20-hour flight saves Aussie $85k
Gold Coast man Neil McLean was often too embarrassed to smile after years of neglect and other priorities left him needing a "total mouth renovation".
The father-of-two needed extensive dental work - but trips to the dentist were often put on hold as his now-adult daughters were growing up.
"My stuff went to the back of the line - there was a mortgage and school expenses before Dad could get his teeth done," he explained.
But when Mr McLean, who celebrated his 60th birthday last year, finally started looking into it, he was stunned by the quote he was given, which was "approaching $100,000".
But Mr McLean, an avid traveller and media professional who also co-hosted the travel series Village to Villa, was aware that "dental tourism" was a growing phenomenon.
He knew an increasing number of Westerners were turning to developing countries to find cheap dental work, and eventually, he settled on the Dr Motiwala Dental Implant Hospital in Hyderabad in India.
In February 2018, he made the 20-odd hour flight for a series of procedures to transform his smile, undergoing eight root canals, nine implants, two extractions and 24 zirconia caps.
He compared the extent of the work to a car needing a "ground-up restoration" and "complete rebuild" caused by dental and cosmetic issues throughout his mouth.
In the end, the extensive dental work cost just $A12,199, with the treatment plus flights, accommodation and other costs setting Mr McLean back just $15,000 - a far cry from the near $100,000 bill he would have faced had the work been done on home soil.
Now he says he has a "beautiful set of chompers" and stressed he only settled on Dr Motiwala after doing extensive research that made him feel confident about his experience and qualifications.
He said Dr Motiwala and clinic staff were "very organised and professional", and the quote had been "staggeringly low" considering the amount of work needed, which was carried out during a number of visits for more than two weeks.
"I'm absolutely delighted with the result - it was the best decision I've made for a long time for my health," he said.
"I love looking in the mirror - not in a narcissistic way, but I'd been so embarrassed by my teeth for such a long time. Now I have a Tom Cruise killer smile."
Mr McLean said the only downside was he needed to stick to soft food for a few months after the procedures, but he had also given up smoking in order to protect his new smile.
"It was a fantastic experience - the dentist was very gentle and encouraging, kind and polite," he said.
Mr McLean said while he knew the cost of living and labour were far cheaper in developing countries like India, he couldn't understand why procedures there were around "a tenth of the price" compared with Australia.
"I find it difficult to understand the difference in price between Western countries like Australia and Asian countries, especially considering the standard of dentistry I've observed, which I think is as good if not better than here in Australia," he said.
"We have a fantastic healthcare system in general, and I'm not bagging the dental or health industries, however it is disproportionably more expensive."
Mr McLean is not alone. According to a survey by international money transfer company WorldFirst, at least 15,000 Australians travel overseas for cosmetic surgery every year, spending a total of $300 million abroad on medical costs.
Thailand is the most popular destination for cosmetic surgery tourists, followed by Malaysia - and the most common medical procedure Aussies are happy to travel overseas for is dental work, as most dental procedures in Australia are not covered by Medicare, and major dental work such as veneers costs, on average, $1558.
Meanwhile, new research from comparethemarket.com.au has revealed 61 per cent of Aussies are postponing basic dental treatment such as a routine check-ups, fillings and orthodontic procedures due to high costs - event though dentists recommend check-ups every six to 12 months.