Medical tourism—of which dental tourism is a part—is predicted to become a 100 billion dollar industry by 2012, according to Frost and Sullivan.
Consider these scenarios with an assumption that American medical tourists exclusively drive the phenomenon of global medical tourism.
Scenario 1 - Let’s assume the 100 billion dollars flow out from American pockets to low cost destinations.
Inference – Too bad for businesses back home.
The 100 billion dollars could be taxed to ramp up state funded schemes to make healthcare affordable. Restores overall national health, all the same.
Scenario 2 – Let’s assume the 100 billion dollars stay in American soil and do not flow out to low cost destinations.
Inference - Make that 200 billion since the cost of medical care in the US is at least twice as high as the low cost destinations. Good for domestic businesses. Private practitioners grow rich leaving the patients poorer by additional100 billion. Restores overall national health, all the same.
At this point, it’s unclear whether medical tourism is a friend or a foe. Let’s narrow our focus down on dental tourism. A lot of Americans are making dental trips to Cancun, Tijuana, Los Algodones, Puerto Vallarta and other cities of Mexico. Apparently, these are easy to travel to, particularly for the Hispanic American population concentrated near the border. Language and cultural affinity are other deciding factors.
Now, let’s look at the hard facts from a February 2012 report named “Dental Crisis in America – Need to Expand Access” by Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging:
1. About 17 million low-income children received no dental care in 2009.
2. One fourth of adults in the US ages 65 or older have lost all of their teeth.
3. Low income adults are almost twice as likely as high income adults to have gone without a dental check up in previous year.
4. Bad dental health impacts over-all health and increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and poor birth outcomes.
5. There were over 830,000 visits to emergency rooms across the country for preventable dental conditions in 2009 – a 16% increase since 2006.
Considering these facts, let’s look at how dental tourism could help in saving American taxpayers’ money.
A dental holiday, let’s say, to Cancun, doubles up as a vacation and family dental check-up. Imagine:
· Parents proactively managing kids’ oral health after an educational tête-à-tête with a Cancun dentist
· The one fourth of toothless folk above 65 improving quality of their lives and thereby prolonging it with affordable dental implants
· Low income adults getting their rightful dental check-ups, albeit on the other side of the border
· Good oral health negating the possibility of occurrence of diabetes, heart disease, and poor birth outcomes
· Preventable dental conditions being nipped in the bud and consequently saving the individual and the state a lot of money
A healthy nation state has its own set of problems. What would all the doctors do if people don’t get sick? That’s another thing.
It’s not hard to see why dentists in the US are teaming up with dentists across the border for strategic business tie-ups. Now, that’s win-win. Lately, they’re realizing dental tourism benefits all stakeholders and there isn’t logic in fighting them.
In joining them, however, there is.