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Dental Tourism: Bali

Username By Barrie | March 28th, 2007 | Comments 19 Comments »

Tourists hit the island of Bali to do several things – get a suntan, chill out and drink heaps of Bintang, shop ‘till they drop, and, maybe squeeze in a tour or two to soak up a bit of the Balinese culture. However there is a new type of tourism albeit a strange one!.

Can you imagine going on holidays just to get your choppers fixed!. Well, it appears this is the case and Balinese dentists are getting quite a reputation in their profession as Trisha Sertori reports from Denpasar:

Tourists get pearly whites to match tan

“With just two front fangs for teeth in a culture where those are filed, my biggest concern was locals thinking I was a demon.”

So quipped American dental tourist Gair Gerlinger of his recent decision to have major dentistry in Bali rather than in his hometown of Omak, Washington state.

Gair joins hundreds of other foreigners journeying halfway around the world to have their teeth fixed in what appears to be Bali’s burgeoning dental tourism market — according to Gair, for many very good reasons.

Arriving in Bali early February this year, Gair says he needed two upper eye tooth extractions, nine stumps of upper teeth removed, three lower root canals and a set of dentures fitted — all within three weeks.

In the U.S., that dental work would have set this avowed hippie back US$8,000 and many months. The same work in Indonesia gave Gair “the opportunity to discover places like Bali still exist in the world”, and have dentistry he believes is equal “or better” than in the U.S. for around $1,500.

The cost of dentistry in his home country, said Gair, was prohibitive. He had not visited a dentist for 30 years, choosing a bit of home dentistry instead. He saved the money for his Bali dental trip earning $30 a day breaking rocks in Hawaii and living on the smell of salt air.

“I took a vow of poverty back in 1970 that I would never support American governments through taxes,” he said. “I am a back woodsman from Washington state and I have managed to raise two kids, put them both through university and live in what I call palatial poverty for nearly 40 years. I work as a healer so I thought I could also do some home dentistry. Not a good idea.

“The old trick of the door handle and a piece of string works, but I would not recommend it to anyone. I removed two of my own teeth like that with a drop of medicinal whiskey — for courage and for anesthesia. But never again. It was horrifically painful,” said Gair who, following in the footsteps of his physician father, holds a degree in medicine.

It was a friend’s new pearly whites set off by a mahogany tan — word-of-mouth you could say — that set Gair on the seas to Bali and Denpasar’s Sucipto Dental Clinic.

His appearance at the clinic that had gotten tongues wagging around the world must have been extraordinary to its dentists, into whose hands he delivered himself.

At 65, Gair — with white hair and flowers entwined atop his head, white beard reminiscent of Gandalf, and a mouth full of decaying, shattered stumps — is not your typical dental patient who might request three root canals, two dental extractions and nine broken root surgical removals in one day. But this was what Gair, acting as his own doctor, had prescribed, virtually setting his own schedule after booking several months ahead.

“I had limited time and I am tough. I can’t believe how good the dentists are. The guy doing the extractions was so good. Flick, twist and there it was. Getting the broken roots must have been difficult. There was nothing to get hold of — I couldn’t extract them with string and a door handle,” chuckled Gair, cautiously tucking into dinner on the evening following his teeth’s big day out.

An oral surgeon at the Sucipto clinic, Dr. Agung Tri Wibowo, remembers Gair’s stoicism. As the surgeon who extracted Gair’s root stumps applying the latest in dental techniques, he agreed modern techniques were somewhat in advance of Gair’s home-style string and doorknob extraction method.

Agung, a graduate of the school of dentistry at Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University, knows his stuff — as does the rest of the clinic’s five-member dental team, including orthodontist Dr. Wibisono. At least that is the word on the street.

The clinic was founded in 1992, headed by University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Dentistry graduate and dental implant master, Dr. Sucipto A. Husada.

Most patients of the clinic are almost devotional in their praise of Sucipto and the clinic’s dental team. Over the past 15 years the clinic’s reputation has grown, with patients now flying in from around the world. Locally, many patients travel to Denpasar from Jakarta, Surabaya and Banyuwangi, despite having well qualified dentists in their home cities.

There are a few discordant voices. An expatriate resident who requested anonymity says he had several root canals performed at Sucipto clinic, with what he says were less than satisfactory results.

“They broke off and had to be redone overseas. It cost me more than a thousand dollars American, which I really could not afford,” he said.

He stressed that he felt the Sucipto dentists and equipment were as good as anywhere else, but was concerned at the apparent dependence of the clinic on major works such as root canals and implants.

