Q and A: Dental Tourism Agencies

By CometGlare Monday, September 29, 2014
What do you think of dental tourism agencies?

              I think dental tourism agencies have their place. They can be very helpful with transportation and lodging choices, but I'd be cautious about allowing them to pick my dentist for me.

              I used a hospitality agency on two of my trips for transportation, but the agency played no part in my finding or choosing my dentist.  By contrast, on my very first trip to CR, I was picked up by an associate of Costa Rica Dental Team, and afterwards took taxis from the hotel to the other clinics during this fact-finding trip.
              Many agencies claim to help American tourists find top dentists in CR.  I discount these claims as mere advertising hype, but some people apparently take these claims seriously.  I'm concerned that these agencies might overcharge or steer patients to less-than-ideal clinics.
              In this blog, I recommend first finding your dentist: The lodging and transportation arrangements should then fall naturally into place.  Most clinics can suggest lodging and transportation arrangements.   Some clinics (usually the general dentists), have staff on payroll that can help with transportation to and from the clinic.  You can find many useful hints on TripAdvisor and Topix. (TripAdvisor is easier to search.)
              Clients of some agencies could pay less by contacting the clinic(s) directly.   I always suggest doing so, without an intermediary.  This usually guarantees you the lowest price and allows you to research dentists at your leisure.  I think that adding an agency merely adds another layer of complexity to the process of choosing a CR dentist from afar.
              Some agencies deal with good dentists, so the only thing a patient has to worry about is overpaying.  In the grand scheme of things, overpaying is not really a big problem.  Far worse than overpaying is the possibility of being steered to dentists based on what's best for the agency and its associated dental clinics rather than what's best for the patient.  I think there can be a built-in conflict of interest here since many agencies are paid commissions by the dental clinics themselves.  The temptation for agencies and clinics to put their own needs before those of their clients and patients concerns me. 
               Some patients have reported that they paid no more for their dental work by using an agency than they would have paid by dealing directly with the clinic.  Maybe so.  But someone has to be paying the agency for their services, and so the dentist must be paying the agency a percentage of the client's charges.  Does not the agency have a financial incentive to steer clients to such dentists?                  I think it's the responsibility of you, the client, to learn how the agency selects its dentists.  I don't keep tabs on agencies in this blog.
              Some dentists in CR don't deal with agencies.  In my visit with the Cavallini clinic in November 2010, I was chatting with Dr. Marco ("the son") by the front desk when an agency called asking for him.  Dr. Marco told him to get lost, in a firm but polite way, and then turned to me and said he doesn't deal with such agencies.  Apparently, this was not the first such call he ever handled.
              Wouldn't you prefer that all the money you fork over for dental work go to the dentist himself, rather than being siphoned off by a third party?  Just saying.
              If you're a dental tourism agency and you think I have unjustly maligned your industry, feel free to post a comment.
              Bottom line:  If you are considering dental clinics recommended by a third-party, you should still research the clinic and talk with former patients of the clinics as discussed above.




1 comment to ''Q and A: Dental Tourism Agencies"

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  1. Hi Dave,

    I am currently a dental hygienist with the goal of launching a dental tourism agency, and I just wanted to express appreciation for your perspective on using an agency to find a foreign dentist. In my research, I've found that most existing agencies say they don't charge the patient, but my logic is the same as yours: they must be getting paid somehow, so if it's the dental office paying them, it must affect where they send their clients (which in turn makes me question their integrity and/or the quality of care the patient will receive).

    But as an experienced hygienist, I also have a concern about patients choosing a dentist based solely on other patient reviews because, unfortunately, patients cannot always judge the quality of dental work being performed. This goes for both U.S. dentists and foreign dentists (as you've mentioned on this blog, there are good and bad dentists everywhere). Of course a patient can look around the dental office and see if it's clean or not, and a patient knows whether or not the dentist made them feel comfortable, but there are many other factors that determine the quality of the dental work itself. I've seen excellent dental work and terrible dental work by both U.S. dentists and foreign dentists alike. These dentists can be very friendly, with high-end equipment and a clean facility, and the dental work may even LOOK beautiful, but upon intraoral or radiographic examination, it is clear to a well-trained dental eye that the work itself is very poor. That's why it was great of you to post your x-rays on here. Radiographically, I can see that your crown margins are clean, with no overhangs or open margins--you did your research and it certainly seems to have paid off.

    But for people who don't have the patience to do the research you did, I want to be able to provide a service to make it easy for them to seek high quality dental care outside of U.S. borders. I intend to visit and screen dental offices in several (about 6-10) different countries to find one or two in each country that I can be confident will provide the highest quality dental care for my clients. I can then refer my clients to a dentist based on the type of vacation they wish to have and/or their time constraints.

    I'm at the stage in my business planning where I have to decide how I will make an income, and if I "follow the pack" to be competitive, I would have to work on commission, which I worry would create the exact doubt in my potential clients' minds as you expressed here. I want them to be able to trust me and my referrals and know that I am not basing my recommendations on how much that dentist will pay me for their business. I intend to essentially be a travel agency, specializing in dental tourism, so I would set up all travel arrangements and appointments for my clients, making it as stress-free for them as possible. So in my mind, I feel charging the client for my services would not be unreasonable, but I also don't want to scare off potential clients because of that fee.

    My question to you now is this: if you found a dental tourism agency that had done all the research you spent hours and hours doing, who could assure you that the treatment you will get at a foreign dental office would be top quality, would you be willing to pay the agency?

    I'm very happy to hear that you had such a pleasant experience with dental tourism, and I would really appreciate it if you would spend a few minutes talking to me about it, so if you're open to speaking with me, please email me at MLD94@aol.com. Once you get in touch with me via email, it would be great if we can exchange phone numbers so we can talk over the phone.

    Looking forward to hearing from you,
    Melissa Fultz, RDH

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