Up to 40% of so-called medical tourism is centered on dental work, reports OKC dentist Dr. Damon R Johnson, DDS. The trend, which is supported by dozens of medical travel agents across the United States, may wind up costing more than money in the long run.

Q: What is medical tourism?

Damon R. Johnson, DDS, OKC dentist: Medical tourism is a broad term used to describe out-of-country travel associated with having an expensive medical procedure performed. Lured by lower cost, thousands of Americans over the last two decades have flown as far as Romania for medical procedures, including cosmetic surgery and organ transplant. More recently, “medical travel agents” have started offering dental vacations to developing countries such as Ecuador and in South East Asia.

Q: Why would a person travel abroad for medical care?

Damon R. Johnson, DDS, OKC dentist: Cost is often the primary driving factor in these decisions. Medical care in the United States is no doubt more expensive than in many other countries. However, US (and Canadian) doctors and pharmacists are held to much higher quality standards than in countries where healthcare is less regulated.

Q: What is your opinion on the level of care received overseas?

Damon R. Johnson, DDS, OKC dentist: There are certainly good dentists in every country. However, there are a number of factors that must be considered. If something goes wrong the patient will be responsible for either returning to their foreign provider or paying for follow-up care in the United States. Education levels also vary from country to country as do health and sanitation standards. Another major source for concern is the widespread distribution of counterfeit prescription drugs around the world. Each year, around 700,000 people die from using counterfeit drugs, most of which come from faux pharmaceutical companies in China and India.

Q: Do you have any suggestions on how people without dental insurance can pay for quality, US-based dental care for?

Damon R. Johnson, DDS, OKC dentist: Most dentists offer payment plans either through their office or from a trade-specific healthcare lender. Also, many cosmetic procedures can be staged over a long period, meaning that not all costs are incurred at once.