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Baltic Countries are the Newest Entrants to Europe's Dental Tourism Competition

Beyond steep discounts which offer remarkable dental treatment bargains, the long waiting times for treatment in their home countries remains another important factor stimulating patient interest. From the clinics' point of view, this influx of foreign patients couldn't come at a better time as a deep recession has made local patients quite reluctant to spend money on dental procedures. Recently dentists in Sweden lowered prices to compete with their Baltic neighbors.

Author: John Atkinson
Date: Nov 10, 2009 - 1:10:10 AM


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When Baltic States like Latvia were part of the Soviet Union, dental treatment of all kinds was clearly inferior to that offered in the West.   For example, the lack of powerful anesthetics made a trip to the dentist a nightmare of pain and stress.   Horror stories were common and no one in their right mind wanted to have a cavity filled or worse still, endure an extraction.

 

Nowadays all that's changed as 2 decades of development have brought these countries up to and sometimes above the level of their Western counterparts.   Indeed, every year thousands of patients from old industrialized EU countries are taking advantage of First World dental care at Third World prices.   Nowhere is this more apparent than in Latvia's capital, Riga, where dozens of clinics compete for patients arriving from Norway, Sweden, Ireland, and as far away as the US.

 

There's a good reason for all the travel.   Even when the costs of a plane ticket and hotel are calculated, treatment in Riga will be significantly cheaper than at home.   The difference is even greater when the patient requires multiple procedures or treatment for several teeth.   Beyond steep discounts which offer remarkable dental treatment bargains, the long waiting times for treatment in their home countries remains another important factor stimulating patient interest.

 

From the clinics' point of view, this influx of foreign patients couldn't come at a better time as a deep recession has made local patients quite reluctant to spend money on dental procedures.   In response, the level of attention and service is clearly on the upswing.   Clinics like Baltic Dental Services in Riga are offering new patients an array sharply discounted standard procedures like cleaning and whitening, while providing visiting patients extra concierge services like airport transit and hotel reservations assistance.

 

Dr. Olga Galkina, one of Baltic Dental's busiest dentists, describes the new attitude this way, "We want the patient to feel completely at ease with our clinic, as if they were visiting their local dentist - but we know we must do more because the patient is traveling so far."   Dr. Galkina, a statuesque blonde who could easily pass for a fashion model, is serious about making her patients feel at home; in her spare time she studies Norwegian, soon to add it to her French, Italian, Russian, and English.   In addition to language fluency, Dr Galkina opens her clinic on Sunday to accommodate the weekend visitor, an important advantage since many foreign patients cannot afford to miss many workdays.

 

With increased competition comes the need for increased visibility and ways to communicate the differences between various clinics.   Many dental clinics use in-flight advertising, however, most agree the best advertising will always be word of mouth referral.   It's a powerful message when one hears about a friend or business associate receiving excellent treatment for a low price.   This kind of "organic" growth must be earned and is what most Riga dentists insist is the reason for rapid growth in the number of loyal patients who return year after year.

 

While price is a key factor in driving demand, of course there are limits.   Recently dentists in Sweden lowered prices to compete with their Baltic neighbors.   And, costs for equipment and materials continue rise, further narrowing the price advantage.   Even so, the labor rates for professional services are much cheaper in countries like Latvia and labor is the major cost driver in all dental procedures.

 

The future looks bright for dental tourism in the Baltics.   Countries like Latvia have now joined the long list of developing countries like India, Thailand and Mexico, who have found a new way to profit from the globalization of medical and dental services.



View all articles by John Atkinson

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