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Cuenca Dental Group establishes first dental tourism program in Ecuador to serve patients from around the world and in Cuenca too

By Susan Burke March

Dr. Alan Woods
Dr. Alan Woods

Has it been too long since you’ve visited your dentist? Do you even have a dentist? If you don’t, or if it’s been more than a year since your last checkup, don’t put it off any longer.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation that absence of regular preventative dental care can have permanent, devastating effects on overall health and well-being.

According to Dentistry iQ, tens of thousands of Americans turn 65 each day, and lose any employee-funded health benefits when they retire. It’s estimated that 75% of Americans over 65 don’t have dental benefits, and Medicare does not cover routine dental services.

Almost 108 million Americans lack dental insurance. Only 36% of all U.S. adults are expected to visit a dentist this year. A survey by the Canadian Health Measures Survey reported that 32% of Canadians have no form of dental insurance — 17% avoided visiting the dentist because of the cost. Ninety-six percent of adults surveyed had a history of cavities and 12% complained of ongoing mouth pain in the past year.

One in four adult Americans have untreated tooth decay. Cavities left untreated can lead to abscessed teeth — even facial infections. You’ll have difficulty chewing, and bad breath as food gets stuck in the cavity. Bacteria can spread throughout your body.

Dr. Francisco Heredia
Dr. Francisco Heredia

Inflammation from periodontitis — a severe form of gum disease — has been shown to play a role in significant diseases. Studies show that heart disease and stroke might be linked to the inflammation and infections that oral bacteria can cause; diabetes reduces the body’s resistance to infection and in people with diabetes, gum disease is more frequent and severe. Osteoporosis may be linked to periodontal bone loss and tooth loss — especially after diagnosis. Prosthetic join infection is linked to periodontitis (knee and hip replacements): researchers have discovered bacteria that normally reside on teeth in the synovial fluid of patients requiring joint replacement surgery. A study from the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine is just one of many that links oral bacteria to a host of health problems caused by bacteria that escape from the mouth and enter the blood stream. Studies even show that periodontitis is a risk factor for premature birth and low birth weight.

Dental care in North America and the European Union is prohibitively expensive for the average working family. According to an article in the Huffingtonpost.com, a typical US dental plan requires a 50% co-pay for complicated procedures and high-ticket items like crowns and bridges. Many plans have a “missing tooth clause,” meaning they won’t pay for replacing a tooth if it was missing when you enrolled in the plan. And most dental plans limit coverage to just $1,500 a year.

According to CostHelperHealth.com, crowns don’t last forever — only about 5-15 years, depending on the amount of wear and tear, the quality of oral hygiene practiced and personal habits such as chewing ice or clenching teeth. And don’t forget the additional costs — the initial exam (up to $100); dental x-rays or digital x-rays (up to $250). Root canal may be necessary if there’s decay or infection (up to $2000 for a molar). Besides dollar-costs, time costs are significant too. A crown typically requires two office visits just — one to prepare the tooth for the crown, and have a temporary crown made — and the second to remove the temp and cement the permanent in place.

The garden at Cuenca Dental Care.
The garden at Cuenca Dental Care.

Another reason that people avoid seeing the dentist is because of fear and anxiety, which is extremely common. It has been estimated that 9% to 15% of Americans avoid seeing the dentist because of fear or phobia — about 30 million to 40 million people. In a survey by the British Dental Health Foundation, 36% of those who didn’t see a dentist regularly said that fear was the main reason.

So, it’s no wonder that so many are living without regular dental care. But, here in Cuenca, it’s possible to benefit from the best in dental care, with options for pain medication, at a fraction of the price that you’d pay for identical care in the U.S., Canada and the European Union. Actually, you’ll enjoy even better care here in Ecuador.

I visited Dr. Alan Woods who recently joined with a team of dentists who are specialists in endodontics, periodontics and implant dentistry. They offer affordable, quality comprehensive dental care, and have recently launched Cuenca Dental Tourism to serve patients from around the world. I spoke with Dr. Woods, who has more than 35 years experience practicing in the U.S., at his office located in a lovely house on a quiet street near Hospital Mt. Sinai. Entering through a flowered garden, the waiting room is peaceful and serene, and I thought — gee, this isn’t like any other dental office I’ve seen. I sat down with Dr. Woods to chat.

S.B.M.: How did you conceive of the idea of Cuenca Dental Tourism?

