The Rise of Dental Tourism Around The World

As the world becomes more interconnected, millions of people every year are traveling away from the developed world to countries with inexpensive dental procedures.

What Is Dental Tourism?

Sunbathing on the paradise beaches of Phuket, Thailand, the ocean breeze is in your hair.

You soak up the sun as ocean waves gently roll in. You just got back from the dentist, and your vacation is going smoothly as planned.

Wait. Something in that last sentence doesn’t sound right. Why would you be going to the dentist while on vacation?

Believe it or not, people in greater numbers every year are traveling far and wide for their dental work.

While something like a “dental vacation” sounds like an oxymoron, these trips are actually taken by people around the world who travel for the simple reason that dental procedures outside of their home country can be far less expensive.

With savings of up to 90 percent of the cost compared to dental work in their home countries, many travelers from the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand are choosing to fix their teeth abroad.

Under the broader scope of medical tourism, dental tourism continues to grow every year as patients aim to save money on procedures that may be completely unaffordable in their country of residence. The enormous costs of dental work in places like the U.S and Europe show no sign of slowing down. With a single implant setting you back on average a whopping $5,000 in the US, £2,600 (USD 4,079) in the UK, and AUD 2,058 (USD 1,620) in Australia, it’s no wonder patients are seeking more affordable alternatives such as dental tourism.

Happy woman with white perfect smile resting on the sand of the beach and looking at camera
How about some beautiful teeth to compliment a beautiful vacation?

The result is that dental tourism has become a flourishing (and very profitable) industry in many countries like Thailand, Mexico, Bulgaria, and Jordan.

“We estimate that in 2012, 400,000 Americans crossed international borders for dental care. For 2013, we project a growth rate of approximately 20 percent,” says Josef Woodman, CEO of Patients Beyond Borders in a recent article about the trends of dental tourism in the US.

As these numbers continue to grow, and dental tourism destinations become more popular in the broader scope of medical tourism, travelers are now designing the perfect vacation while they design their perfect teeth.

The Benefits

According to several surveys, dental tourists travel mainly to take advantage of the lower costs available in other countries for the same dental work.

Overall, the lower costs are attributed to lower labor costs, lower education costs for dentists and orthodontists, and lower operating costs (such as rental space, insurance, and business expenses). Dentists in popular dental tourism countries often encounter less bureaucratic red-tape and are better able to focus on their trade.

You can find everything from extensive mouth reconstruction to teeth whitening being done in these countries if you look. Most treatments are identical to the quality of care you’d receive at home, making the idea of cheap, quality dentistry seem like an irresistible option for many patients.

Common Procedures Done Overseas
  • Implants
  • Dentures
  • Porcelain Veneers
  • Root Canals
  • Teeth Whitening
  • Crowns and Caps
  • Bridges
  • Oral Surgery
  • Fillings

Many cities, such as the small Mexican town of Los Algodones, are becoming increasingly popular for “dental vacations” taken by visitors from nearby countries. With a population of only 5,474 as of the 2010 census, Los Algodones has become known as “Molar City,” as Americans and Canadian patients pour in during the year seeking more affordable dental care. The town reportedly has more dentists per capita than anywhere else in the world.

In a story for NPR, Miguel Ibarreche, a well-known dentist in Los Algodones, attributes the popularity of the town as a dental destination to Mexican policies that help his trade. Dentists in Mexico don’t graduate with a lot of student debt, unlike their neighbors up north, and the government subsidizes many dentists’ education. They simply pay off their educational and governmental debt with their first year of service.

Many of the visitors to towns like Los Algodones are also boosting the economy in other ways. By combining dental work with tourist activities, such as sightseeing and entertainment, “dental destinations” are flourishing, and as a result, are able to provide even higher quality care.

The Potential Risks

While taking a dental vacation may sound like the best scenario for getting your teeth fixed (especially if you live in a country where dental care is quickly becoming out of reach for ordinary citizens), there are definitely some downsides to dentistry abroad.

