Thousands of people in the United States undergo cosmetic dental procedures every year. Teeth whitening, veneers and fillings are all popular types of cosmetic dentistry, but these procedures are seldom cheap. People who want cosmetic treatment will often have to find ways to fund the cost of treatment privately, so it's unsurprising that the promise of cheap overseas treatment is increasingly popular. Find out how dental tourism works, and learn why this type of treatment could cost more money than it saves.

Paying for cosmetic dentistry

To benefit from the latest types of treatment, the best cosmetic dentists must train extensively and continue to invest in new technology. Inevitably, these investments push up the cost of treatment, and some procedures must also take place over several appointments. As such, to get the right outcome, you need to pay a reasonable sum of money.

Dental or health insurance seldom covers the cost of cosmetic dentistry. Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurers don't have to offer dental coverage to adults, although many insurance companies now offer optional dental benefits. Nonetheless, dental coverage generally only covers essential or routine dental treatment, and patients cannot normally claim for cosmetic treatments.

Health insurers generally offer coverage on a risk that is outside a patient's control. For example, you can't predict if a bus will hit you, or if you will contract a serious disease. Unfortunately, even though cosmetic dentistry can change your life, insurers believe that this type of treatment comes down to personal choice and is in your control. As such, in most cases, patients must pay the full cost.

How dental tourism works

Healthcare in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom is generally of a very high standard, but private treatment is more expensive than other countries. As such, even with the extra cost of travel, it's often cheaper for somebody to fly to another country for treatment than it is to stay at home and pay somebody locally.

Dental tourists travel globally to seek cheaper healthcare services. In some cases, people who know they need a certain type of treatment will book a trip specifically to see a foreign dentist. Otherwise, some people combine a visit to a foreign dentist with a family vacation. Indeed, some people have dental treatment on holiday simply because they spot a local dentist's prices and services on their travels.

How medical tourism can backfire

In the United States, medical providers (including dentists) must normally meet stricter requirements than in other countries. On top of this, some organizations promote high-quality practitioners, who must meet strict standards of accreditation. For example, in the United States, the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry offers an accreditation program that involves written examinations, clinical case reviews and an oral examination.

These requirements don't always exist in other countries. As such, when you opt for cosmetic treatment overseas, you face a certain amount of risk. A cosmetic dentist overseas can rarely offer the same guarantees of skill and quality as his or her American counterparts, and patients often find it harder to find skilled, reliable dentists.

What's more, if something goes wrong, dental tourism can often cost more money that it saves. If you fly to another country, have treatment and fly home again, you have few options to choose from if something goes wrong. Indeed, some dental tourists must pay the extra cost of travel overseas for follow-up work, even though the cosmetic dentist may already have shown that he or she cannot do the work properly.

Patients with certain underlying health conditions are particularly vulnerable. For example, patients with heart disease may need special drugs and antibiotics to recover from extensive cosmetic dental work. A dentist overseas may not have access to the right antibiotics, leaving the patient at risk of serious infection. If you choose to have the work at home, you have the added comfort of knowing that you can easily go and see your doctor.

On paper, dental tourism can seem like a good way to save money, but you may not realize the savings you want. A skilled, accredited cosmetic dentist in the United States may cost more money, but the guarantee of quality-assured work is generally worth the investment.