A.W.: After starting my own practice here in Cuenca, I realized that so many visitors from out of the country were coming here specifically for dental work that they’d put off for too long. You’ve heard of “medical tourism” — that’s usually when a tour company will sell you a travel package and connect you to a doctor at your destination. But, that’s not reliable — the medical care is typically secondary to the tourism. We recognize that quality dental care is primary, so our Dental Tourism is different. We offer a unique value proposition — the highest quality affordable dentistry with top-notch doctors, using only the first-rate FDA-approved materials. And because your care is so affordable, you’re able to combine your dental visits with time to enjoy Cuenca and other areas of Ecuador if you choose.

The dental care area.
The dental care area.

Everything is taken care of by our team of English-speaking experts, from scheduling your initial visit with me, to planning your treatment, to making arrangements for hotel, or even a short-term rental if you choose to stay longer. We meet you at the airport and transport you to your lodging, and if you wish, we’ll work with you to plan travel in and around Ecuador.

S.B.M.: How does Cuenca Dental Tourism work? My best friend in Florida has been putting off some dental work because of costs, and she can only take a limited time off from work. I love this idea – it would be ideal if she could get her smile back, and visit me too!

A.W.: Our expertise allows us to strategize your friend’s visit to do the work quickly. First, we are experts in diagnosing and planning — we typically review  models, x-rays, and photographs before a patient even leaves home.  We work very closely with our laboratories here in Cuenca, who are aware of time constraints.  Planning is critical in these cases: prior to doing any work we consult with each patient via Skype, and review costs, time required, and whether a second trip would be necessary.

S.B.M.: What happens when she arrives?

A.W.: When she arrives she will meet with me. I will take a medical history, examine her teeth, order x-rays and consultations if needed, and begin to assess what is possible and the costs. Our staff and our specialists in endodontic and periodontic dental medicine and implant dentistry are all fluent in English. She can be assured that she will understand the plan of treatment and the expected results.

S.B.M.: How much can a patient expect to save here in Cuenca?

A.W.: Costs are a huge barrier to dental care — in the U.S. for example, six crowns would cost $9,000 or even more, but here we’d probably be able to complete the work for about $2,500. Depending on where you’re from, costs range from 25% to 40% of what you’d pay in the U.S., Canada, and the European Union.

S.B.M.: What if she needs more than just a crown? What about root canal?

A.W.: Our endodontic specialist, Dr. Francisco Heredia, limits his practice exclusively to root canals, and has been practicing his specialty since completing his residency in Argentina in 2006. His office is equipped with sound, video, a dental massage chair and a magnificent view of the city all designed to help his patients relax and to make treatment more comfortable.

S.B.M.: What about dental implants? I know that pain is a real obstacle for many — they put off treatment because they’re scared.

A.W.: Our oral surgery specialist, Dr. Juan Carlos Oreliana Tosi, has extensive training and experience in oral, maxillofacial, and implant surgery, and his practice is hospital-based at Hospital Santa Ines, which allows us to offer sedation by a qualified anesthesiologist, and even overnight stays at the hospital, should the patient and the doctor feel it’s necessary. We make it possible to have each patient’s dental experience be a painless one.

S.B.M.: How does one get started?

A.W.: We understand that traveling to another country for dental work can sound frightening, and that’s why we keep it very simple and precise. On our website, we explain the 10 steps new patients complete with our staff — we’ve taken the guesswork out of planning, and make it possible to get to Cuenca comfortably, so when you arrive, you’re ready to get the work done. First thing, you consult with me, and we go from there.

And hopefully you’ll enjoy some down time either before, in-between treatments, or after you’ve got your smile. Cuenca is a Unesco World Heritage site, with beautiful cathedrals, parks and rivers. We’re near the Cajas National Park, there are art galleries and museums — we enjoy a incredible symphony that performs for free more than 25 times a year. There’s a vibrant community of expats, great restaurants, hotels, and taxi drivers who speak excellent English.  You can even take a short course in Spanish if you wish.

S.B.M.: Thank you Dr. Woods! I think your slogan says it all.

Dental Tourism — Owned by Dentists.

The Cuenca Dental Group is the only dental tourism company in Ecuador that is owned by actual dentists. We know what we are talking about.

Cuenca Dental Group: Contact

Land Line: 07-288-5393

Cellular: 097-924-6002

Address: 5-07 Calle Nicanor Aguilar and Av. Solano