Looking at the growth of the dental tourism market

Ian Youngman looks at the growth in the dental tourism market, the increase in both demand and supply and how providers will need to differentiate their offering to remain competitive.

Dental tourism is one of the mainstays of medical tourism and while numbers are rising, the increase in competition both between and within countries means that some dental clinics are not attracting enough business.

Dental tourism has become a booming industry, where every dentist fights for his reputation and wants to be among the first options for the travelling patient.

But how easy is it and what it does it take to be a competitive player in such an unpredictable industry? With increasing awareness of the potential of the dental tourism, more and more dental clinics are trying to get into the business of attracting foreign patients. But unfortunately most are relying on the same message…. “We are the best dentists, we provide the best dental services, in the most beautiful location, and offer dental services at X% less compared to country Y prices for the same services.”

Patient choice in dental tourism

…How can the patient choose among the sea of dentists?

…What are the criteria used in finding the best dentist?

…How far will a patient be willing to travel for a dental crown or an implant?

A 2012 report to the Congress ‘Dental Crisis in America” from Senator Bernie Sanders shows that nearly 130 million people in the US do not have dental insurance. In the UK, the National Health Service covers only part of the dental care costs. In Australia even for people with insurance, dental work can get quite expensive, especially when it comes to dental implants, crowns and cosmetic dentistry, which are generally not covered by insurance. In many European countries people do not use dental insurance, but pay full price for the dental procedures and prices can be really high.

PlacidWay has been researching dental tourism and founder Pramod Goel has been analysing the results to find out what the key factors are when choosing a dentist and what are the main trends of this industry.

Price in dental tourism

Dental tourism brings a perception to consumers seeking dental care of significant savings if they choose to go abroad for dental work. Based on claims made by various clinics these could range from 50-70% savings.

For example, a dental implant in the US costs around $4,000 and $3,500 in the UK. Prices can go as low as $1,500 in Thailand, $1,000 in Turkey, $850 in Mexico, Costa Rica and Colombia, $750 in India and Argentina.

Prices for dental veneers can reach $1,800 in the US and $870 in the UK, but drop as low as $300 in Turkey, $250 in Thailand, Colombia and India, $220 in Serbia, $200 in Philippines and only $150 in Malaysia.

Teeth whitening in the US can cost $2,300, but only $450 in Turkey, $350 in Mexico, $300 in Thailand, $250 in Costa Rica and $100 in India.

Patients can pay $2,000 for a dental crown in the US and $1,000 in the UK, but only $400 in Mexico, $350 in Venezuela and Thailand, $300 in Turkey and India and $100 in Philippines.

People can now get the same skills, same equipment, and same product from the same manufacturer at a much lower cost abroad. This is due to the fact that the product pricing varies by country, while malpractice insurance and related infrastructure costs are lower in these emerging dental tourism markets.

Price is the main driving force in the expansion of the industry, countries such as India, Thailand, Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Turkey and countries in Eastern Europe have a major advantage due to lower cost of dental services. They can compete on price.

Competition in dental tourism

Dental tourism has become an extremely crowded marketplace. The city of Los Algodones in Mexico alone has more than 300 dentists, all offering affordable dental care and Bangkok, Thailand, has an extensive network of clinics with attractive costs.

There are many locations where people can get discounted dental care compared with prices in their home countries. More dentists continue to join dental tourism with slight twists in their products and procedures but with the same underlying offering.

One driving force in deciding where people go is how far a dental patient is prepared to travel for dental treatment and the cost of travel offset against the treatment savings.

Predictions for dental tourism in 2014

In 2014 and beyond, dental tourism demand will continue to expand as well as the number of dentists offering the services.

The main trends PlacidWay sees include:

  • Regional Solutions
    Dental tourism will continue to be a regional solution where distance travelled will be a major factor as it equates to costs of travel. The industry will continue to evolve and people will travel to places where they are familiar with the environment as well as where they wish to vacation. People from North America will travel to Latin America, people from Europe will travel to Eastern Europe, Asians will travel within Asia, and Australians will travel to South East Asia.
  • Multi trips
    People choosing to do extensive dental work, such as having dental implants, dental crowns, root canals or dentures, may require several visits to the dentist for the perfect results and preferably bi-annual check-ups.
  • Price wars
    People will look for deals – they will look for a total return on investment that will include treatment cost, travel cost, lodging as well as incidental expenses. To optimize this they will look for all-inclusive deals to reduce their potential financial risks.People will also travel when savings are significant. People will not travel for just one dental implant unless they are already planning to visit that city/country.
  • Massive competition
    Dentists in emerging markets are looking to expand their revenues and see a big potential in dental travel. Whether it is one dentist clinic with limited infrastructure, or a centre with a wide offering, both are trying to compete in a very similar way and trying to attract the same patients. This competition is creating chaos, confusion, and blurring of lines between good, bad, and ugly. This will bring about a price war.
  • Transparency
    This is a growing concern. There are instances when what is being marketed versus what is being delivered varies significantly.For example, dentists will advertise that they use top American brand dental implants, but while performing the procedure, they will use lower quality knock-off implants with no reliability. They will charge the patient for a higher-grade implant. The lack of price and procedure transparency continues to grow and the consumer must do proper research before arranging a treatment.
  • Commoditisation
    Dental tourism is moving towards a commodity-type market, where there are many suppliers and the demand for those services is common. Procedures, skills, materials and techniques are increasingly similar in whatever country people go to.

The differentiating factors among providers, such as costs and quality, are blurred among so many dental service providers.

Gaining competitive advantage

To gain a competitive advantage, dental clinics need to re-think more strategically and systematically to differentiate their specific offerings beyond costs, quality, and services. To stay a competitive player in the market, dental providers have to think more strategically and differentiate through innovation, efficiency, talent and the services offered.