My initial reaction was, “It can’t be true!” I’ve enough grey hair to know that if something sounds too good to be true, it’s normally an easy way to lose money. But this was one of my editors talking. And I’ve also got enough gray hair to know you don’t tell your editor he’s full of baloney. That’s a speedy way to get fired. So I politely listened. Particularly, since preserving healthy teeth has always been a good way to preserve your health.
Karsten Mertens is publisher of the German newspaper, Neue Welt, Canada’s major German newspaper. Several months ago he decided it was time for a dental checkup even though he had no symptoms of dental trouble. His dentist took X-rays, poked around with the usual instruments, and told him to return the following day.
The next meeting was not a great way to start the day. Mertens was told that to treat his gum disease, replace bridgework, plus add a few new crowns and fillings, the cost would be $38,000. Shocked, my editor swore this was highway robbery. He also thought that for this money he’d rather buy a new car or take a cruise around the world.
However, shaken by the news, Mertens shifted into high gear. He consulted friends who just yawned and said they’d had the same experience. For one the dental bill had been sixty thousand! So he called his dentist brother-in-law in Germany who confirmed the Canadian prices and added that a large part of the bill was due to work done by dental laboratories.
My enterprising editor then went surfing on the Internet and found another surprise. He Googled his way to a list of what were called “Dental Vacations”. How you can have your teeth fixed in Costa Rica, Mexico and other locations for a fraction of the price and also take a vacation at the same time.
The holiday part appealed to him, as it would ease his angst of dentists. But he also wanted good dental care. One location, in Hungary, rang a bell. He had read that the wily Swiss, along with Germans, Austrians, and Americans were flocking to this country for dental treatment.
But the number of clinics available overwhelmed him. So Mertens prepared a brief, together with a set of X-rays, and sent them to 10 clinics for a cost estimate. The $38,000 Canadian shrank to between $5,800 and $8,200. He finally decided on a German dentist in Hungary who had both an MD and a dental degree.
So what happened? Mertens flew to Vienna, was picked up at the airport, and driven to the clinic in Mosonmagyarovar, Hungary, just 35 minutes away. He told me his experience was “absolutely satisfying.” Since the dentist had his own laboratory, crowns and bridges were done overnight. He saved a whopping 72 per cent of the Canadian fee and spent some of this saving on a holiday in Hungary. I hope I get a gold star for reporting this cost-saving story. But it’s equally important to stress the value of good dental care. As Cervantes counseled Don Quixote in 1605, “Every tooth in a man’s head is more valuable to him than a diamond”. Today there’s truth in this remark as lack of dental care is often indicative of poor health.
It’s tragic that by age 60 half of the people in North America have lost all their teeth, usually due to infected gums (periodontal disease). This often results in a change in dietary habits and various health problems. Losing your teeth is one thing.
I hope this column will be useful for those who face a huge dental bill. And I’m pleased that for once something too good to be true is true.