‘Dental tourism’ is booming in places like Bali and Bangkok as Aussies look for cheaper care, but is it safe?

Tracy King’s degraded teeth were painful and making her so self-conscious she would sometimes speak with her hand in front of her mouth.

They ended up that way because she avoided seeing a dentist in her 20s due to the cost, and later needed to take steroid medication for an autoimmune condition.

“They were very brittle, so when I would eat food they would all sort of crack,” she said.


The 49-year-old Queenslander’s self-confidence took a hit. 

“Being in a public facing role for work, it really affects your confidence when you’re talking and training people or presenting for events, you have to be constantly smiling with your mouth closed,” Tracy said.

The cheapest quote she found for treatment from an Australian dentist – including veneers on her top teeth – was $12,500.

“It would have left our bank account with next to no savings,” the event stylist said.

The Logan resident had been a regular traveller to Bali over the years, so she decided to get the work done there while on an extended holiday.

Tracy King had veneers on her top teeth and other dental work done at a clinic in Kuta.(Supplied: Tracy King)

Tracy ended up paying $3,300 for care at a dental clinic in Kuta in 2022 and describes the results as “amazing”.

“I’d had two consultations by the time I actually went in to have treatment and the treatment was done over two different sessions,” she said.

“It’s the best my teeth have been since, so I’m really glad that I’ve had it done.”

A ‘broken’ system

Dressed in a vibrant flowing dress, Lesley Hyde is off to Bali for a holiday — and more dental care.

She had veneers on her top teeth done in 2022, and went back for more work in 2023 and early 2024.

While Lesley’s dental treatment was largely cosmetic, she said many Australians are turning to the so-called “Island of the Gods” for essential care.

A blonde woman in a blue, red and yellow patterned dress standing at the airport with her suitcase.

Lesley Hyde says she’s confident about the quality and safety of the care she receives in Bali.(ABC News: Barrie Pullen)

“Everything – crowns, root canals. I’ve got a friend who’s getting bone grafting and implants, and again it’s about a sixth or seventh of the cost of getting it done in Australia,” Lesley said.

Lesley is an emergency department nurse in a Melbourne hospital and thinks Australia’s mostly private dental system is “broken”.

Generic of a dentist working on someone's teeth from a promotional video of a dental clinic in Bali.

The inside of a dental clinic in Bali.(Supplied)

“People can’t afford to go to a dentist here, so they present to GP clinics, emergency departments and they’re basically requiring pain relief because that’s about all we can do for them because we’re not dentists, we can’t fix their teeth.”

She has seen untreated dental problems lead to major health issues, such as addiction to pain relief medication and poor nutrition because patients can’t chew properly.

“I certainly think dental should be covered by Medicare and I’m not sure why it isn’t because teeth are just as important as every other medical thing that you need doing,” she said.

Tracy King said she’s lucky she could afford to jump on a plane for dental treatment, unlike many Australians who are stuck in a system that she describes as “very broken”.

“If you can afford it, you can have access to care. If you can’t afford it, be prepared that your teeth are going to rot in your mouth and fall out,” she said.

A composite image of two sets of teeth. The first, yellow and damaged. The second, white and clean.

Tracy King’s teeth before and after her dental treatment in Kuta. (Supplied: Tracy King)

Unknown number of Aussie dental tourists

While social media groups are full of people sharing advice on travelling to places like Bali and Thailand to see a dentist, there is no concrete data on exactly how many Australians are making the trip each year.

In late 2023, the government’s Smartraveller website said: “Over 15,000 Australians travel for medical tourism”.

But that figure was removed after a query from ABC News about how many go overseas for dental treatment.

A spokesperson from the Department of Health said “unfortunately” the department “does not hold this data”, and that neither did the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Home Affairs or the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Data is available from the Australian Taxation Office on the burgeoning number of Australians applying to raid their superannuation, on compassionate grounds, to pay for dental care.

In the 2021-22 financial year, more than 8,000 people had their applications approved to withdraw money from their super for dental treatment – totalling $171 million.

The risks of having work done overseas

President of the Australian Dental Association, Scott Davis, has concerns about dental tourism.

“A number of people have had treatment successfully, but as a specialist prosthodontist I see numerous patients, which are basically disasters and need complete re-treatment or even lose many teeth,” Dr Davis said.

He said the main issues include overservicing (where patients have unnecessary procedures), the use of poorer quality materials and little legal recourse if things go wrong.

“Buyer beware … probably your most important personal asset is your health and you’re really taking a gamble with your health if you go somewhere, seeing someone you don’t have a history with,” he said. 

A white man with silver hair. Close up.

President of the Australian Dental Association, Dr Scott Davis, says there are risks to having dental treatment overseas. (Supplied: ADA)

“We’d rather see people focus on preventative dental practices – not getting disease in the first place, than having invasive risky treatments done in foreign countries.”

The Port Macquarie-based dentist acknowledged health care in Australia is expensive.

“We’re a highly regulated developed country with high wages, high building costs, high energy costs and these are all borne by the consumer of dental treatment.”

He also flagged the high cost of medical materials here.

“The TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) has a very strict system which is in place for safety reasons, but it’s so strict we pay almost twice as much for our goods as the Americans do for instance,” he said.

Dental inquiry response pending

More than 85 per cent of dental care in Australia is done privately.

While some adults – generally concession card holders – qualify for free dental treatment in state and territory health systems, they can wait years for care. 

In November, a Senate committee into the provision of and access to dental services in Australia tabled its final report.

It made 35 recommendations including seed funding for an oral health promotion body similar to the Heart Foundation, consideration of a Seniors Dental Benefit Scheme, expansion of the Child Dental Benefits Schedule, and the appointment of a Chief Dental and Oral Health Officer.

Crucially, it recommended the Australian government “works with the states and territories to achieve universal access to dental and oral health care … under Medicare or a similar scheme … over time, in stages.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said a government response to the report is currently being prepared “with input from a number of Government agencies”.

Source: abc.net.au

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