Percentage-wise, the clinic has added up to 20 percent annually to its business with patients from outside Bali, explained Agung.

And it is both general dentistry and advanced dental reconstruction that is luring them to Sucipto.

Orthodontics are a growing area for the clinic, with parents bringing their buck-toothed offspring to Bali from overseas for braces and dental corrections, says Agung. He points out that the clinic is happy to work collaboratively with orthodontists in the patient’s home country for monthly checkups and tightening braces, returning at least twice a year for a full examination with Wibisono.

However, Agung stressed that every case was different, and required patient specific dental programs and appointment timetables.

Given the substantial difference in price for equal-standard orthodontic treatment, this growing market is not surprising.

Average prices in the U.S. for the usual two-year braces program are at least Rp 52 million ($5,500). In Australia, orthodontics patients won’t get much change out of A$8,000.

The same work at Sucipto clinic is around Rp 13 million, says Agung.

So even with the cost of airfare, people are still saving and having a Bali holiday at the same time.

Another specialist area of the clinic is dental implants. A single tooth in Australia starts at A$5000 compared to around A$1100 at Sucipto for exactly the same procedure.

As a Master of Implant Surgery, Dr. Sucipto carries out more than 100 implants a year, says Agung, while the oral surgeon undertakes around 30 a year.

The high number of dental implants carried out at the clinic means the skill base and technique is ever improving. As they say, practice makes perfect — whereas few dentists in Australia ever get to try their hand at this advanced work, due to the high cost to patients.

But it’s not only advanced dental techniques at Sucipto that draws the crowd: quality in general dentistry and bedside manner are impressing many.

According to Australian jeweler Kerry, a Sucipto patient, it was not only the quality of dentistry, but also the genuine care in the hands of Dr. Haris Wibowo during an emergency root canal that convinced her she had found her dentist.

“Dr. Haris was so sweet. During the root canal drilling, I could hear him humming this lullaby. He was so gentle and I felt safe,” Kerry recalled, adding that staying calm was not easy with 12 millimeters of drilling needed, but the lullaby helped.

Experiences like Kerry’s and Gair’s are adding, via word-of-mouth advertising, to Bali’s potential dental tourism market. The sector has been dominated by countries such as Thailand, which also has a strong medical tourism following.

Kerry explains her elder sister had planned on heading to Thailand for dental work and a holiday, but was now rapidly changing appointments and flights to Bali and Sucipto Dental Clinic.

Meanwhile, Joanna from Holland had extensive cosmetic dental work, and was as thrilled with the result as a kid waking up after the tooth fairy’s visit.

The day we visited the clinic, a German woman was having work done in one surgery while in another, a woman from Jakarta was getting fillings.

The reasons behind the clinic’s growing reputation with Indonesians, expatriates and holidaymakers is as simple as adding one plus one, said Agung. The clinic delivers quality dentistry and orthodontics at around a quarter of the price compared to most Western countries and Australia, and the potential savings is a strong motivator.

It is a hard financial fact that few people overseas can afford to open their wallets to dentistry on a regular basis without sterling reward — pain relief for most or a mouth full of pearls for some, but Bali might just be the answer.

For more information, contact the Sucipto Dental Clinic on (0361) 222541

Trisha Sertori

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19 Responses to “Dental Tourism: Bali”

John Quelch | August 7th, 2008 at 5:59 pm | comment link
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A Bali smile can be yours if you’re game

or

Get your teeth fixed in Bali and have a great holiday at the same time
and all for a fraction of the price you would pay in OZ

After decades of dental neglect, mainly due to a lack of financial resources, my oral health had reached a parlous state. Eating a steak, or anything harder than a piece of toast for that matter, was becoming nigh on impossible and pain from abscesses a regular feature of my life. Early in my adult life, as a struggling wage earner with family responsibilities, I had figured that the intermittent pain in my mouth was preferable to the ongoing pain I would experience in my hip-pocket. Anyway, experience had taught me that, if you were prepared to put up with the pain for long enough, it usually gave up and went away of its own accord.

This expedient, and ultimately foolish, philosophy met its Waterloo early last year when after three weeks of incredible pain, that didn’t show even the slightest sign of moving anywhere but further up my cerebellum, I finally surrendered and made an appointment to visit a highly-recommended, local dental practice.

In order to secure an immediate appointment, I was forced to take the dentist with the greatest availability. Experience should have told me that was a risk but the extreme urgency of the situation left me with little option. The dentist looked all of 20 and behaved as though I was his first customer. My worst fears were confirmed when he broke the tooth he was attempting to extract. Whilst I repeatedly vomited into his mouth wash basin, he expressed his regret but hoped I wouldn’t be deterred and would come back again soon!

