By Arno Maierbrugger/Gulf Times Correspondent/Bangkok
Being aware that medical tourism is a success story in Southeast Asia, Cambodia has embarked on a particular segment of this business: Dental care. And since a bunch of specialised clinics opened in Phnom Penh and other cities over the past two years, word of mouth has spread and attracted interest of a growing number of medical tourists from as far as Japan, Australia and the Middle East.
The sharp increase in the number of people flocking to Cambodia to get dental treatment has to do with highly competitive fees and a rise in the quality of professional dentists in the country. For example, Phnom Penh-based Malis Dental Clinic offers root canal treatment for just $200, while the same procedure carried out at a US private clinic — or in Europe, for that matter — would cost more than $1,000.
A crown can be had for $750 in Phnom Penh, against $3,000 in the US, and a one-tooth implant costs $2,150 as opposed to $6,000 in the US. Prices at other private dental clinics in Phnom Penh are comparable, such as Roomchang Dental & Aesthetic Hospital, which is one of the largest specialised dental clinics in the country, employing over 100 staff, or the long-established European Dental Clinic, the Sakal Dental Clinic, the Sok Chea Dental Clinic or the Pachem Dental Clinic, just to name a few of the more reputed institutions. Some of them also have branches in Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, both prime tourist destinations.
Many private Cambodian dental clinics now make about 90% of their revenue from foreign patients. According to the country’s Ministry of Health, there are about 20 clinics in Phnom Penh that operate in accordance with international standards such as an appropriate ISO certification and have many of their dentists trained abroad — mainly in Europe, Japan, Australia or New Zealand. Adding to that, there are foreign doctors that have opened their own dental clinics in Cambodia in an entrepreneurial mood.
“The price makes a big difference, but the quality is as good as elsewhere,” says Motomi Minemura, Japanese owner and dentist at Malis Dental Clinic. She even noticed that patients who would go to Bangkok for dental care before now prefer Phnom Penh because the quality is the same but the price is cheaper than in Thailand.
Many combine dental work with a short holiday in Cambodia as round-trip tickets to and from Phnom Penh have become quite affordable and connections got better. For example, Qatar Airways since 2013 offers daily flights from its hub in Doha to Phnom Penh via Bangkok and back via Ho Chi Minh City, and is planning direct flights for the future, the first Middle Eastern airline to do so.
With the growing business prospects in dental care, specialised medical tourism agencies have opened such as Dental Holidays Cambodia which organises dental treatment inclusive a prearranged treatment plan with price quotes and also assists with local accommodation, transport and even tour arrangements, if desired.
For Cambodia’s otherwise notoriously backward healthcare system, the dental sector is the first one that has managed to recover from decades of stagnation — keeping in mind that the Khmer Rouge regime until 1979 wiped out or expelled nearly all medical professionals in the country and left no teachers behind to educate a new generation of doctors. Today, with Cambodia being one of the economically fastest growing countries in Southeast Asia, its education system gradually improving and the average income of the locals increasing, experts expect the general healthcare sector to recover likewise in the coming years, which could transform the country into a serious player in global medical tourism.
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