Recently I found myself with a dental emergency while in Bali. The day before I was due to fly out my ten year old crown cracked and I knew there was no chance of getting it fixed before I took off. I had already had root canal on the tooth so I wasn’t in any pain and it was a non-visible molar so I did what any self-respecting holiday junkie would do and I got on that plane anyway. I’m no stranger to destination dentistry having previously had veneers in Thailand, so I had no qualms about getting the troublesome tooth sorted while I was away rather than cancelling my trip. I was however, somewhat surprised at the reaction from friends who were horrified that I would even contemplate visiting the dentist in a developing country. Destination dentistry is a growing trend, so much so that I have included it on my epic list of 110+ things to do in Bali. But why are more and more people choosing to combine a holiday with a spell in the dentist chair? If you are curious read on as I share my personal experience visiting a dentist in Bali at the BIMC clinic …
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What Is Destination Dentistry?
Destination dentistry refers to the practice of travelling to another country to have dental work done. More often than not, trips are to developing countries where dentistry costs a fraction of what is does at home. Combine these steep discounts with a holiday in an exotic location and you can begin to see the appeal. I’ve seen enough TV horror stories about cosmetic surgery gone bad abroad to know that people have been heading overseas for a cheap nip and tuck for some time, but I didn’t realise it extended to dentistry until my first trip to Thailand about four years ago. The streets are littered with dental clinics advertising discount tooth whitening and there are no shortage of tourists lining up for their services. Intrigued, I visited a number of clinics during that first trip and found that many patients were not just availing of the whitening, but were having some pretty serious work done; think root canals, fillings, bridges, implants, veneers and total mouth reconstructions. My interest was well and truly piqued, but I wanted to do some more research before jumping in at the deep end.
Why Choose A Dentist In Bali
In Australia, dental care is not covered by public health (Medicare). Even for those lucky enough to have private health, the ‘gap’ can be frightening. In 2013 Australians spent approximately $8,706m on dentistry. Worryingly, 58% of that was directly charged to individuals as out of pocket expenses. A further study revealed that 11% of Australians avoid the dentist due to the cost. I hate visiting the dentist. The fear is irrational I know, but it is real. My usual MO involves putting off making an appointment for as long as humanly possible. I don’t recommend this approach and you should definitely go and get any issues checked at the first sign of trouble to avoid complications. I won’t, but YOU should! Given my dislike of the dentist chair, it may seem strange that I would even consider voluntary destination dentistry, but that is exactly what I did on my second trip to Thailand when I booked myself in for 8 veneers. I was there for a week and spent approximately 10 hours in the chair all told over multiple visits. The cost was around $3,000 all up, but it would have cost a whopping $16,000 in Sydney at the time. When you take into account I paid $2,000 for airfares and accommodation for The Hubs and I, I was still streets ahead. I am thrilled with the results and three(ish) years later they are still going strong. I know that I would never have done it at home because I simply could not justify the cost. So buoyed by my previous experience, I spent my last night in Sydney trying to find a reputable dentist in Bali to sort out my predicament.
Destination Dentistry Risks
In my 9 – 5 gig as a Risk Manager I am no stranger to identifying, assessing and mitigating risk. So with something as important as my health, I wasn’t taking any chances. Having any medical procedure done comes with risk, particularly where anesthetic is involved. It is even riskier in developing countries where the standards are not always up to scratch. How could I be sure the dentist in Bali was qualified? Is their training equal to ours? Would the surgery be clean? Are the hygiene standard rigorous? Would I be able to converse on a complicated subject with someone whose first language is not English? What happens if something goes horribly wrong? Would my travel insurance cover it? After carefully considering the risks, I booked an appointment for a consultation and took comfort from the fact that I was under no obligation to proceed.
My Experience With BIMC Nusa Dua Bali
My crown has been somewhere troublesome for the last five years. It has come loose twice in that time and had to be re-fitted. Each time my Australian dentist has tried to convince me to give up and go for an implant as it would continue to give me grief. The implant would be $10,000 and take a year. Quite frankly, the thought of having screws embedded in my jaw was almost terrifying as the cost, so both times I passed on the implant and paid $200 to have my crown glued back in, all the while critically aware that it may be the last time I get away with it. The third and final time the crown dislodged the day before my trip I realised that there was no saving it as it had not only come loose, but had cracked almost completely in half.
