Dental Tourism Business Development

Understanding the Global Dental Tourism Market

Growth prospects for dental tourism business development are promising in many locations that now advertise medical tourism services for sale.

Recently release reports by Technavio in London, forecast the global dental tourism market to grow at a CAGR of almost 14% over the next 4 years.  They attribute growth to applied technologies such as 3D printing, robotics for prosthesis. They also indicate that the leading growth markets with the most promise include the Americas, EMEA and APAC regions. You can't get more generalized than those predictions, especially since they cover more than 1/2 the world and are the epitome of over generalization in assumptions. 

While we may not be in total agreement with the forecasts, we do agree that there is a market for dental tourism services - especially more complex treatments not locally available from the neighborhood general dentistry clinic.



Targeting Dental Tourism Source Markets

We have determined by working in the medical tourism industry since 1977,  that the market for many cosmetic dental services is a radius of about 2-4 hour flight times from the treatment location.  In miles, the distance is generally between 1500-2000 miles assuming good flight connections, hub-to-hub in an appropriate aircraft with seating that accommodates passengers comfortably with regard to seating and leg room, or driving distances of no longer than a day in each direction.

On occasion, you will encounter others who travel to access dental services for different reasons, but they are the anecdotal exceptions. The business opportunity they represent is not one that a dentist should target for a sustainable business development strategy for dental tourism.

In the USA, one exception should be noted: Dental tourism for dentures. In Florence, South Carolina ( 34.195N/-79.762W), the Sexton Dental Clinic was the world's first same day denture clinic. They offered dentures in their on-site laboratory and have been established in dental tourism since 1923. Their website is well-designed, easily navigated, and includes transparent prices, policies and information. 

Over the years, many competitors have opened in and around Florence, South Carolina. The scope of dental services in South Carolina has expanded over the years.  Many seniors who make the trip from Northeastern states to Florida each winter, schedule a stop in Florence to take advantage of these affordable dental services and ease of access either on the way south or on the way back home. Moderately priced hotels and restaurants are abundant and conveniently accessible just a short distance from Interstate 95.

Dental tourism visitors are primarily grouped into four categories:

  1. People who need complex dental procedures that are unavailable or involve long waits to access care where they reside - they elect to travel to access care at any price.  They travel to a destination they want to visit and seek advice on which provider to choose to meet their objectives. They expect to have some pain after their procedure and are undecided about other touristic activities until they determine their level of discomfort, need for pain medication and its side effects, and how much time they will need to set aside for follow up appointments before returning home.  These people often have some dental insurance for the complex dental procedures and realize that their travel costs may be 100% out of pocket and not covered by their insurance plan.  They may have dental insurance but it may not cover elective dental treatments out of the area where the person usually resides.
  2. People who desire to undergo cosmetic dental procedures that are available where they reside, but the want to visit a globally renowned expert to do the work.  They go where the provider is located to consult with a specific practitioner.  They intend to pay for all services out-of-pocket.  If the dentist has not built and advertised a globally recognized professional brand with a branded reputation, no amount of facilitator or travel agency steerage will drive significant volume to that provider. The rule here is "Product development and brand establishment first; then sales efforts."
  3. Families, solo travelers, and couples seeking to add routine general and preventive dentistry services at a clinic located at or near a tourism destination they will visit without a lot of pre-planning or expense. They go to a destination for a vacation and add the dental visits and exams as an carve out agenda item for a specific morning or afternoon. They don't expect to leave in pain or have to return to the clinic for any reason.  They expect to pay cash and they prefer to select a dentist where their language is spoken fluently by the dentist and the reception staff.
  4. Senior Americans covered by Medicare. The federal program for health insurance in the USA is known as Medicare. The name Medicare is also used by many other countries, so when reading about the program on the Internet, ensure that you are on the correct authoritative website to study the American market opportunities for dental tourism.  Medicare will not cover dental care that you need primarily for the health of plan beneficiaries' teeth. For example, Medicare will not cover routine checkups, cleanings, or pay for fillings. Medicare will never pay for dentures. Learn more about what is covered by U.S. Medicare for seniors and those who are disabled and enrolled in Medicare sooner than age 65 on the Medicare Interactive website