Because of the nature of bureaucracy, or lack thereof in many of these places, you’re left with less of a safety net if something were to go wrong in the dentist’s chair. Unfortunately, avenues for legal recourse if a procedure doesn’t go as planned may be nonexistent.

Depending on how far you travel from home, if something does go wrong, it’s a long way back to fix the issue as well. There won’t likely be clear avenues where you can take your complaints, or ways in which you can recoup the cost.

Another potential concern is the travel costs and possible return trips that need to be made.

Many dental procedures, such as implants, may require multiple trips back to the dentist. The initial savings to be made may be eaten up by these recurring travel costs. It can also be difficult to squeeze extensive procedures into holiday-sized time periods.

To help remedy these risks and educate people through the process, patients can choose travel agencies that have sprung up specifically to help dental patients organize their trips overseas.

Next, we’ll go over how to plan smartly so you can minimize these risks and “know before you go.”

How To Plan Your Trip

Medical and Dental tourism agencies have cropped up to meet the demand and help you organize your trip to go as smoothly as possible.

They are also a good option to consider because of their connections to medical professionals and hospitals in your country of choice. They usually have information regarding whether a hospital or clinic is accredited by reputable organizations, such as the ISO. But it’s also important to keep in mind that these agencies do not provide travel insurance in case a procedure goes wrong.

Here are a few key guidelines to consider before booking your dental vacation:

  • Opt for as close to home as possible. Not only will this save you money in travel costs, but the risk of potential complications goes down if you can more easily return home. This is also optimal if your procedure will take multiple visits.
  • Know before you go. Whether you choose to use a travel agency or not, it’s important to research the place you choose and the guidelines in place for your procedure. If possible, some patients prefer to visit and consult with the hospital beforehand to meet their providers and discuss their treatment in-person.
  • Don’t book activities too soon. If you’re getting excited about the “vacation” part of your dental vacation, you may want to wait until you step foot in your destination and meet with your dentist of choice before booking or pre-paying for other activities, in case your procedure gets in the way. Don’t worry though, recovery time will most likely give you the open schedule you’ll need for some fun.
  • Check out reviews. These days, a quick internet search will often show you reviews from other expatriates and tourists who have visited the location you’ve chosen for dental work. Pay attention to reviews that provide background details on the dentists and their qualifications.
  • Ask lots of questions. There’s no such thing as too many questions here. Ask for a full treatment plan as well as the entire cost of all procedures. If you can, it’s helpful to get a quote for treatment at home and an outline of the procedures so you can compare costs.
  • Be flexible. You wouldn’t want to miss your flight home because of additional work or recovery time. Carve out more time than you think you’ll need and keep your travel schedule flexible. You’ll be glad you did.
  • Accept the possibility of returning. For more complex or extensive procedures, you may need to return to complete the procedure. The cost of returning should be factored into your budget.

Popular Dental Tourism Destinations Around The World

There are several countries around the world know for affordable dentistry, and the number of accredited clinics and hospitals continues to grow.

When planning your own trip, choosing a destination that’s right for you involves factoring in travel costs vs. savings, as well as the ease of which you can find and schedule the treatment you need. Depending on where you live, there are affordable options for dental tourism around the world, and perhaps a short plane flight away.

We’ve broken down the most popular destinations into several regions: North and South America, Eastern Europe, South and Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.

All of these areas offer quality dental care that rivals, or even surpasses, the equivalent care you would find in the US or UK, often at prices equal to half of those you would pay in those countries. We also offer an overview of the general cost and savings you’ll find in each area, along with popular dental destinations.

An aerial view of Mexico City and the Palace of Fine Arts
Dental tourism has become very popular in Mexico

North & South America

North and South America offer a long list of countries to choose from when seeking less expensive dental care, particularly for Canadians and Americans who can more easily travel to these destinations. Below, we’ve chosen the most popular places for dental tourism in this culturally rich area of the world.

Savings

Costs range anywhere from as low as 15 to 70 percent of the average costs for the same procedures in the US and Canada.

