Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Becoming a Dental Tourist

Whether justified or not, the British have a reputation for having bad teeth, and considering the cost of dentistry in the UK, this is hardly surprising. Even if you are lucky enough to get onto the books of an NHS dentist, you would still find yourself at the mercy of a prohibitive system that doesn’t seem to want you to help you get your teeth sorted. I am proud to say that until recently I did not count myself among the dentally challenged nation, having boasted perfect teeth all my life, with not so much as a filling (thanks mum for limiting my sweetie intake). It was only when I fell off my bike and ruined a fair proportion of these immaculate pearlies, that I discovered just how awful the British dentistry system really is for anyone without the means to pay for private treatment. Until the accident, I had been quite happy to stump up the cost of a check-up once in a while at a lovely private dentist, who actually told me not to bother coming back for a couple of years at my last visit! After breaking eight, and completely losing two teeth in the accident, I was forced to transfer to an altogether less friendly NHS practice, since there was no way I could afford the £400 per crown that would be needed to mend the broken teeth, let alone the £2k+ I was quoted for dental implants to replace the missing ones. I was then told by my new dentist that although there is an upper limit to what the NHS can charge you (£194 for one or more crowns) they would only allow the practice to administer a maximum of two at a time, without a special dispensation that could take up to six months to approve, meaning that I would have to go back every couple of months, paying the £194 each time, and dragging out the already traumatic process to a ridiculous extent. And you cannot get dental implants on the NHS - the only option offered is dentures, or a bridge – which would mean drilling down perfectly healthy teeth on either side of the gap. Not wanting to be saddled with dentures at the tender age of 32, I was beginning to consider re-mortgaging the flat and going back to my private dentist, when someone suggested the possibility of going abroad for treatment.

There is a growing dental tourism industry, particularly in Hungary and Poland, both of which now have entire towns built on incoming foreign dentistry trade. So I started looking at the options, reading about the possible pitfalls, asking around for recommendations, when I was forwarded an email from a friend about a forthcoming consultation happening with a Hungarian dentist in Eastbourne - my hometown, just 25 miles along the coast from Brighton. It felt like one of those kismet moments, when things fall into place just at the right time, so I made an appointment to meet the dentist. We met a couple of weeks ago on a sunny Saturday in a seafront hotel, and I knew almost straight away that it was the right thing to do. Quite apart from my vanity and confidence having taken a severe knock, I haven’t been able to eat properly since losing the teeth (oh, how I miss pizza so), and the permanent discomfort has inevitably worn me down. Yesterday I booked a date to start the first stage of the implant surgery, and just knowing that it is definitely happening makes me feel so much more positive already. The first step (a detailed description of which – not for the faint-hearted - can be read here) involves having two metal screws put into my jaw, which then take four months to fuse to the bone before I can go back for the remaining treatment, after which, all being well, I will have a full complement of teeth once more. I’m trying to decide how to make the two trips to Hungary with minimal carbon footprint, and am considering rail travel for at least some of it, depending on the cost. But even with the travel and accommodation, my dental bill will be 1/3 of what it would have been in the UK. And I will be getting the most up-to-date, state of the art treatment, which is currently inconceivable via the NHS. I am trying hard not to resent the fact that I have had to resort to this course of action, having looked after my teeth so conscientiously all my life. It seems unfair that had I broken one of my limbs and needed surgery, this would be automatic on the NHS, but to repair accidentally broken teeth, one must stump up the cash, and even be forced to travel to the other end of Europe to be mended! The thought of my first post-surgery pizza is the only thing keeping me sane in the face of such frustration - goats’ cheese and spinach at the Walmer to be precise.

3 comments:

  1. It is a shame that we Brits have to go abroad for dental treatment, but services such as http://www.dentalholiday.co.uk do make it a lot easier, especially if you're looking for implants, crowns or veneers. Well done for taking the courage and spreading the good news!

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  2. I totally agree with everything that you have mentioned in your post.
    It is worth mentioning that you should thank your mother for not just limiting your sweetie intake but also the good genes that was passed on to you by your parents. A large proportion of people inherit dental problems from thier parents. Luckily I have also been blessed with strong healthy teeth as have my children. They dont have a filling or cavity between them despite eating a few more sweets than they should.
    I also share your concerns that Dental Implants are not available on the NHS and this is definately a disadvantage for people with missing teeth, especially those with healthy teeth either side of the gap.
    My heart goes out to the many recovering Bulimia patients that our company, Hungarian Dental Travel Ltd helps who cannot get the treatment that they need on the NHS. No matter what the NHS policy is it is important not only to have functional teeth but also teeth that look nice to give that person the confidence to smile.

    I wish you luck with your quest.

    Chris

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  3. Do you still know the phone number of that Hungarian dentist?I would be really happy if the answer would be YES :) and if so can you please put it on the website?

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