Look at most any set of tips for saving money on dental bills and you’re apt to come across the idea of dental tourism – going to another country to have dental work done on the cheap.
Of course, by the time you pay for airfare and hotels and food and incidentals and the dentistry itself, you could easily end up paying more than you would to have a local dentist do the work. But that’s another story.
The story we start with is this: Are dental bargains really a bargain?
Certainly there are those who will speak glowingly of their dental experiences in Mexico or Turkey or Thailand or Poland or wherever. Others tell a different tale – one of inadequate care, of complications after they’ve returned home, of poor workmanship or materials.
Some dentists report patients suffering the effects of too many procedures done too quickly, putting the teeth and body under tremendous trauma and stress. Others describe work done over infected sites. Here’s how one Dublin dentist described these cases to the Irish Independent earlier this summer:
“I’ve seen people with half their jaws missing from infection.
“They can develop a huge cyst around a badly fitting implant for example, the device falls out and people are left with a hole in the jawbone.
“If you have a badly-executed implant the body recognises it as an alien presence and creates an inflammation in the form of pus to push it out,” she explains. “The pus eats a hole in the jawbone to push out the implant and, in so doing, can take half the jawbone with it.”
Patients have also sought help for problems resulting from poorly executed veneers, which, she reports, have caused nerve problems, swellings and infection.
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Patients may initially be pleased with the work, but problems can take a few years to materialise, says O’Donoghue. “Generally when we ask the question, people will look back and say, for example, that the crowns started falling out, the veneer started chipping or the implants were causing pain and jaw shrinkage and falling out. It seems to take up to four or five years for the problem to become visible to the extent that somebody seeks help.”
At best, such problems merely involve more time and money in having such problems corrected by another dentist.
And this is just considering the issue from the perspective of conventional dentistry.
A biological dentist would have additional concerns about the quality of materials used. If no compatibility testing is performed, biologically inappropriate materials may be used – materials to which the individual patient is reactive. Their exact components may be unknown.
There are plenty enough cases here in the US where dental labs outsource their cases to China and receive restorations containing lead, a highly toxic heavy metal, which dentists then place, unawares. (In one highly publicized case, a woman received a crown containing 210 parts per million of lead; the FDA max allowed in ceramic dishware is 0.1 ppm.)
Consider how much more problematic the case may be in countries where regulations on dental work are even looser than they are here.
In light of such issues, you can’t help but think of this all as a case of “you get what you pay for.”
And the same may be true for many dental “discounts” – from online coupons to super low cost dental clinics. This isn’t to say you’ll necessarily get bad work. But there are reasons why things are cheap – and when it involves your health, chances are good that you may have to pay for those savings later.
Consider mercury amalgam “silver” fillings. Typically, these are the only kind dental insurers will pay for. Part of the reason, of course, is that within mainstream dentistry, they’ve remained the “standard of care” for well over a century. Another part is that they’re they’re cheaper than composite “white” fillings – at least up front.
If you account for social, environmental and health costs of using this neurotoxic material, amalgams are actually much more expensive, by anywhere from $19 to $87 each.
And they can make a person quite sick, due to their constantly outgassing mercury, which can begin to become methylated – and thus, more toxic – the moment it makes contact with oral bacteria. Then you are looking at tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars to be spent down the road “managing” – all the while seeking healing from – chronic conditions such as ALS, lupus, MS, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, multiple chemical sensitivities and the like.
Similarly, a root canal may be, in the short term, cheaper than an extraction and bridge or partial, but in the long-term, it may contribute to any number of systemic illnesses, from autoimmune disorders to cancer.
“Beware,” they say, “of bargains in parachutes, brain surgery and dental care.”
As ever, the best way to save money on dental care is the simplest: Take good care of your teeth and gums now to prevent problems from arising in the future. This means minor investment now – on things like regular hygiene visits and quality, nutrient-dense food – to save big later.
Prevention is definitely the best insurance – for the health of your mouth and all the rest of you.