Mexico

Common Visitor Countries
  • United States, Canada
Overview
  • Mexico offers a wide range of dental procedures at significantly lower prices than the United States or Canada, making it the most common destination for Americans and Canadians seeking dental care outside the US. In particular, visitors travel over the border from neighboring states such as California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
  • The high costs of dental procedures, paired with the fact that an increasing number of Americans do not have dental insurance, makes Mexico an extremely attractive option for US residents seeking extensive, low-cost dental work.
  • Mexico also has an ever-growing number of highly skilled dentists offering a wide range of dental procedures, from dental implants to dentures, aided by the latest technology.
  • Also well-known in Mexico is the vibrant culture and beautiful natural wonders you’ll find to be great places to relax and unwind after some heavy-duty dental work. You can spend the day on a gorgeous sandy beach, or visit natural wonders such as the Pinacate Peaks or Sea of Cortez. But be careful about sipping those Margaritas after your visit to the dentist.
Popular Cities
  • Los Algodones, Cancún, Mexico City

Costa Rica

Common Visitor Countries
  • Canada, United States
Overview
  • Many dental professionals in Costa Rica have received their educations abroad. Many are also bilingual and offer state-of-the-art technology in clinics and hospitals.
  • On average, you can expect to pay about 60 to 70 percent less for dental work in Costa Rica than you would for the same or equivalent procedure in North America.
  • San Jose, the bustling, culturally vibrant capital of Costa Rica, offers many popular attractions such as the Plaza de la Cultura, along with plenty of quality, affordable dental practices.
Popular Cities
  • San Jose, Escazu

Ecuador

Common Visitor Countries
  • United States, Canada
Overview
  • Beach resorts, colonial cities, the Amazon jungle, and the Galapagos islands await dental vacationers interested in traveling to Ecuador.
  • As many as 30 percent of visitors overall may visit a dentist while in Ecuador, making the place a top dental tourism destination in the world.
  • According to Guayaquil dentist Cristian Lopez, it’s not uncommon to see prices averaging 15 to 25 percent of those offered in the U.S. “In general, the more serious the procedure, the cheaper the cost when you compare to the US,” he says. “It is not uncommon to see prices at 10% the US level.” 
Popular Cities
  • Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca
The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria
Visit the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral after your trip to the dentist in Bulgaria

Eastern Europe

By far, destinations in Eastern Europe are the most popular for those from more expensive European countries like the United Kingdom. These countries are easily within a plane or train ride’s distance and offer a cultural vacation for many Europeans while they take care of their teeth. Hungary, in particular, has earned its reputation as the “dental capital of Europe.”

Savings

Savings are anywhere from 50 to over 75 percent the cost of treatment in the UK and elsewhere in Europe.

Hungary

Common Visitor Countries
  • The United Kingdom, Western Europe
Overview
  • With procedures as low as 30 percent of private dental costs elsewhere in Europe, Hungary remains an attractive option for many dental tourists.
  • Many dental care providers will also look after travel and accommodations for their patients, such as arranging air travel into Budapest.
  • Budapest, in particular, remains an incredibly popular destination for medical and dental tourists, offering visitors beautiful attractions such as thermal baths and spas, as well as the grandeur of the city’s royal palace and parliament.
Dental Procedures UK price  Hungary price
Tooth extraction £90.00 £30.00
BriteSmile® Tooth Whitening £475.00 £280.00
Root Canal Treatment £200.00 £60.00
Porcelain Veneer £500.00 £180.00
Branemark Dental Implant £1,900 £800.00
Porcelain Crown £500.00 £180.00

Chart via Treatment Abroad 

Popular Cities
  • Budapest, Mosonmagyarovar

Bulgaria

Common Visitor Countries
  • The United Kingdom, Western Europe
Overview
  • According to the healthcare search engine RevaHealth.com, Bulgaria boasts dental services that are, on average, 70 percent lower than those in the UK
  • According to the Irish newspaper Sunday Business Post, the most popular dental procedures include ceramic veneers, implants, crowns, teeth whitening, and reconstruction. Some European residents may even have insurance in their home country that covers a percentage of the costs.
  • Sofia, somewhat removed from the popular tourist destinations on the coast or ski resorts, entices visitors as a modern, youthful city full of history. While recuperating, you can visit the city’s archeological museum or explore the Aleksander Nevski cathedral and take in the history for yourself.
Popular Cities
  • Sofia, Varna