I was in mortal agony and, despite the strongest analgesics, remained in a fetal position for three of the longest days of my life, whilst I awaited the services of a private dental surgeon who finally extracted the remaining tooth under full anesthetic at a local private hospital.

Not only did the Dental Practice have the temerity to charge me for the botched extraction, the overall cost of the exercise left me over $1000 out of pocket and all I had to show for it was an even bigger, gappy smile.

You would not be surprised to hear that this all but put me off wanting to go to a dentist again no matter what pain I might have to endure. Anyway, as things transpired, several months later, a discussion over a few beers with a friend turned to the issue of dentistry. This new friend, who spent every Australian winter in Bali, told me of a female Balinese dentist that he and other Australians visited regularly with great success. My friend said “not only is it as cheap as chips but they don’t muck you around like the Australian lot.” Like a lot of pub talk, it seemed too good to be true, after all, I reasoned, wasn’t Bali a third world country with suspect medical standards and terrorist threats to boot? The usual prejudice of a white Anglo but seemingly borne out by those second or third-hand, horror stories one would occasionally hear or read about.

However, as time transpired the facts were becoming overwhelming; the state of my oral hygiene could no longer be ignored or shortly I would realize my worst nightmare and end up in an old folk’s home being fed broth through a straw for the rest of my life. I reasoned that not much harm could be done by visiting a local dentist to find out what the score in my gob was and how much it might take to put it to right.

Anyway, my mind was quickly made up for me after the shock revelation that at least $14,000 would be required to return my mouth to a semblance of good working order. Jolting me into action, I got on the net to start seriously investigating the Asian options. Whilst most westerners seemed to prefer Thailand for dental surgery there were a few good reports on the net about Bali dentistry too. Given that I was long overdue for a holiday and Bali was the cheapest destination, I reasoned that financially it was probably my only real option and at least worth the chance.

My Bali wintering friend kindly offered to take my dental report to the Balinese dentist as he departed for his winter sojourn at the beginning of June. Two weeks later he telephoned to say the dentist had seen the report, was not deterred by the complexity of the work, and would be more than happy to have me as a patient.

Well, to cut to the chase, after five of most pleasant weeks of my life, I have just completed treatment with Dr, Agun Darmiati. Without any exaggeration the treatment has been the most trouble-free dentistry ever experienced in my life.

Needless to say, I was pretty uptight for the first few sessions, gripping the chair with sweaty palms and mentally hitting the roof every time the drill squealed, but after several, pain-free sessions my faith in dental science - in Bali at least - had gone a long way to being restored.

On the first night alone, Dr. Darmiati completed three fillings in less than half an hour all with the best materials and to the highest standard one could wish for. At my next appointment, my front teeth that had been embarrassingly jagged, broken and brittle for decades were made new again in just of 40 minutes. Several teeth, that the Australian dentist said would need to be removed by a hospital surgeon under full anesthetic, were extracted in a matter of minutes without pain or fuss in Dr. Darmiati’s chair.

To say the least I was a bit gob smacked at how quickly and efficiently this dentist worked in comparison to the Aussie dentists I’d experienced over the years.

After gently questioning (Dr. Darmiati has a reasonable but incomplete grasp of English), it transpired that the good doctor worked in a rural, public health clinic during the day treating a minimum of 15 patients very day. Needless to say, the poor in Bali do not have the money or time to waste, so it was commonplace for this dentist to do in twenty minutes what an Australian dentist might take three sessions to complete for ten times the price.

Dr. Darmiati told me of a dentist friend who had gone to practice in Australia but came back after three years with her skills badly depleted for want of good practice. Dr. Darmiati explained that Balinese practitioners treated dentistry almost as a craft and prided themselves not only on the aesthetics of the work but also there ability to work nimbly so as not to cause patients any undue discomfort.

And about the price…well, I paid just over $1300 for work that would have cost a minimum of $10000 in Australia. For instance, a three tooth bridge quoted at $4000 in Australia cost just over $500 in Bali.

I ended up spending just over $5000 on the best 8 week holiday of my life that also included the price of having my teeth completely restored. As we parted, Dr. Darmiati also added her personal guarantee that if anything went wrong with her work she would gladly do any repairs for free on my next visit. Ever heard an Australian dentist say anything like that?

