As reality TV has become more of a fixture in our lives, there's been a sharp rise in people going under the knife to achieve a certain look.
Take 25-year-old Connor Durman from this season of Love Island. According to Edinburgh based New Town Dental Care, Google searches for 'Thailand teeth', 'veneers Thailand' and 'Thailand veneers price' saw a 100% increase after he revealed he’d flown all the way to Thailand to get his porcelain veneers.
Us Brits are often the butt of bad teeth jokes. However, with the influence of social media and the perfect celebrity gnashers we’re now constantly exposed to, millennials have begun to develop a desire to improve their smiles. This has seen the demand for cosmetic dentistry skyrocket. But while 59% of those surveyed by Barclays said they were willing to spend money in order to achieve the 'perfect smile', the average amount they would shell out was $1900 – which won’t get you very far here.
Cue the rise in dental tourism. Like Durman, young adults across the UK are being lured by cheap prices in countries like Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Bulgaria and sometimes as far as India or Thailand. But can travelling abroad for your dental work involve major risks?
Dentist Dr Christian Pintado believes so. "These days, high-end aesthetic dentistry has a minimal invasive approach. We try to restore enamel and dentine as much as possible, avoiding aggressive dental preparations like shaving down teeth. However, due to time constraints when going abroad for treatment, it is much more common to undergo irreversible invasive smile makeovers. Issues with the joints of the jaw, gum and nerve inflammation, long-term sensitivity, gum recession and chipping are commonplace."
Statistics from the British Dental Association (BDA) support Pintado’s worries. Twenty-nine percent of dentists surveyed have treated a patient for complications arising from dental work performed abroad. Of the dentists who saw such complications, 60% said problems arose because the initial treatment was of poor quality; 59% because of infection; 56% because of pain; and 33% because the initial treatment was clinically inappropriate. The BDA's scientific adviser, Professor Damien Walmsley urges those considering dental treatment overseas to "check a dentist’s qualifications and experience and whether or not they are insured if things go wrong, as regulation is not always as strict as it is in the UK."
For Dr Alistair McGill from New Town Dental, it's just not worth the risk. "It sounds too good to be true – discounted treatments, great teeth and a holiday in the sun to boot – and it often is."
In the UK, he says, we have stringent laws about the quality of dentistry we are allowed to offer. His clinic has seen patients return from abroad with "poorly fitted veneers, low-quality adhesive or the veneers being so poorly made they are coming loose, or in the worst-case scenarios, irreparable damage done to the teeth themselves in the process of fitting the veneers."
What happens if things go wrong? "Well, this can end up being even more expensive overall, as most UK dentists will charge double or triple to fix work they have not done," says dentist Dr Rhona Eskander.
"However, there are good and bad dentists in all countries," adds Eskander. "What we are seeing more of due to dental tourism is a very cookie-cutter look, where teeth are ultra white and unnatural-looking due to unnecessary crowns and veneers. My signature, the Chelsea Look, almost always starts with alignment with Invisalign to make sure the teeth are straight, allowing the restorative process to be less destructive. This is then followed by 'tweakments' that are so subtle you won’t even know that someone has had work done, their teeth just look naturally beautiful. But this takes time."
Click through to read four women's experiences of making over their smiles abroad.