In Turkey, concerns are growing over flaws in its booming dental tourism industry

Rida Azeem from the UK knew her dental trip to Turkey had gone wrong the second she took off her mask.

“I had big gaps under my gums and you could see all the bits of metal (from the implants). It was so badly done it was unbelievable,” said Azeem, an engineer from Manchester.

“Originally they were going to do five implants,” she said. But as the treatment was about to begin, the dentists told her they “would have to take all your teeth out.”

“They looked professional,” said the 42-year-old, who now has to wear tackles.

Lured by the promise of a perfect smile at an unbeatable price, 150,000 to 250,000 foreign patients flock to Turkey every year, according to the Turkish Dental Association (TDB), making it one of the world’s top tourist destinations. dentistry alongside Hungary, Thailand and Dubai. in the UAE.

“The best and cheapest in the world”

Tarik Ismen of the TDB insisted that Turkish dentists were just keeping up with demand.

“Some people want to look like Hollywood stars and have a bright, fluorescent smile,” he said.

He explains that a botched surgery rate of “3-5% is acceptable…and can happen anywhere”, adding that none of the 40,000 dentists in his association have been deregistered.

“Turkish dentists are the best and cheapest in the world,” said Türker Sandallı, who pioneered dental tourism in Turkey 20 years ago.

He boasted that “not a tooth has been extracted in 12 years” at his clinic in Istanbul, where 99% of the clientele is foreign.

“But – and I’m sad to tell you – 90% of Turkish clinics opt for cheap dentistry,” Sandallı said, accusing illegal operators of damaging the industry’s image.

The head of an Istanbul clinic, who did not want to be named, said some clinics in Turkey treat teeth that do not need treatment.

“They put veneers on teeth that only need whitening or brightening, sometimes they even put full crowns,” he said.

The British Dental Association has sounded the alarm over the phenomenon, warning of the “considerable risks … of cut-price treatments” abroad, warning of many cases of infections and “crowns and implants ill-fitting who have fallen”.

Patrick Solera, of the French dentists’ union, said he was horrified to see influencers traveling to Turkey “to have their teeth cut”.

“You don’t put a crown on a slightly yellow tooth, and cutting a healthy tooth to put a crown on is mutilating. In France, you are locked up for that.”

Limited legal options for foreign patients

For the victims, legal recourse is rare and costly once they return home.

“When a patient comes back from Turkey or elsewhere with a job already done, the dentists refuse to touch it because you become responsible,” Solera said.

Just to undo the damage, Rida Azeem and Alana Boone were cited for treatment costing €30,000, three to four times what they paid to do their job in Turkey.

Through persistent efforts, the British engineer managed to recover €3,000 from the Istanbul clinic – not enough even for the prostheses she had to have made in Pakistan to recover “90%” of her smile.

The Turkish dentist offered to treat her if she returned, “but I was too scared,” Azeem said.

“If you want treatment, find your practitioner yourself, talk to them directly and don’t leave without an online consultation,” said lawyer Burcu Holmgren of London Legal International.

She said she had helped more than a dozen patients who had problems with Turkish dental treatment to get redress.

“The process is very slow – it takes about two years,” Holmgren said, adding that she won “96%” of her business.

Istanbul Chamber of Dentists president Berna Aytaç said she still believes in medical tourism but is concerned about the number of students wanting to enter the profession.

In 2010, Turkey had 35 dental faculties, today there are 104.

“We are creating future unemployed dentists,” Aytaç said. “And if they find work, some unfortunately won’t be concerned with ethics.”