Dental treatment abroad: is it worth the hype?

What are “Turkey Teeth” and why are they on the rise?

As this year’s season of ‘Love Island’ has drawn to a close, we have been surrounded by model-like, sun-kissed physiques, blemish-free skin and sparkling pearly whites. It’s no secret that many reality TV shows are scrutinized for choosing individuals whose looks typically do not represent the ‘average’ adult body or facial features.

One trend that has rocketed (with particular influence by Love Island contestants) is ‘Turkey Teeth’ –  and no, we’re not talking about the gobbling Christmas dinner kind. Thanks to reality TV stars, social media influencers and famous YouTubers, in 2021 an estimated 100,00 people flocked to Turkey on the hunt for quick and cheap white, perfectly straight, impeccably-shaped teeth to give them confidence and happiness in their smile.

Considering dental treatment abroad? Let’s see the facts

So why the rush to travel abroad for dental treatment? Let’s compare:

Info

UK

Turkey

Cost

£5K- £20K

Up to £1,500

Length of time

Up to 6 weeks

Typically 5 days

Extras during treatment

None

Free accommodation and travel while in Turkey

Measures before treatment

Full dental examination, assessment of oral health and any remedial treatment first

Usually only assessed via photographs sent via email or direct message

 

When compared in this way, it’s easy to see why so many thousands of individuals have believed the travel and dental ‘savings’ to be a good idea. However, once you dig a little deeper, the reality of the damage caused by having dental veneers and crowns fitted in this way, often on healthy teeth, without the recipient being fully aware of what they are letting themselves in for, can be a much worse reality.

What are the problems of visiting a dentist abroad?

The dentists prepare each tooth by removing enamel and dentine, which can take many hours. Trimming teeth down in this way (before adding veneers or crowns) can carry the risk of damaging nerve endings as the nerves of the teeth are exposed, leading to extreme ongoing pain and infections that may require later root canal treatment. When treatments are being offered at such speed, some dentists are providing ill-fitted veneers or crowns, leading to gum problems, plaque build-up and sensitivity. Often these teeth are perfectly healthy teeth, which UK dentists would generally avoid treating in such an irreversible way without considering other options. It’s important to note that crowns and veneers can be the correct treatment in the right situation. Veneers are usually provided with minimal tooth preparation and crowns can be the perfect resolution for teeth that are weak and heavily restored. A UK dentist will talk you through the process and aftercare in detail before completing any veneer or crown treatment.

A case study: Jack Fincham’s Teeth

Jack Fincham, a 2018 Love Island contestant, was interviewed for the BBC Three documentary 'Turkey Teeth: Bargain Smiles or Big Mistake’ and talked about the pain and burning smell he experienced during the procedure. When asked by Nicky Campbell on his BBC Radio 5 show for her professional input on this individual’s experience, Portman’s Director of Dentistry, Catherine Tannahill, said “It’s really worrying hearing him talk about the smell of burning, because that clearly sounds like they’re working at such a speed without keeping the teeth cool and the teeth are overheating, which means that it’s much more likely that the pulp is going to be insulted and the nerve is going to die in there. The patients that we’re seeing are having real pain and sensitivity immediately afterwards and lasting for a long time- so intense that they can’t eat or drink properly, and they’re taking painkillers constantly. The consequence of that is that we need to do further treatment to help them out by carrying out root fillings - removing the nerve from the tooth before filling it - which then further increases the risk of eventual tooth loss.”

The issue with overseas dentistry

Reports in 2022 are finding that 86% of dentists surveyed in the UK reported that they have treated cases that developed problems following treatment abroad. Corrective treatment can cost well over £5,000, meaning that savings made by getting work done cheaply overseas are made redundant by the extra spending required to fix any damage done.

There are no doubt many reasons why people are opting for this cheap, fast option. If you struggle with missing, stained or misaligned teeth (to name a few frequently seen dental complaints), the impact on your self confidence can be huge. Feeling unable to truly smile or even eat out in public due to fear of judgement by others can greatly affect your life. However, there are a lot of safer and often simpler options that your UK dentist can provide you with.

The benefits of dentists in the UK

Depending on the problem presented, your dentist can provide a variety of choices that best suit you and your lifestyle for the long term. For example, if you have misaligned (wonky or crowded) teeth, but don’t want the traditional metal ‘train track’ style braces for personal reasons, there are options to try alternatives such as ceramic brackets (tooth-coloured braces), Invisalign (clear braces) or lingual (behind the teeth) braces. If you have severe staining, there are lots of hygiene treatments and teeth whitening options that can be completed within a dental practice, or with a prescribed kit from home. Some simple ‘composite bonding’ (tooth coloured resin material) added to your teeth can often achieve a great result for a smile makeover in a very simple, easy and instant way.

Although the price of ‘Turkey Teeth’ may be appealing, there is a reason that it is so cheap- and that reason is usually that the quality of materials used, the lack of time taken to prepare people for treatment and plan carefully, plus the short amount of time taken to complete the procedures are not enough to guarantee safe, healthy and long lasting dental health. At a time when the cost of living is rising, the price of UK dentistry procedures can be off putting, but Portman practices offer 0% finance options on dental work, making the cost manageable for your budget. It’s worth noting also that many UK dentists (including NHS practices) are refusing to treat patients who are presenting problems following poor dental work completed abroad, meaning that more money may need to be spent on travelling within the UK to find a dentist that will accept such cases. In case of confusion – speak to your dentist first!

If you are still tempted to travel abroad for dental work, we would recommend speaking to your UK dentist first. They can talk you through their professional opinion on any dental work that you might need, and provide advice for the kind of questions that you can ask the dental practice that you’re thinking of visiting overseas.

If you are interested in finding out more about ‘Turkey Teeth’ and individual’s experiences, check out the BBC documentary “Turkey Teeth: Bargain Smiles or Big Mistake?”, or listen to our director of dentistry, Catherine, talk about it in more detail on Nicky Campbell’s Radio 5 show (from 1:43:00). Alternatively, book an appointment with your dentist or hygienist to discuss advice and options in person.

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