Dental tourism's low costs luring Americans

LOS ANGELES Experts say more and more people are heading to places like Mexico, Turkey, Brazil, Thailand and South Korea to get dental work done for much less. It's an industry phenomenon called dental tourism.

Sheilia Liner had broken and damaged teeth for years. Even with dental insurance, she was quoted about $14,000 to fix them, a price tag she couldn't afford.

"I just thought I'll never be able to have it done," Liner said.

Liner booked a trip through a dental tourism company, which found her a dentist in Costa Rica to do all the work.

She paid $3,600 to the dentist and she made a vacation out of it.

"I was just so excited to be able to smile again," said Liner, now smiling from ear to ear. "It had been a long time."

Statistics show more than 40 percent of Americans don't have dental insurance, and many who are covered complain about high out-of-pocket costs.

"Our fees here reflect a very robust system of safety," said Dr. Edmond Hewlett, a spokesman of the /*American Dental Association*/.

Hewlett said prices are higher in the U.S. because patients are paying for dentists who meet rigorous government mandated training, hygiene and sanitation standards.

He cautions that some dentists in other countries may not meet these standards and there's little regulation for dental tourism companies.

"Let me make it very clear: there are untold numbers of highly-qualified dentists out there all over the world. You want to make sure if you're going to another country, you have one of those," Hewlett said.

The head of the dental tourism company Liner used, Companion Global Healthcare, said it thoroughly checks out all its dentists.

"All our dental clinics have been fully vetted," said David Boucher, Companion's president. "Somebody from our company has visited all the dentists in our network."

The company said many of its dentists were trained in the U.S., but they can charge less because equipment, rent and labor costs are cheaper operating outside the country.

"If their patients were returning to the U.S. or to their home country saying negative things about their experience to their friends and family, it would significantly impact their business," Boucher said.

Still, the ADA urges people to carefully consider all options before going to a foreign country for care.

"In these difficult economic times when everybody's looking to save money, and 'What can I cut out?' my own personal opinion, your body shouldn't be the first place to look to start making cuts," Hewlett said.

Those looking for the service outside of the U.S. sure make sure a government agency in the other country regulates or licenses that dentist.

Three important things to ask for are: A list of the dentist's qualifications. A list of any patient complaints What the rules are for instrument sterilization.

Liner said her trip was amazing and being able to smile again changed her life.

"It was well worth it," Liner said. "I'd do it all over again."

Some U.S. Insurance companies do pay for dental work performed out of the country.

Experts say to also ask a dental tourism company to pay for dental work fixtures if something goes wrong.

Copyright © 2020 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.