Dental Tourism – Does it still happen?
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Published On:11-02-2014 by
  • The number of people travelling for dental treatments has dropped significantly over the past decade
  • Cheaper dental implants and other cosmetic treatments are now available in the UK meaning patients do not need travel anymore
  • The market has matured and dentists are now travelling to see patients. The only foreign dentists we talked to who still have patients travelling for treatment are those who can offer consultations and other parts of the treatment in the UK.


2005 was a great year for dentists in Hungary. Their country had recently joined the European Union attracting lots of European tourists including 250,000 UK nationals. Austrian dentist Alexander Schreiner opened up a clinic on the ground floor of a hotel in central Budapest to take advantage of the patient rush. At the time he was travelling to UK where he and a colleague would meet with up to a hundred patients over a couple of days in conference rooms, all interested in finding out about dental treatment in Budapest.


Almost a decade later and Dr Schreiner sits in his clinic wondering what his UK patients have gone. The number of UK nationals travelling to Hungary has fallen by 38%. Whilst partly due to the economic climate, Hungarian dentists and dental tour operators have confirmed a significant fall in the number of medical tourists. Also, the fall compares unfavourably to the number of UK nationals travelling to Europe which fell by 22%.



What has changed over the last decade that patients are now looking to stay in the UK for treatment?


Economic Climate


The two factors causing a drop in the number of people travelling for restorative and cosmetic dentistry are the economic climate and price pressures on restorative dentistry in the UK. Restorative dentistry or dental implants can be an expensive procedure for people and quite often it is not an expense they have planned for. Patients can expect to pay in the thousands whether at home or in cheaper locations. A full jaw replacement with 6 implants will cost from £9,900 in the UK and £6,000 in Hungary. Implants are rarely available on the NHS and other inferior replacement methods may be more attractive to patients during periods of belt tightening.


Falling prices in the UK


Increased competition in the UK has driven down the price of dental implants which are now available from as little as £995 (See our cost survey for more info). Agnes Tuba of London Dental Implants, who place implants in London and Hungary, has confirmed that it only makes sense for patients to travel if they require 4 or more implants. LDI can carry out parts of the procedure and any aftercare in London which makes travelling for the main part of the procedure a more attractive option for patients.


Why has the price of dental implants fallen?


  • The cost price of dental implants has fallen. Low cost manufacturers have driven down the prices of implants as more and more dentists are offering a low cost alternative along with a premium implant brand. This has forced the established manufacturers to cut prices with Straumann announcing further cuts this month.
  • Some dentists have spotted the opportunity to establish specialised dental implant clinics. These clinics operate on a high volume basis. They attract patients by offering cheap implants and balance the books by fitting lots of them. This allows them to spread their investment in training and equipment over significantly more treatments thus increasing their margins.
  • Some Hungarian dentists and businessmen realised that patients are reluctant to travel for medical treatment, especially if they had not yet met their dentist. Rather than waiting for patients to come to them they decided to go to the patients and set up clinic in the UK. Vital Europe were one of the first clinics to offer treatments in the UK and Hungary and have told us that people are a lot more likely to travel if they can have a consultation carried out at home. These clinics give patients the option to have treatment in the UK, in Hungary or a combination of both are the only type of Hungarian clinics attracting UK patients today.


In conclusion


Although the number of patients travelling from the UK has fallen, Hungarian clinics are still receiving patients from countries with easier access or where dental implants are still expensive. London Dental Implants see lots of patients from Germany and Scandinavia at their Budapest based clinic and have recently opened a second clinic due to increased demand. According to the Hungarian CSO, the number of health tourists visiting the country has increased since 2005 but the growth is largely fuelled by wellness and spa tourists and not ones travelling for dental treatment.


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