Dental tourism is a subset of the sector known as medical tourism. It involves individuals seeking dental care outside of their local healthcare systems.
While dental tourists may travel for a variety of reasons, their choices are usually driven by price considerations. Wide variations in the economics of countries with shared borders have been the historical mainstay of the sector. Examples include travel from Austria to Slovakia and Slovenia, the US to Mexico, and the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland. While medical tourism is often generalized to travel from high-income countries to low-cost developing economies, other factors can influence a decision to travel, including differences between the funding of public healthcare or general access to healthcare.
The UK and The Republic of Ireland are two of the largest sources of dental tourists. Both have had their dental professions examined by competition authorities to determine whether consumers were receiving value for money from their dentists. Both countries’ professions were criticized for a lack of pricing transparency. A response to this is that dentistry is unsuitable for transparent pricing: each treatment will vary, an accurate quote is impossible until an examination has occurred. Thus price lists are no guarantee of final costs. Though they may encourage a level of competition between dentists, this will only happen in a competitive environment where supply and demand are closely matched. The 2007 Competition Authority report in the Irish Republic criticized the profession on its approach to increasing numbers of dentists and the training of dental specialties – orthodontics was a particular area for concern with training being irregular and limited in number of places. Supply is further limited as new dental specialties develop and dentists react to consumer demand for new dental products, further diluting the pool of dentists available for any given procedure.
For countries within the European Union, dental qualifications are required to reach a minimum approved by each country’s government. Thus a dentist qualified in one country can apply to any other EU country to practice in that country, allowing for greater mobility of labor for dentists (Directives typically apply not only to the EU but to the wider designation of the European Economic Area – EEA).The Association for Dental Education in Europe (ADEE) has standardization efforts to harmonize European standards. Proposals from the ADEE’s Quality Assurance and Benchmarking taskforce cover the introduction of accreditation procedures for EU dentistry universities as well as programs to facilitate dental students completing part of their education in foreign dentistry schools Standardization of qualification in a region reciprocally removes one of the perceptual barriers for the development of patient mobility within that region.