You don't need a tooth fairy to make the big bills vanish

Can't find an NHS practice? Esther Shaw asks if it's worth joining the English patients who fly to Eastern Europe for treatment
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The Independent Online

Can't find an NHS dentist? Then you don't have to grit your teeth and go private – you could join the many British patients who are booking cheap flights to Hungary or Poland and getting implants, fillings and teeth whitening at a fraction of the price they would pay back home.

"Dental tourism" is a new growth industry as companies match British patients with dentists overseas. Some even offer all-inclusive packages, including dental work, flights and accommodation.

Recent figures from the Reva Health network, a medical tourism search engine, show a surge in interest in treatment abroad. Last month, it logged more than 156,000 searches originating in the UK and Ireland, carried out by more than 50,000 users; so far this month, the figures are over 244,000 searches by 81,500 users.

The savings can be huge. For example, a dental implant in Hungary will cost you £800, compared to £2,000 at home, according to Reva. In Poland, a crown will cost you £150, against £400 in the UK. And if you jet all the way to Thailand, you can save 70 per cent on the cost of a veneer.

That, of course, is before the cost of travel – and the carbon footprint – but more and more people are choosing to fit treatment around pre-arranged holidays or business trips.

The average value of the overseas dental treatments that are enquired about through Reva is £2,200. This compares to an average of £5,945 for the equivalent procedures in the UK or Ireland. But while there are some hefty savings to be made, research is vital.

After you have compared the cost of UK treatment with that overseas, check dental standards, qualifications and accreditations – and make sure you are getting "like for like" with the same quality of materials.

Speak to the practice before deciding to go ahead, and ask to be put in touch with former patients. Also check on whether other costs, such as consultation fees and transfers to and from the airport, are included.

"It can certainly work out cheaper in countries such as Hungary, though this will depend on the treatment," says Frances Blunden from consumer body Which? "Also note that while most people plan to fly to and from their destination, this may not be the best if you are having invasive treatment."

Ask about the after-care, as reputable practices will guarantee to deal with any problems promptly and at no extra cost; this should include flights and accommodation. Dental work is rarely a one-off and, in many cases, further treatment will be needed. So you may have to think about travelling abroad again – perhaps every few months, or even, in some extreme cases, every few weeks.

In the UK there is a complaints system in place for both NHS and private dentists, which means you will have some comeback if you are unhappy with your treatment. But this may not be the case overseas, adds Ms Blunden. "You have to be prepared to bear the risk of something going wrong.

"At the end of the day, there are savings to be made, but you do need to go in with your eyes open."

Further browsing: To find a list of practices overseas, visit www.treatmentabroad.net

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