Seeking Dental Treatment Abroad: Has our Malaysia Dental Tourism Promotion Effort Failed

How far would you be willing to travel to see a dentist? A few suburbs? Across the city? Maybe even interstate? Or would you fly to another country?

It may sound excessive but, as dental costs continue to rise, Malaysians and others are choosing to travel overseas for treatment. With reported savings of up to 75% in some countries ,like in neighbouring Thailand. It is, therefore, not surprising a growing number of people are packing their bags to seek cheap dentistry attracted by good promotional efforts undertaken by, for example, Thailand’s effective dental tourism publicity abroad.

I met a male makeup artist at MAC Mid Valley Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia a few days ago. He was flashing his beautiful white teeth. Unfortunately, the teeth were slightly slanted to the right as seen by to my trained eyes, otherwise they are not noticeable by an untrained eye. Immediately I knew they were veneers.

The makeup artist told me that he and his friends went to Thailand for their dental treatment and the most popular treatment there is using Dental Veneers. He said he would take his friends, usually his patrons go to Thailand for this treatment. Looking at his teeth, they are almost perfect and he is able to floss them. He did 20 veneers, 10 for his upper and 10 for his lower teeth , all within one hour! Professionally I think they are too “Hollywood”, too wide and too white. ( in dentistry it is between Vita Shade BO or B1 color, or bleached color). How much did it cost him? He told me around 50,000 Baht, roughly around RM5,000 for 20 teeth. He brought his calculator and told me it costs an average of RM250 per teeth.

I told him, the material used cannot be ceramic for the price to be that low. I asked him if he knew the material from which the veneers were made? He said it is composite, and not porcelain. Composite veneers are made of resin composite, this being the simplest form of veneer to apply to a tooth. The dentist merely bonded on his patient’s enamel and finished with a bond, all in one visit.

The are five different kinds of veneers. There are two materials, porcelain and composite and there are three different preparation techniques.


He knew of the disadvantages than advantages of this type of veneer. They may be cheaper but they are not as durable as other types of veneers which means that they will have to be replaced more often. Typically, a direct composite veneer lasts no more than 2 years. Plus they are more prone to staining or discoloration than other veneers. Their relative weakness means that they are more likely to break or fall off your tooth and they are not as natural looking as the other types of veneers. Nevertheless his prime consideration is only to have a pearly white smile. They really look great on him.

He asked me if I could match the price offered by the Thai dentists ? My answer is YES. After discussing with my dental team, we decided to match the price offered by the Thai dentists. There are few benefits of this composite veneer. It is a good choice for anyone on a strict budget. One does not have to go abroad for this kind of cosmetic treatment since it is available locally.

Most importantly if one travels far for a basically simple dental procedure and if something goes wrong, it is a long way to return to fix it. The makeup artist told me that he needed to fix the cantering effect of his upper set of his upper veneers. I told him, I could fix those for him. Otherwise, he was planning to go back to Thailand adjust the level of his teeth again.

For dentists in Malaysia, we should realize that the Thai dental tourism is aggressive over the last 10 years. We will need to become knowledgeable about developments in the dental industry. I recently saw an advertisement by a group of local doctors in collaboration with our Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Health. They are asking doctors to advertise in their glossy print advertising pages at a very expensive rate. This is an old business model and is being phasing out as new avenues throughout the world marketplace are appearing in all directions—and the demand for oral healthcare will be there if we do it right professionally .

Of course, the dental industry is not the first or the last business to experience this transformation. The more our patients become shoppers, the less they need and value of a close relationship with their dentists on a regular basis. This is an unhealthy development. But these shoppers should know that dentistry is a personalized service which requires bonding between the patient and his/her dentist founded on mutual trust, especially in complicated cases that need constant monitoring and review at least on a 6-monthly basis. Safe dentistry is still the way forward.