Insights to dental tourism in Europe

A new report by the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies “Oral health care in Europe: Financing, access and provision” helps explain some of the dental tourism in Europe.

Oral diseases are increasingly recognised as one of the most prevalent conditions in Europe, affecting nearly half of the European population. Despite this, statutory coverage of dental care is limited in many European countries as evidenced by restricted service packages and high private funding compared to other health services.

The new report investigates a broad range of topics of oral health care across Europe, ranging from oral health and inequalities, cover gaps, financial protection and unmet needs, corporate dentistry and cross-border care.

The review identifies common trends and challenges in financing, access, coverage and provision of oral health care in 31 European countries and finds that:

  • Oral diseases remain a major burden of disease despite decreasing prevalence in all age groups and stronger focus on preventive care.
  • Data is lacking on virtually all areas of oral health care, particularly on the underlying causes and the prevalence of oral disease, as well as the effectiveness of community preventive activities and oral health services.
  • Private expenditure plays an important role in many countries for covering dental care services. In particular for adults, public cover is more limited on average than for children and other vulnerable groups.
  • Dental care is the most frequent type of care for which people report unmet needs due to financial reasons, particularly affecting vulnerable and low-income populations.
  • There are large differences in dentists’ ratios across European countries, but most countries have seen an increase of dentists associated with the growth of the private sector and increased cross-border dental tourism.

Care has to be taken on comments on dental tourism as it relies only on published data with much being dated, as far back as 2010.

The most recent data the report uses, in 2018 and 2020, finds:

  • Romania and Croatia see dental tourism as promising.
  • France and Germany offer a wide range of dental services to citizens but high cost sharing and fixed maximum reimbursement limits means that sometimes it is more cost-effective for them to travel abroad for dental care.
  • Dental clinics in border regions have an incentive to offer cosmetic dental treatment packages to neighbouring countries or where dental care is expensive.
  • Dental professionals have been moving from Eastern Europe to Norway, Germany and Sweden to offer services at lower prices.
  • Some dental clinics specialising in low-cost services in Sweden are only open for 3 months a year as they are staffed by traveling dentists.