of treatment records to be issues. 

One dentist explained they saw a patient in pain who had a full mouth 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. 

Many dentists were concerned that patients are unaware of the poor quality of work often being carried out. 

"Patients are often over-treated and inappropriately treated with irreversible damage to their teeth and no apparent discussion or awareness of treatment options," another dentist said.

Thailand was the most commonly noted country of treatment, with nearly 90 per cent of dental patients having been treated there, followed by India and Indonesia.

The most common type of treatment sought abroad was crowns, while implants and bridges were other commonly observed treatments.

While about half of the dentists acknowledged dental tourism provides access to affordable dental treatment, only six per cent felt it enhances dental health outcomes for their patients and only 1.9 per cent would recommend it to their patients.  

New Zealand Dental Association CEO Dr David Crum says dental tourism exists and will appeal to a small sector of New Zealanders. 

"It comes with risks most often related to quick care supplied over a very short duration by a practitioner unknown to the patient," Dr Crum said.

Most often the dental care required is at the advanced, and more expensive, end of the spectrum, and often not discovered to be poorly implemented until months later after the patient has returned home, he said.

The Dental Association says patients are best served by establishing a long-term care relationship with a dentist who meets mandatory New Zealand standards in their own community.

Source: 1 NEWS