NZ dentists claim higher numbers of bad dental tourism cases

A study by the University of Otago, New Zealand claims that dentists are fixing increasing numbers of unsuccessful treatments when dental tourism goes wrong.

The University of Otago survey of 337 New Zealand dentists was published in the Journal of Tourism Management, and was carried out by Brent Lovelock from the Department of Tourism, Kirsten Lovelock from the Department of Public Health, and Faculty of Dentistry Professor Karl Lyons.

It suggests that in 2016, 96% of survey had encountered dental tourists at least once or twice a year, usually because they required remedial treatment.

Care must be taken with this research. New Zealand dentists have an inherent bias against dental tourism as it loses them patients; while the university dental faculty has links with the New Zealand Dental Association.

Local estimates suggest that hundreds of New Zealanders go to Asia each year for dental treatment, but there are no real numbers so it is difficult to compare numbers with numbers who may have a problem.

New Zealand dentists claim that they increasingly have to provide remedial treatment where things have gone wrong for dental tourists. Researchers at the University of Otago found that New Zealanders seek dental treatment abroad because it is cheaper and they can also holiday in Asia.

While for some the treatment is successful and is combined with a satisfying tourist experience, for others the treatment fails and the tourists seeks remedial work once back in New Zealand.

Dentists identified a range of issues arising from their patients receiving treatment abroad. The most important issue was a lack of follow-up maintenance and a lack of availability post-treatment, plus a lack of treatment records.

Many dentists are concerned that patients are unaware of the poor quality of work often being carried out and the difference in standard of care compared to New Zealand dentistry. Patients are often over-treated and inappropriately treated with irreversible damage to their teeth and no apparent discussion or awareness of treatment options, claimed one dentist.

Thailand was the most commonly noted country of treatment, with 90% of dental patients having been treated there, followed by India and Indonesia.

21.8% of dentists agree that dental tourism should be discouraged due to its negative impact upon New Zealand’s dental healthcare system.

The most common type of treatment sought abroad is a crown, while implants and bridges are other common treatments.

Dr David Crum of the New Zealand Dental Association says “Dental tourism exists and will appeal to a small sector of New Zealanders. It comes with risks most often related to quick care supplied over a very short duration by a practitioner unknown to the patient. Most often the dental care required is at the advanced, and more expensive, end of the spectrum, and often not discovered to be poorly implemented until months later after the patient has returned home.”

The New Zealand Dental Association believes patients are best served by establishing a long-term care relationship with a dentist who meets mandatory New Zealand standards in their own community.

The University of Otago researchers acknowledge there is the perceived issue of professional protectionism with their study, in that dentists may consider the impact upon their practices by the provision of care abroad. So, they specifically asked dentists about the perceived impacts of dental tourism on their practice’s income. While 15% considered dental tourism would impact negatively on their practice incomes, 6% felt it would actually increase their practice’s income due to the increased demand for remedial treatment.

View the IMTJ’s assessment of outbound medical tourism from New Zealand.