Patients pack bags as dental tourism resumes
LEIPZIG, Germany: No international tourism means no dental tourism, but what does that mean for the patients and dentist who rely on it? When borders began to close around the world in March owing to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, tens of thousands of dental patients had their treatment abroad either cancelled or postponed. As borders begin to reopen, those travelling for medical treatments are being welcomed with open arms.
Dental tourism is a major contributor to medical tourism, and both are big business. In the US alone, around 1.4 million residents annually travel to countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica, Israel and Thailand to receive medical treatment, and dental treatments are estimated to account for around 70% of these trips. Speaking to Newsweek in April, Josef Woodman, CEO of medical tourism operator Patients Beyond Borders, said: “It’s safe to say that at least 100,000 patients cancelled their medical or dental trips in March, with some 500,000 cancellations on the horizon through [to the end of September] 2020.”
Dentists in Hungary welcome tourists from across Europe
In Europe, where travel restrictions between countries have eased, dental tourism to popular destinations such as Hungary and Croatia is starting to resume. Firstmed Services is a dental tourism operator that has offered treatment in Hungary to visitors from Austria, Germany, Italy and Switzerland and for over 20 years. The company’s founder and CEO, Eszter Jopp, confirmed to Dental Tribune International that treatments in Hungary had resumed.
“Dental treatments have been taking place at our partners’ offices in Hungary since the opening of the border on 7 June,” she said. “Dental patients from Germany can travel to Hungary for dental treatment again. Swiss patients have been allowed to enter Hungary without any restrictions since 19 June. All our patients now want to continue or end their dental treatment as soon as possible,” she added.
Jopp said that she had been in constant dialogue with the company’s patients and partner dentists since the start of the health crisis and that patients were able to begin their treatment when necessary at partner clinics in Germany. She said that the company’s partner dental clinics in Hungary have strict guidelines in place: “We have published extensive COVID-19 service information on our websites for our patients from the beginning of the pandemic. This way, our patients always knew what the current status was, and when their dental treatment could take place.”
“We were also in regular contact with our partner clinics in Hungary. Of course they had considerable financial losses, but at least they were able to treat their Hungarian patients,” Jopp continued. She explained that one of Firstmed’s partner clinics—Cosmodent in Budapest—made use of the closure period to relocate to larger offices so that it could increase capacity and more easily comply with physical distancing measures. Another—HD-Dental in Mosonmagyaróvár—used the time to make its clinic safer by installing air-sanitising equipment.
According to Jopp, the patient experience for dental tourists to Hungary remains largely the same. “Until this point, there has not been much of a difference for patients travelling to Hungary for treatment compared with the time before COVID-19. The interest is as great as before. Patients want to travel to Hungary for cheap dental treatment to save money. Only the journey is currently more arduous—there are currently fewer flights and hotels open.”
Thai regulations may be future of dental tourism
Medical tourists seeking plastic and cosmetic surgery procedures and fertility treatment will be some of the first tourists to be allowed to visit Thailand when it reopens its borders to tourists on 1 August. These patients must arrive by air and will be required to show proof of a SARS-CoV-2-negative result of a test taken within 72 hours of arriving in the kingdom. They will also be tested for the virus during and after the course of their treatment and will be required to make their own arrangements for a 14-day quarantine period.
Around 30,000 travellers have requested entry into Thailand for the purposes of medical tourism.
Dental tourists were not included on the list of first entrants, but those coming from countries which have been successful in handling the pandemic are expected to be allowed to visit the kingdom as general tourism resumes. Tourists from Japan, China and South Korea could be among the first groups that will be able to visit Thailand for tourism purposes, according to the Bangkok Post.