SINGAPORE: When copywriter Lisa had to get full dental implants about five years ago, the first dentist quoted her a price of about S$40,000 for a mini implant – a smaller, less complex procedure compared to normal implants – for her upper teeth alone.
“Another dentist I visited quoted me around that same price and before he could explain the whole procedure to me, he said: 'Very expensive ok?'" said the 41-year-old.
Following a friend’s recommendation, Lisa decided to make an appointment with a dentist in Bangkok instead.
The service she received in the Thai capital was "amazing", she said.
“They picked me up at the airport and drove me straight to their clinic,” she told CNA, adding she was impressed by the clinic's up-to-date facilities, as well as the dentist's professionalism.
“The dentist took an X-ray for me and sat me down for nearly an hour, explaining in detail what happened and what needs to take place.”
She paid just S$25,000 for both her upper and lower dental implants – a fraction of what the procedure would have cost her in Singapore.
READ: Nearly 9 in 10 Singaporeans concerned about cost of dental care, some may seek treatment overseas: Survey
Lisa is not the only one who looked elsewhere in the region for more affordable dental care.
A survey of more than 1,400 people here – commissioned by the Singapore Dental Association (SDA) in August – found almost 90 per cent of respondents saying they were concerned about the rising costs of dental care.
About 30 per cent of the respondents to the survey, whose results were released earlier this month, said they would consider going elsewhere in the region, such as Johor Bahru or Bangkok, for cheaper dental treatment.
When IT manager Andrew Ng required a root canal a few years back, a dentist in Singapore told him the treatment would require an appointment with a specialist, which would have cost between S$1,200 and S$1,500.
The 51-year-old Singaporean said he received the same treatment in Phnom Penh, where he works, at a fraction of the cost.
“In fact I did two root canals and two crownings at one go,” he said, noting the procedures cost him just US$358 (S$492) in total.
"CHEAP BUT QUALITY" DENTAL CARE
While it is not known how many people here go abroad for dental treatments, some dentists in Johor Bahru say they are now seeing more patients from Singapore.
Dr CH Tee, who has run a dental clinic in the Taman Sentosa neighbourhood of Johor Bahru for the past two decades, said he has seen an increase in the number of patients from Singapore in recent years.
He estimates that around 30 per cent of his patients now come from across the Causeway, which he attributes to word-of-mouth recommendation among his clientele.
READ: New national dental centre set up to cope with demand for dental services
On tech portal HardwareZone's online forum, a thread dating back to 2017 has more than 170 posts on where to go for dental treatment in Johor Bahru.
The thread remains active, with recommendations of particular clinics in the Malaysian city, as well as commenters sharing their experiences with individual dentists and how much clinics there charge for specific procedures.
“They mostly come for expensive treatments, like root canals, bridges or implants,” said Dr Tee.
Noting Singaporean patients come for “cheap, but quality” dental care, he said a root canal would cost between RM600 and RM1,000 (S$200-S$330) at his clinic.
In contrast, the same procedure could cost anywhere from S$300 to upwards of S$1,200 if performed in Singapore.
In its earlier statement, SDA said it shared public concern about rising dental treatment fees here.
When asked how it would address these concerns, SDA standing committee chairman Dr Tang Kok Weng said the association hopes to “engage all our key stakeholders, and seek solutions to address the feedback which has been provided”.
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Though she was very pleased with the service she received in Bangkok, Lisa notes she no longer goes overseas for dental procedures as she has found a “very professional” dentist locally.
“However, people should really, really do a proper check on the clinics they are visiting out of Singapore, because I have heard horror stories too,” she added.