In Search of Affordable Dentistry: Part IV

Bangkok-Smile-Dental-Clinic-Sukhumvit-21

Well, I’m back from Bangkok, having completed my first course of dental treatment abroad, and I have a lot of thoughts that I wanted to summarize here if you didn’t read the detailed daily journal of my trip.

How Did It Go?

In short, better than I could have imagined.  The travel itself was fascinating, the care was top-notch, I felt very little pain, and perhaps most important of all to me, I was never made to feel bad about myself or my dental issues.  It was such a relief to be treated compassionately, and to have my fears acknowledged and understood.

Every time I was in the clinic (which was nearly every day), it was packed with expats.  My observation was that they were mostly Australian, British, and New Zealanders, with a smattering of other Europeans and a smaller number of locals and people from other asian countries.  Every time I was treated, a minimum of four people were in the room, between the dentists, the assistants, and administrative staff helping to prepare treatment plans and bills.  Upon entering the clinic, my blood pressure and temperature were checked every single time.  Every time I had a more serious procedure, I received at least one followup phone call at my hotel to see how I was doing.  It’s this intense attention to detail that made me feel very good about my experience.

Likewise, all of the treatments were as pain-free as they could be.  If I felt any pain at all, at any time, all I had to do was raise my hand and the dentist would immediately further numb the area being treated.  Because I was a little skittish, the dentists all explained each step as they performed them, which was really reassuring to me.

Probably the single best experience I had was in discussing my treatment plan.  Obviously, I am eager to get my treatment done in as few trips as possible– I want a trouble-free mouth right away!  A less scrupulous clinic might attempt to cram more of the implant treatment into a single visit, but at Bangkok Smile, it was explained to me that any attempt to place an implant during extraction in a case like mine would lead to a very poor prognosis: the implants would not properly bond to my jaw, I would never heal properly, and in just a few years, I would likely have lost the implants and would have even more severe issues.  The clinic insisted that I take the appropriate number of trips to allow my jaw to heal, to integrate with my future implants, and to ensure the best possible prognosis.  This meant more trips for me, but it also meant that the clinic was willing to put my health ahead of collecting as much from me as possible up front. Based on some of the reviews I have read about bargain-basement dental clinics, not everyone is this ethical.

I still have two more trips to make over the next nine months, but now I have a pretty good idea of how to keep incidental costs to a minimum.  The hardest part is definitely the logistics of getting away from work when truly extensive work like mine is necessary.  Because I’m a consultant, I can do most or all of my work remotely, but it’s still a little tough to leave my fiancé and dogs behind for that long.  I can see certain treatments being difficult for those with little vacation time or very inflexible jobs.

How Does One Pick a Clinic?

One thing I noticed while I was there is that Bangkok has a lot of dental clinics.  There was at least one clinic on every block in the area surrounding my hotel.  Some seemed run down and a little scary, while others seemed more modern and upscale.  The prices advertised ranged from absolutely dirt cheap (even for Thailand) to about 50% of estimated US prices.

Given the huge variety in facilities, outcomes, price, and care, how can one pick the right dentist when seeking treatment abroad?  I’ve been giving it a lot of thought, and here are the things that I did that I feel gave me confidence, and minimized the risk of seeking treatment at one of the less reputable clinics.

  1. Read every online review you can find – I was looking for a clinic which had facilities and standards of treatment on par or surpassing those found in the west.  As a a result, I focused my search on clinics catering to expats.  This meant accepting that I would pay more than the bare minimum, but it also meant that there was a long history of reviews on sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, the clinic’s own Facebook pages, and various country specific forums (in this case, Thai Visa).  I devoured everything I could find on the clinics I was considering, good and bad.
  2. Request up-front pricing for all procedures – It seems that many, but not all, of the clinics targeting foreigners provide a price list for all procedures.  You should be able to get a rough quote on your anticipated treatment from home.  When you arrive at the clinic and are first evaluated, a treatment plan should be prepared for you which matches the advertised prices.
  3. Seek western-trained dentists – Let’s face it: though the developed world has some of the most expensive dentistry on the planet, it’s also the best place to get educated as a dentist.  Look into the credentials of the dentists you are considering.  Where were they educated?  In my case, I found that for the most part, the dentists at the clinic I went to had completed an advanced degree or diploma program in the US or the UK, usually at a well-known university like NYU or UCLA.
  4. Beware upselling – Watch out for pressure to accept services such as whitening, veneers, or other cosmetic work if that is not your reason for seeking treatment in the first place.  The dentist should have your health as their primary concern.  Be wary when aesthetic treatments are suggested without asking for them.  I did not experience any upselling or other inappropriate treatment advice.
  5. Talk to several people who have been treated there – Either by directly contacting someone who has reviewed the clinic, or by asking for references, you should try to speak to at least two people who have sought treatment at the clinic you are investigating.  It would be even better if you can speak to someone who received the same kinds of treatments you need.  Ask questions about how things went at the time of treatment, but also ask about their outcome over time.
  6. Correspond with the clinic about any concerns you have – If you still have fears or concerns, share them with the clinic.  If they care about your business and your well-being, they will take the time to answer questions, calm fears, and explain procedures until you are confident.  I repeatedly emailed with the clinic, and received long and detailed responses within a day or two each time.
About Bangkok Smile Dental Clinic

Though I would expect my readers to do their own research into which clinic is right for them, I wanted to write a little more about the clinic where I sought treatment, Bangkok Smile.  I picked them after doing all of the due diligence I describe above, and as you have read, I was very satisfied.

I sent some questions about the clinic, and these are the answers I got (with minor editing for grammar).

