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Sat 11 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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EU orders funding boost for British tooth tourists

Tooth tourism has received an unexpected prop thanks to new European Union legislation that will allow dissatisfied British dental patients to receive treatment in another member state.

Tooth tourism has received an unexpected prop thanks to new European Union legislation that will allow dissatisfied British dental patients to receive treatment in another member state.

Patients will be entitled to reclaim all or part of the cost from the UK's National Health Service (NHS).

While only necessary dental work will be refunded under the ruling, such as endodontic or implantology treatment, the move could fuel a boom in demand for overseas dentistry.

NHS dental services have declined following the introduction of a new contract for government dentists two years ago.

A damning House of Commons health select committee report indicated in July that almost one million fewer people have received treatment since the changes to the dental system came into force.

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 entered into 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 they would receive in their health system."

Dental treatment in other EU countries is generally far cheaper than that in Britain, so patients successfully claiming under the planned EU legislation are likely to receive a refund for the full amount.

One Hungarian dental company has already started touting for business among British-based patients.

Last month, the Hungarian Dentist Travel Company toured the UK with an inflatable consultation room, in a bid to ramp up interest in its cheaper overseas treatment.

Manager Chris Hall said between 25 and 30 British patients choose to be treated in Hungary with them each year.

"People that are being quoted up to £10,000 (US$17,000) and £20,000 ($35,000) for treatment in this country are going across and having it in Hungary for 68% less than here."

The company plans to offset concerns about aftercare for patients by ensuring its portable dental theatre is available in the UK for two days each week.

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