Medical Tourism: Should You Travel Outside the U.S. for Dental Care?

In 2016, an estimated 800,000 Americans sought dental care outside the United States, mostly in Mexico and Costa Rica. That’s a number that has grown substantially in the last few years, as acceptance of “medical tourism” has grown and Americans grapple with the high cost of dental procedures such as implants, crowns and bridges.

For many people, these expensive procedures aren’t just about improving their smile. Damaged or decayed teeth can lead to infections that cause bone loss. Poorly cared for teeth can also increase the risk of blood clots and osteoporosis, and raise the risk of heart disease in people who have diabetes.

By traveling outside the United States, people can save about 70 percent on costs for dental care, according to That is a big consideration for those who need to have multiple procedures performed.

But before deciding to make a trip for dental tourism, travelers should ask the following questions:

What treatment plan does my local dentist recommend? This will be the basis for comparing apples-to-apples costs for care in the United States and another country. Travel expenses also must be factored in, including airfare and hotel stays for procedures that require multiple days, multiple trips or a recovery period.

How far am I willing to travel? In general, travelers want to look for dental care in a country that is as close to home as possible. For example, Los Algodones in Mexico is a popular dental tourism destination because of its close proximity to Yuma, Arizona.

How will I know that a dentist is reputable? A quick internet search uncovers companies that specialize in connecting patients with dentists in other countries. WebMD recommends checking out a dentist’s academic certifications and accreditations, as well as searching the membership directory of the World Dental Federation and the Academy of Dentistry International. In addition, dental tourists should ask to talk to a dentist’s previous patients as references.

Do I have family or friends in the area? Travelers who are having anesthesia or will be taking prescription pain medicine after a procedure need to have someone who can help them after surgery, or advocate for them in the event of an emergency.

How will I get home if there are complications? Travelers need to plan how they will get home if medical issues arise that can’t be adequately addressed in the town or country they are visiting. Before traveling, it’s wise to research medical transport services and identify one or two that could help if needed.

Will my dental insurance cover the treatment they are seeking? Travelers should check if their medical or dental insurance will cover the costs of treatment outside the U.S. They should also look into travel insurance in case a trip must be cancelled or if complications lead to a lengthier stay or require additional medical care.

Does my local dentist agree with my decision? This is important, because if the procedure does not go as expected, it may be difficult to find a dentist at home who will fix work performed outside the United States.

Arranging Transportation after Dental Tourism

Anyone who is thinking about traveling for dental tourism must consider how well his or her body will recover after a procedure. Just as in the U.S., the recovery period and risk of complications can differ greatly depending on a patient’s overall health, tolerance of anesthesia, risk of post-operative infection, and more.

SentinelMED provides medical transportation, medical repatriation, and medical escort services to dental tourists and other travelers who require medical assistance to return to their hometowns in safety and comfort. In many cases, patients travel on commercial airlines with a SentinelMED escort who is an ICU- or emergency-medicine professional. This service is a cost-effective alternative to an air ambulance.

The SentinelMED team understands the complexity of delivering exceptional care to patients who need assistance during travel. Please contact us to learn more about the services that SentinelMED offers or its staff.

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