Although you may have heard of medical tourism—travelling to another country to have a medical procedure or treatment – did you know that dental tourism follows a similar model and is also gaining momentum? The motivation for taking this route is typically some combination of cost savings as well as better and quicker access to services or technology not currently available at home. “Yes, I’ll have a dental crown with that”.  ‘All inclusive’ is taking on new meaning in the travel industry.  But what does it mean for your benefit plan?

Is it health care or is it travel? The answer is both…

Having recognized that opportunity was knocking, a new breed of entrepreneurs has cropped up offering health care procedures and treatments in desirable international locations.  Their sales pitch: see the world and solve your health issues —health-tourism promises better costs and better access to services.

Today, thousands of companies referring to themselves as ‘medical tourism agents’ or ‘medical tourism facilitators’ are available to help arrange international vacation plans that include a medical or dental procedure as part of the itinerary – also called a ‘medical retreat.’

Some medical tourism agencies also offer ‘destination program managers’ whose responsibility it is to greet the medical tourists upon arrival at their international destination, and act as a local point-of-contact who can ensure that all expectations are met – both travel and medical.  The medical tourism agent’s job is only done once the medical tourists have successfully received treatment and are headed home, safe and sound, with any follow-up care carried out in their home country.

Too good to be true?

Here’s a sample of what you’ll find on medical tourism websites…“Imagine this: you could fly to Thailand, lie on the beach for a week, get your teeth whitened and have a new porcelain crown made and placed – all for less than the price of a single crown back home.”

Myth: medical and dental tourism is for people without coverage…

Although discussions around medical and dental tourism often focus on cost and access as the key motivators, there seems be more to this trend than saving time and money. In just the last couple of years, one insurer alone, has seen a doubling of dental claims for work done outside Canada – mainly bridges, crowns, and dentures. So why is it that plan members who have substantial coverage with their plan (and in most cases, quick access to dental care) choosing to go outside of Canada for dental treatment? Could good old-fashioned salesmanship be responsible?

Here’s what you need to know… 

  • Plan members’ claims for dental benefits are eligible for coverage—regardless of where the work was done—as long as the appropriate supporting documentation is submitted by both the plan member and the provider.
  • Whether dental care is received inside or outside of Canada, the terms of the dental plan are the same. For example, major services such as crowns and bridges require pre-approval, including the submission of x-rays. 

The suggestion here is to exercise caution when going outside of Canada for dental treatments.  Standards for professional training, licensing and care can vary widely internationally, and most Canadian dentists have their fair share of cautionary tales about dental work done internationally – most often that it resulted in complications, or required correction at home.

Although neither the Canadian nor American dental associations have an official position on dental tourism, dental consultants recommend that plan members be made aware that although it is possible to get high quality dental care outside of Canada; they should be aware that there are limited international standards ensuring quality and safety. When dental work is completed in Canada, the public is protected by a provincial licensing body (for example, the Provincial Dental Board of Nova Scotia and the College of Dental Surgeons of British Columbia). Consumers are also protected by provincial legislation, for example the Regulated Health Professions Act (1991) in Ontario. They can also rest assured that any materials used in Canadian dental offices – such as fillings and implants – have been approved by Health Canada and are safe to be used.

With these considerations in mind, it appears that where dental tourism is concerned, the guiding principle should be ‘make an informed decision.’ The following chart is compelling, but buyers need to be aware.  So, although the savings on the surface may be compelling (see chart below), remember that the old adage “If it’s too good to be true….”


Average out-of-country costs (CDN$)

Average provincial dental Association fee







  [i] Reprinted from The Inside Story (November 2011).  A Green Shield Canada publication.

For over 20 years, Chris Pryce of Human Capital Benefits has been advising employers on all aspects of managing employee benefits programs and related products. If you have any questions, you can contact Chris at 416.924.8280 or by email at