When you google ‘dentist in Bali’, Bali911 and BIMC dominate. The prices are very similar and despite being further away (we stayed at the Magani in Legian) I opted for BIMC Nusa Dua. I based my decision on the fact that BIMC dental clinic is attached to Indonesia’s premier hospital which has a reputation with Aussies as THE place to go if you are injured in Bali. To add further comfort, BIMC was the first hospital in Indonesia to gain accreditation from the Australian Council on Healthcare Standards International (ACHSI), an accreditation it retains today. Unlike Australian dentists, BIMC were upfront about the cost at the time I booked the initial consultation. I was quoted IDR5,000,000, which is about AUD$500 and a quarter of the cost I would pay at home. As I only had 5 days on the ground, I had no time to lose and visited BIMC the morning after I landed. The hospital was large, clean and modern and the dental clinic was an exact replica of any I have ever visited in Australia. It even smelled the same! On arrival I had to complete the usual medical history and sign my life away. Despite my innate fear of dentists, I wasn’t overly concerned about complications as I was not undergoing an invasive procedure. I simply needed a new crown made and fitted.
My first appointment was speedy and painless. My dentist started with a quick check of my teeth and an X-Ray to ensure all there were no roots remaining in the tooth. As there was very little of the original tooth left I was warned the crown may fail to adhere. Like every other Australian dentist my dentist in Bali suggested an implant which I politely declined. Once we were both satisfied with the way forward, my dentist examined the damaged crown which I had helpfully brought along, took impressions of my top jaw and together we decided on the best colour match to my existing teeth. I was asked if I wanted a temporary crown but I didn’t see the need. I was on my way after 40 minutes with a follow-up appointment booked for fitting 4 days later.
My second appointment was equally efficient. Unlike Aussie dentists, my dentist in Bali ushered me in exactly on time thus avoiding my usual anxious wait in a sterile waiting room. The dentist checked the fit of the new crown and once satisfied he cleaned the area so that the glue would adhere. The crown was then glued in and set with ultra violet light. The dentist unfortunately used too much adhesive and removing the excess was more of an effort than it should have been. It felt like they were filing, gouging and scraping for ages. It wasn’t painful but it was rather uncomfortable having to sit with your mouth stretched open while someone shoves their hands in. I did have concerns at one point that if they kept removing all the traces of glue there would be nothing left holding it in. Once my dentist was comfortable every last trace of errant adhesive was removed he tested and adjusted my bite. After about 40 minutes I was on my way with instructions not to eat anything hard or sticky for 24 hours while the glue set properly.
Remember all the ‘excess’ glue being removed? Well it turns out I was right because after about a month an unfortunate incident with a minty dislodged my new crown. This involved another trip to my Australian dentist who charged me about $235 (after my health fund kicked in) to glue it back in again. True to his profession, he tried to talk me into an implant but once again I declined. It’s been about six months now and I have had no further issues. Despite that last unplanned expense I am still well in front of what it would have cost me at home and I am more than pleased with the results. No doubt at some point in the future the crown will completely fail me and I will have to get that implant that keeps being recommended, but for now I will continue to put it off for as long as I can. With two satisfactory experiences under my belt, I am a self-confessed convert to destination dentistry and haven’t stopped smiling since. While I am more than satisfied with my results, services can vary greatly between clinics and I urge all those considering any procedure to do their own research, consider the risks and only proceed if you are 100% comfortable. Even in developing countries, you get what you pay for. In both Thailand and Bali I have no doubt that I could have paid considerably less at a lower quality clinic. When I told my taxi driver in Bali where I was going the first words he muttered were ‘too expensive’. He offered to take me to a ‘local’ dentist in Bali who would charge about a fifth of the cost of BIMC. That was a risk I was not willing to take. Cheap is good, but safe is better! If you are a first time visitor you should check out my Bali Basics post before you go.
Have you ever had dental work done overseas? Would you consider visiting a dentist in Bali? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.
Until Next Time …
Disclaimer: This post is NOT SPONSORED. I paid for all my dental work in both Thailand and Bali in full. This is not a testimonial for BIMC and is simply my account of my own personal experience with the clinic. I urge anyone considering destination dentistry to do their own research and consider all the risks before proceeding. If it does not feel right, err on the side of caution and move on. As always, all opinions are my own.
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