Popular Dental Tourism Destinations

Key destinations we've inspected around the world show promise in dental tourism development. These include:

The Americas: The US, Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Brazil and the Caribbean

Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA): Poland, Hungary, Germany, the UK, Italy, Greece, Portugal, France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland, Austria, Israel, Egypt, South Africa, and the UAE

Asia-Pacific (APAC): Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, India, Australia, Japan, and China

For American patients, dental tourism procedures are coordinated by “facilitators” who inspect and contract with clinics and often refer clients to dentists in each facilitator’s proprietary network. Often they are paid a referral fee by the dentist or hospital which is embedded into the price quoted for the services you will receive.  Many of the prices you read on the Internet are for locals only and most clinics that work with facilitators have two fee schedules: one for locals and one for foreigners. The commission is tacked on as a percentage of the foreigner price quoted, in most cases.

At some medical tourism destinations the foreigner price difference is actually supported in local regulations. We believe that this approach is discriminatory and we do not support or condone different pricing on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, citizenship, affluence, language, culture, sexual orientation or health status. Any Approved Provider found engaging in discriminatory pricing, for any reason, will be terminated from our network and permanently stripped of Approved Provider designation without appeal.

Nitrous Oxide

While popular throughout the USA and many countries, visitors to Mexico from the USA are often surprised to learn that the use of anesthetics for "conscious sedation" by inhaling medical gasses may not be available. In the USA, gas anesthesia is widely available in most cities. For example, in Mexico, private health facilities and clinic commissioning by COFEPRIS (the Mexican regulatory body) permits nitrous oxide administration in full service hospital settings only.

Before you decide to travel for dental care

Always ask before agreeing to travel to a destination if you believe that you would benefit from nitrous oxide anesthesia.  That way, your procedure can be scheduled and prices quoted specific to the procedure, practitioners, setting and length of time you should plan to remain before scheduling other activities or returning home. 

Your destination dental professional should be willing (and able) to speak with your local dentist prior to your return home and also to give you a copy of all images and consultation and operative reports and a written discharge summary for a smooth and seamless continuity of care. If you plan to claim the cost of care as a tax deductible expense, you will need an itemized receipt in addition to the initial consultation report, your operative report, and your discharge summary, along with your travel receipts, boarding pass stubs, hotel and ground expenses receipts and even meal receipts. Ask your tax adviser if these expenses are eligible under IRC213D, and whether you may use your HSA savings to pay for them.  Your employer may also permit you to use HRA funds to pay for dental care and the travel expense to access affordable care.


Other Methods of Conscious Sedation

Sedative medicines do not have to be given by mouth. They also can be given:

  • Through the nose
  • By using a suppository
  • By a shot (injection)
  • Intravenously (directly placing the medicine into a vein)

These methods require more experience to be given and monitored properly.

Injections and intravenous medicines should be used only by dentists with extensive training in these techniques.


General Anesthesia

Sometimes a patient must be unconscious in order for the dentist to safely complete needed dental treatment. General anesthesia puts a patient into a deep sleep. He or she is unable to feel pain or to move around. This is the same kind of sleep a patient would have for removal of tonsils or placement of ear tubes and other surgical procedures. General anesthesia is done in a hospital. The patient often leaves the hospital on the same day.

General anesthesia carries some risk. Your dentist should discuss the risks and benefits with you and explain why it might be the right choice.  General anesthesia usually requires the attendance of a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) or a Board-Certified Anesthesiologist who is a graduated medical, dental or osteopathic doctor, or oromaxillofacial surgeon. These professionals are trained to deliver the medicines and monitor the you or your child during the procedure. They also know how to handle any problems that may occur.

If this is the anesthesia method for your procedure, the patient must have a recent physical examination before receiving general anesthesia. This exam will make sure that the patient doesn't have any conditions that could interfere with or be affected by the anesthesia. Patients who feel unwell or feel as if a cold is coming on on the day of the scheduled procedure, should call the dentist to ask if the appointment should be rescheduled.