'Dental tourism' is booming in Ecuador as foreigners discover that they can pay for a vacation from savings at the dentist's office

July 13, 2009 03:10 by Admin

The Galapagos Islands, colonial cities, the Amazon jungle, and beach resorts are not the only reason that foreigners visit Ecuador. Tourism officials say the fastest growing attraction may be the country’s dental care.

Although it is hard to nail down accurate statistics, tour operators and dental association officials say they are seeing rapid growth in the number of tourists coming to the country to get their teeth fixed. Some claim that as many as 40% of visitors visit a dentist while they are in the country. 

While Europe and United States endure a crippling recession, the prices of dental procedures have not dropped and are generally much higher than comparable prices in Ecuador. Guayaquil dentist Cristian Lopez, says that prices in Ecuador average 25% those in the U.S. “In general, the more serious the procedure, the cheaper the cost when you compare to the U.S.," he says. “It is not uncommon to see prices at 10% the U.S. level.”

Lopez says that Guayaquil, Quito and Cuenca are attracting the most “dental tourists” adding that dentists need to be prepared for the growth. “The service offered here is very good – equal to the service a patient would receive in the U.S. or Europe. Why not take advantage of this when you plan a vacation? In many cases, people are finding that what they save at the dentist pays for their vacations.”

Cuenca resident and author of the Ecuador Owner’s Manual David Morrill, says he receives dozens of referral requests a year to dentists, mostly in Cuenca and Quito. “People are beginning to hear that they can get their teeth fixed for a fraction of what they pay back home,” he says. “The attraction is similar to that for medical services, which is also bringing more folks down.”

Morrill, a correspondent for Financial Times of London and International Living, says those seeking treatment need to conduct some due diligence to make sure they are choosing the right dentist. “Like anything else, you need to make sure you’re going to a competent professional,” he says. “The most important thing is to get recommendations from the local expat community in the city where you will get treatment. They know the good denstists and docs and, just as important, they can tell you who do avoid.”

Like Lopez, Morrill says Guayaquil, Cuenca and Quito have the best services. “The best numbers that I’ve seen show that prices in Cuenca run 10% to 20% less than those in Guayaquil and Quito.”

To gear up for the influx of foreigners, Ecuador’s dentists are becoming more sophisticated in marketing and in providing pre-visit services. Cristina Baez, director of brand Global Dental Clinics in Guayaquil, says that her organization consults with patients before they arrive. “In some cases, we receive x-rays in advance so we understand the patient’s condition before he arrives.”

Baez and other dental professionals are beginning to work with tour agencies to actively promote dental tourism. “In the case where procedures take several days, like those involving implants and bridges, we try to direct patients to local tourist attractions to make their visit more pleasant.” Some tour agencies, she says, are starting to design special packages for dental tourists.

Carlos Monteros, representative of the Ibero-American Dental Clinic Corporation, say that in addition to economic motivation, it is important that Ecuador’s dental profession emphasizes the quality of its professionals. “Many of our dentists are trained in the best schools in the world, in Argentina, Europe, Chile the U.S. The dental programs in Quito and Cuenca are also becoming very good too, and are producing excellent dentists.”

Monteros says he knows of many Ecuadorian dentists with high numbers of foreign clients. “In some cases, the percentage of foreign patients is as high as 40%,” says, adding, “and this number is growing.”

Monteros says that the majority of foreign patients are Ecuadorian nationals returning home to save money on their dental care. “But we are seeing a growing number of non-Ecuadorians coming down for services. In the future, this will be the area of greatest growth.”

Everyone agrees that it is the quality of the care that will attract most foreign clients. Former Ecuadorian Marco Gonzalez, now president of the New York College of Dentistry, argues that patients feel comfortable with the treatment in Ecuador because they are comfortable with the training of the professionals. "They know they are getting good quality of care and this is very important.”

Gonzalez says there is an added benefit in Ecuadorian dental care: the personal touch. “Dentists in Ecuador have more time to spend with their patients. They rely much less on assistants than dentists in the U.S. In Ecuador, there is warmth that comes with personalized attention that is very much appreciated.”