It may not be for everybody - but more and more Irish people are becoming 'Medical Tourists'. It can bring major treatments within reach for those looking for value, but you absolutely have to do your research, be aware of the risks and follow the best advice.

With the cost of living crisis continuing to bite and the costs of many medical treatments in Ireland amongst the highest in the EU - it’s not surprising so many of us are going abroad.

Medical Tourism has really taken off since the end of the pandemic, with more and more Irish people travelling overseas for everything from tummy tucks and teeth veneers to nose jobs. Boyzone’s Keith Duffy fronted a recent RTE show about the trend for cosmetic dental treatments abroad, titled ‘Keith’s Teeth’

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But while the focus has been on the cosmetic - a growing number of savvy ‘medical tourists’ are travelling for more serious (and in some cases vital and life-changing) procedures that go far beyond hair transplants or losing the Love Handles.

Dental tourism has taken off since the end of the pandemic, with many thousands of Irish people travelling to centres including Turkey and the Czech Republic, or even further to India and Dubai.

However, the number one choice for Irish people is Budapest, with an estimated 12,000 Irish people visiting the Hungarian capital every year for dental procedures.

There are a number of very good reasons for this - Hungary has long had a global reputation for excellence in dental medicine, going back even to the Communist days, with dedicated dental schools and colleges that have stayed at the forefront of the latest techniques and technology. There are even large, Hungarian-owned and staffed dental practices now in Cork and Dublin.

Hungary is also in the EU, which brings it inside some of the toughest standards for training, treatments and materials - as well as protections for patients - in the world.

But the number one factor has to be the savings you can make. If you are going for major treatments such as bone grafts and implants (replacing individual teeth), the cost can be as much as 70% less than you would pay in Ireland. For major dental treatment, you can be talking about saving €5,000 or more.

In August, I became one of the thousands of Irish people who visit Budapest each year for dental treatment.

Like a lot of Irish men my age, I never really took care of my teeth. I’ve had a good few fillings in my youth, regularly went years between visits to the dentist and thought a 30-second brush before bed was all I needed to do.

An estimated 12,000 Irish people visit the Hungarian capital every year for dental procedures
An estimated 12,000 Irish people visit the Hungarian capital every year for dental procedures

By the start of this year, after another old filling finally gave way, I realised I needed some major treatment.

And that is where I got the shock of my life. A visit to my local dental surgery saw them say I needed an extraction, at least three implants, plus crowns with other treatments. The treatment plan was as thick as a phone book and the total bill was just over €11,000.

Two weeks later, another filling at the back of my mouth cracked - the tooth had to come out and I was looking at a fourth implant. With the average cost of an implant and crown at between €2,000 and €2,500 in Ireland, the bill would be pushed up into the region of €13,000.

Normally, I would have never thought of going abroad. But in this case, it had to be an option worth looking at.

And right away, I realised I had to be very, very careful and spend at least a week doing all the research I could. But I’m glad I did look abroad because I saved myself nearly €7,000, and effectively cut my costs by well more than half.

The first place to start was at a well-known website such as Treatment Abroad, which lists ratings, standards and awards achieved and details on issues like liability insurance and aftercare.

My strong advice would be also to check out prospective clinics on the website run by the Global Clinic Rating (GCR) agency, regarded as the gold standard.

Then there are some basic do’s and don’ts when it comes to travelling abroad for dental treatment and they include:

* Talk to your regular dentist first and find out what you need to get done and what it will cost in Ireland.

* Make sure the country you choose has a similar and strict regulatory body for dentists. There’s lots of information on this at

* Research the treatments, the clinics and the dentists.

Check that they have full liability insurance and that there are full and clear provisions for follow-up care should anything go wrong.

I quickly narrowed down my search to the Czech Republic and Hungary - both in the EU - both with excellent overall standards for dentistry.

Further hours on the internet brought me to Helvetic Clinics in Budapest, who have representatives in the UK and Ireland and are Swiss-owned, with Hungarian partners.

The business owners are dentists themselves and they have been rated the number one dental clinic in Hungary each year since 2014 by the Global Clinic Rating Agency (GCR). .

For extra peace of mind, I also made sure they had the ISO 9001 certification. This is a very important factor in your choice for any clinic - it is the world’s most widely recognised standard for Quality Management Systems meaning high standards for all goods and services.

The initial contact is made through their Irish office. I had some recent dental x-rays to send to them and they were able to give me an idea of what I would need, so I booked flights to Budapest with Ryanair.

The good clinics will arrange your accommodation and send a car to pick you up at the airport. Within one hour of landing in Budapest, I was in the lobby of the hotel - which is attached to the clinic right in the historic centre of Budapest, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.

The clinic desk was at the other end of the lobby from the check-in and all the staff spoke very good English. I met with my personal rep from the clinic who took me through the treatments, explained everything from the type of implants used to recovery times and costs, and then took me up to meet my dentist for my first consultation.

Clinic Coordinator Virág Kiss told me she and her staff deal with Irish patients on a weekly if not daily basis.

“We are seeing a lot of Irish people now and we have a colleague in Ireland who is very busy with enquiries,” said Virág.

“Ireland and Iceland are perhaps our fastest growing markets, patients tell us that dental treatment can be very expensive in their countries, they are interested in value, yes, but they, like all of our patients, ask many questions and they want to be sure about the quality of treatments.”

“And that is really important, patients should ask questions and find out as much as they can about the standards, the ratings from a recognised agency like Global Clinic Rating, look at customer reviews, and make sure there is clarity about follow-up care.”

It’s also worth looking at Google Reviews for clinics - for the bigger ones, there will be a huge number of reviews from people who actually went to them, and the best will have at least a Four Star rating (I was reassured during my search to see Helvetic Clinics have a rating of 4.9).

A large, modern clinic like Helvitic, with 16 full-time dentists, scores of support staff and its own in-house dental laboratory - which can tailor-make implants, crowns, bridges and more in a matter of hours - can offer a one-stop shop for dental procedures aboard, from airport pick-up and accommodation to drop off back to the terminal.

I spent three nights in Budapest, taking in the sights of the city in between three visits to the dental chair that went really well.

I have to return shortly for another three nights to finish the implant treatment (luckily, I did not need a bone graft and everything seems to be going very well with my four implants so far.)

If a friend asked me about dental procedures abroad, I’d tell them to go for it. But do as much research as you can, don’t just go with the cheapest online and if you really want peace of mind - stay inside the EU with a clinic that’s got a five-star rating.

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