Are all doctors at BSDC English speakers?  

All of the dentists are bilingual and there are a few that also speak other languages, such as Japanese and Chinese.

I noticed that many of the doctors have diplomas from colleges and universities in the US and London, and that many of them studied at either Mahidol University or Chulalongkorn University. I was curious about how dentists are hired at the clinic.  Is it a normal hiring process where dentists respond to a job posting, or does the clinic have a partnership with these universities and encourage promising students to improve their English/seek training abroad?

It is common for top university students to go abroad to the USA, Australia, and Germany to pursue their specialty training there and return to Thailand. Our dentists come from word of mouth and referrals from our existing dentists who like to work in clinics with international standards, as their training is also based on international standards.

If you know, what countries do most of your patients come from, and approximately what percentages?

As a whole, 75-80% of our patients are International patients. Out of that number 80% are from Australia and New Zealand and (most of) the rest are from European countries and the Middle East.

Dentist groups in the US, Australia, and New Zealand often try to discourage people from traveling abroad to seek treatment.  Of course, they want us to spend our money with them!  They cite safety, standards, and patient protections as reasons we should seek treatment in our home countries.  Can you explain what steps BSDC takes to maintain safety for the patient, and what protections are available to the patient in Thailand? Is there a government organization which enforces standards?

Firstly, our doctors have international training standards and a dentist practicing in USA or Australia does not guarantee quality of treatment as there are many patients who come to us with failed dental work that we fix. Our company is progressive, as our dentists are constantly going abroad for continuing dental education.  We are the only dental group in Phuket that is JCI certified based on USA standards, and we have highly skilled American dentists as advisors to our management team and our dentists. Moreover, all of the dentists in Thailand must be given the licenses by the Dental Council of Thailand before they start working.

Can you give me a brief statement about the history of BSDC? Has it always primarily served expats, or did that happen over time?

  • 2003 – Established 1st Bangkok Smile Dental Clinic in Ploenchit across from UK Embassy by Dr. Sermsakul Wongtiraporn (Dr. Bob)
  • 2005 – Established 2nd location at Asoke Sukhumvit Soi 21
  • 2006 – Established a medical agency: “MedAsia Medical Agency Services” and recruited medical agents locally and abroad
  • 2007 – Established 3rd location in Patong Beach, Phuket
  • 2008 – Established 4th location in Silom
  • 2009 – Established 5th location in Patong Beach, Phuket
  • 2010 – Our in-house laboratory is certified ISO9001:2008
  • 2010 – Company referral sources grow and more patients ask for other medical services
  • 2011 – Management approved and identified real estate for construction of a medical complex at Sukhumvit Soi 5
  • 2012 – Our dental clinic (Ploenchit branch) is certified ISO9001:2008
  • 2012 – Established 6th location in Patong Beach, Phuket
  • 2014 – Our Sea Smile Dental Clinic is the first and the only Joint Commission International (JCI) accredited dental clinic in Phuket.
  • 2015 – Completed MedAsia Healthcare Complex
  • 2015 – Opened 7th Bangkok Smile Dental Clinic in Bangkok
  • 2016 – Opening the 8th Bangkok Smile Dental Clinic
What’s Next?

I am working with the clinic to arrange my trip back in March to have the crown put in on the tooth that required root canal treatment, and to have the first stage of implant surgery on the two teeth that required extraction.  I’ll update this series when I return for the next round of treatment.

My dental tourism adventure continues in the next post from this series.

7 thoughts on “In Search of Affordable Dentistry: Part IV

  1. Pingback: In Search of Affordable Dentistry: Part III

  2. Rob in Munich

    Oh man I can so relate, just finishing off a year of major dental work here in Germany. I looked abroad but decided when you add in the costs of travel it wasn’t really worth it. Of course the final costs came in quite a bit higher so maybe it was worth it.

    I’m thinking you’ll need at least three trips there but at least the pain is all front loaded so you can really enjoy the following trips.

    For comparison I’ll dig out my records and post the final costs.

    One

    1. The Vagabond Post author

      I sympathize, Rob! You’re absolutely right, the really cringeworthy stuff was all up front, so it should all get better from here. Seeing the German prices would be really interesting, thanks!

    1. The Vagabond Post author

      Thanks very much for your comment, Claudia! It has worked out very well so far, and I’m starting to feel more and more confident with what the end price will be (which should be somewhere around the ~50% of US cost range rather than the optimistic 30% I thought might be possible at first). The key definitely seems to be doing the up front research to find the right quality/cost balance. I’ll definitely check out your blog, and make sure to let me know if you end up writing about it! I find the whole thing fascinating, and this experience has made me a lot more likely to seek all sorts of treatments abroad when we slow travel in early retirement.

  3. Caryl

    My husband had some dental work done at Bangkok Smile back in 2013, and the whole experience was amazing! We didn’t realize we’d be spending so much time at the clinic, so I think we could’ve planned a little bit better, but outside of that, we had no problems whatsoever. At the time, we were American expats living in New Zealand, and when we found out that people go on “dental holiday” to Bangkok, we had to check it out. Our families were pretty freaked out that we would go to Asia for dental work, but now we recommend it to everyone! Glad to hear you had a pleasant experience, too. 🙂

    1. The Vagabond Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Caryl! I’m so glad to hear you had a good experience as well! I’ll be headed back in March and probably again in September to finish the course of treatment, but my fears have been totally dispelled. I think my family understood (or just didn’t mention concerns), but I definitely got a few confused and concerned looks from friends! I recommend them highly as well, if people can overcome their fear of the unknown, I think they’ll find that it can be a really excellent level of care.

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