Poland

Common Visitor Countries
  • The United Kingdom, Western and Northern Europe
Overview
  • Poland remains in the top lists of countries to visit for dental care, and for good reason. Dentists in Poland offer state-of-the-art medical technologies and quality materials in addition to very affordable prices. Most clinics are also ISO certified.
  • Compared to the UK’s costs for private dentistry, you can save up to 70 percent by getting your work done in Poland. For example, the cost of dental implants in Poland can be a little as £300 to £400 — less than a quarter of their average price in the UK.
  • Historically significant cities such as Krakow and Wroclaw are only a short plane trip away from major European centers, such as London or Frankfurt, making the choice easy for many dental vacations.
Popular Cities
  • Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw, Poznan
Boats in the archipelago of Phi Phi island, Phuket
Enjoy a dental vacation in Phuket, Thailand

South & Southeast Asia

With today’s dental care costs skyrocketing in parts of Europe and North America, it’s no wonder many patients are combining an exotic holiday to places like Thailand or Malaysia with their dental work. These places have the reputation for offering highly qualified, quality dental care at prices that are impossible to beat at home.

Savings

The prices in these countries range anywhere from 10 percent to 50 percent of the dental work you’ll get in countries such as Australia and the Western world, for the same level of quality care.

Thailand

Common Visitor Countries
  • Australia, New Zealand
Overview
  • Already well-known for quality dental care, Thailand offers everything from cleanings to full mouth reconstruction, at very affordable prices compared to abroad.
  • For the beauty-obsessed, Thailand also offers cosmetic dental work such as porcelain veneers and laser teeth whitening procedures that are some of the best in the world.
  • According to Marketing Director Kenneth Mays, Bumrungrad International Hospital alone sees around 11,000 visitors from overseas every year. Located in the bustling metropolis of Bangkok, the hospital offers wide-ranging care and state-of-the-art medical facilities that draw increasing numbers of dental tourists seeking treatments. 
Popular Cities
  • Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Hua Hin, Pattaya

Philippines

Common Visitor Countries
  • UK, Australia, New Zealand
Overview
  • A relative newcomer to the dental tourism, the Philippines offers very reasonable prices for dental procedures and beautiful surroundings for your dental vacation.
  • Popular procedures include both restorative and prosthetic dentistry.
  • The average cost of a ceramic crown in the UK is around  £550, but at the Sacred Heart Dental Clinic in Manila, the price comes out to a mere just £101. A full teeth whitening treatment will run close to £1000 in the UK, but only around £200 in the Philippines on average. 
Popular Cities
  • Manila, Cebu, Davao

Malaysia

Common Visitor Countries
  • Australia, New Zealand
Overview
  • A governmental initiative in Malaysia, known as the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) seeks to regulate the dental industry standards in the country and requires that clinics offer high-quality dentistry for foreign patients in Malaysia at affordable prices. Legislation passed by this new initiative stipulates that foreigners won’t have to pay higher fees than local residents, making Malaysia a great affordable alternative to dental work at home.
  • Up until recently, the field of dental tourism in Malaysia has been overshadowed by it’s more popular neighbor, Thailand. Now a leader in dental surgery, Malaysia caters to thousands of international patients traveling every year to this culturally-rich nation.
  • Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, has become the center of the dental care industry in the country. Hundreds of dentists have established practices which provide top notch care to dental tourists on holiday.
  • Among the most common dental procedures in Malaysia are teeth whitening treatments, which cost US$200, bridges US$150, fillings US$45, and veneers US$275 — easily half the price or lower compared to costs in the United States or Europe.
Popular Cities
  • Penang, Kuala Lumpur
Islamic Mosque in Madaba, Jordan
Plan your dental work around historical sightseeing in Jordan

The Middle East

Dental tourism throughout the Middle East has increased in numbers across the board every year. Many visitors come from neighboring countries, while a smaller yet growing percentage of patients also come from the West. Facilities and dental care providers in the region offer highly qualified personnel and quality care at a low cost very similar to other regions in this list.

