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Why it's all smiles for tooth tourism

by Jessica Bown ,  Timesonline.co.uk | 2008-08-24

New law from Brussels may mean we can get our teeth fixed in Europe and claim on the NHS.

With a set of tooth implants overseas costing up to £40,000 less than in Britain, “tooth tourism” is booming – and soon the cost could fall more – thanks to new European Union legislation.

The EU plans to introduce rules that will allow dissatisfied British medical and dental patients to receive treatment in a member state of their choice – and reclaim all or part of the cost from the NHS.

Only necessary dental work will be covered under the legislation – the likes of implants and root canal treatment – so those going overseas for cosmetic dentistry will not benefit. However, the move could lead to a huge boom in demand for overseas dentistry, as availability and standards of NHS dental care fall.

A damning House of Commons health select committee report indicated in July that almost 1m fewer people have received treatment since the government shook up the system two years ago.

Negotiations over the proposals are expected to continue for the next 18 months to two years. Member states will then have another year to implement the new rules – meaning they are unlikely to become law before 2011.

Officials expect only one in 300 British patients to take advantage of the legislation, but recent figures from private medical insurer BCWA suggest more than half of NHS patients would travel overseas for healthcare if they could reclaim their bills.

EU health commissioner Androula Vass-iliou said: “Patients will be able to receive treatment in any member state, which will be reimbursed at home up to the level of the same or similar treatment in their health system.”

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