Savings

Prices average between 30 to 70 percent the cost of treatment in the UK and US for most procedures.

Turkey

Common Visitor Countries
  • Europe, Neighboring Countries
Overview
  • At 30 percent the cost, on average, for dental work and cosmetic dentistry compared to procedures in Europe, Turkey occupies a significant place in the global medical tourism market.
  • Turkey is a modernized country with medical and dental technologies that measure up to the standards set in the West. Dentists are generally highly qualified and experienced in treating patients from other countries.
  • Given its location, Turkey is a culturally vibrant nation in an ideal spot connecting the surrounding regions of Eastern Europe, Asia, and Middle Eastern nations.
  • The city and region of Antalya is particularly famous as a gorgeous seaside vacation destination. Nicknamed the “Turkish riviera,” Antalya became the third most visited city in the world in 2012, just behind London and Paris.
Popular Cities
  • Istanbul, Antalya

The United Arab Emirates

Common Visitor Countries
  • Australia, New Zealand
Overview
  • The UAE has developed itself into one of the premier vacation destinations in the world. You may be thinking of extravagance and luxury when you think of Dubai, the largest city in the UAE, but affordable dentistry most likely doesn’t come to mind. Dubai, in fact, has become one one of the most popular destinations for dental tourism in the world, with the highest number of JCI accredited hospitals in the region.
  • A convenient policy put in place by the UAE requires that all dentists in Dubai speak English fluently, and many are fluent in 1 or 2 additional languages, making the city a popular choice for many international travelers. Of the area’s 7,000 doctors, a combined 60+ languages are spoken with fluency.
  • Like Turkey, Dubai’s location makes the city a popular choice for those traveling from other parts of the Middle East as well as Europe and Asia. Americans and Germans, in particular, have also expressed their interest recently in visiting Dubai for dental purposes, due to the areas surprisingly affordable prices.
  • A free economic zone for healthcare situated in Dubai, known as Dubai Healthcare City, saw over 600,000 patient visits in 2014 alone. 
Popular Cities
  • Dubai, Abu Dhabi

Jordan

Common Visitor Countries
  • Neighboring Countries, America, Canada
Overview
  • Through their Private Hospitals Association (PHA), Jordan attracted over 250,000 international patients in 2012, with a combined total revenue from these visits over 1 Billion USD. The association states that the expected growth of these visits rises at 10 percent per year. 
  • With state-of-the-art medical facilities providing pocket-friendly treatments, it’s no wonder Jordan has been in the top countries for medical tourism in the world for several years.
  • With over 106 hospitals in the country, catering to nearby dental and medical tourists from Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, as well as international visitors, Jordan is still one of the best choices for affordable, quality care. 
  • Prices are generally around 10 to 20 percent of the costs compared to those in the US and Europe. Not only dental and orthopedic work, but medical treatment and surgeries as well are all highly sought by incoming medical tourists to Jordan.
Popular Cities
  • Amman, Irbid

The Future of Dental Tourism

Overall, dental tourism, along with its parent, medical tourism, doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. If prices and complicated regulations continue to make affordable healthcare scarce in places like the United States, Canada, and Europe, dental tourists will continue to seek more affordable options in other places around the globe.

If you’re interested in planning your own dental vacation, be aware of the risks involved before you go, and pay attention to travel as well as procedure costs. You may be better served by choosing a reputable medical travel agency to help facilitate your trip, but keep in mind that these agencies can’t cover everything that may go wrong.

Even with travel costs, accommodations, food, and recuperation time, traveling over the border or across the globe for your dental work may still save you lots of money. Throw in a relaxing vacation to unwind after your stressful dental work, and it may just become the trip of a lifetime.