Being somewhat aged and cynical, I thought all the clichés you regularly hear about Bali were hyperbole but I found to my delight that the people, culture, climate and food are simply magnificent. For a working Australian having a great holiday and getting your teeth fixed at the same time for a fraction of the Australian price is a reality. My Australian friend also booked me into a friendly, relaxed hotel with an azure pool just around the corner from the dentist costing a mere $10 Au per day (and this included a cooked breakfast!).

So what’s up with Australian dentistry? Well for one thing it’s on the nose for a great number of lower to middle income earning Australians because the price just isn’t right. You only have to look at the woeful dental state of many working Aussies and hear their repeated complaints about how they can no longer afford to make regular visits to the dentist to know something is seriously wrong.

Would it be cynical of me to suggest that Australian dentists seemingly drag out the patient’s treatment plan in order to increase the cost and underline the ‘specialness’ of their trade.

Unashamedly, I have become a Bali addict. This coming year I will do my utmost to save hard to once again escape the bloody woeful Victorian Winter in order to visit my dentist, the wonderful Dr. Darmiati, and the veritable paradise that is Bali.

John Quelch
(author can be contacted on johnquelch@bigpond.com)

Rose Carter | October 4th, 2008 at 9:28 pm | comment link
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Could you please supply me with contact details or website details for Dr Darmiati’s practice - I also have been looking at Thailand for dentistry, but love Bali and would prefer to holiday there and give them the business. Thanks.

wayan | February 24th, 2009 at 4:48 pm | comment link
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I want to know the address of orthodonti specialist in denpasar. Thanks

Wayne Williams | April 17th, 2009 at 5:57 pm | comment link
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Hi John,

I have just read your report on the dentist in bali and was very impressed. I am off to Bali in a weeks time and was hoping you could provide me with the details for the dentist.

Regards,
Wayne.

tyson kubus | June 16th, 2009 at 6:30 pm | comment link
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hi,
I just wanted to know the details of the dentist, i will be going to bali in a few months time and wanted to make a booking. email and phone numbers.
thanks.

John Macdonald | November 13th, 2009 at 7:24 pm | comment link
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Like the others, I found this information very intersting and would like the contact details in Bali, please,

many thanks

Pen | April 5th, 2010 at 8:14 pm | comment link
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I would also like the dentist’s details as i am trying to find out about getting 6 crowns and/or veneers. (quoted at almost $6000 in Aus)

thank you

Lorraine | June 4th, 2010 at 4:01 pm | comment link
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I also would like to know the contact details of this miracle worker as I too am in need of some serious dental work.

Thanking you Lorraine

leeanne Yaschinski | September 10th, 2010 at 6:28 pm | comment link
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Could I please get the dentists details, I am going to Bali in six weeks, hope I havent left it abit late. Oh and the name of acomadation thank,s Lee

Camae | September 11th, 2010 at 3:52 pm | comment link
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Hi, Love your storey! I have a lot of work that needs to be done on my teeth =( Could I possibly have the details for this dentist?
Thanks

troy | December 20th, 2010 at 11:28 pm | comment link
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Can I get the info as well please? I want to see her!

Marg | January 23rd, 2011 at 6:55 pm | comment link
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Can I have the same info as we are travelling to Bali in July and would like to see a dentist

robyn smith | January 29th, 2011 at 8:51 am | comment link
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please supply email address of Sucipto Dental Clinic in Bali thanks

JBT | February 8th, 2011 at 10:44 pm | comment link
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Thank you for your info & insight. I need extensive dental work to readjust my bite, including implants, bridges, crowns. Do you happen to have the an email for Dr.Sucipto’s clinic, so as to set up apt. and send him my dental charts? Thank you!

Maddie | March 17th, 2011 at 7:48 pm | comment link
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Could I also please have the email address of Sucipto Dental Clinic in Bali. Thank you :)

Hannah | October 13th, 2011 at 4:34 pm | comment link
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Can I also have the contact details? Heaps appreciated!

Robert Marat | December 18th, 2011 at 2:39 am | comment link
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Hi, I do have the address of the Sucipto Clinic, but I cannot find the contact for Dr. Darmiati.
Maybe she married and change name? Maybe she works for Dr. Sucipto?
Who can help please?

Pauline Wheatley | March 13th, 2013 at 1:12 am | comment link
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I have had 2 implants and now require two crowns. I am going to Bali (Kuta)in May 2013 and would like to have an email address for a dentist who can perform this work while there and to set up an appointment and send my dental charts.

Blake Respini | April 16th, 2013 at 8:30 pm | comment link
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Hi Pauline, I also just had two implants and am looking to go to Bali to have the crowns done. How did that work out for you?

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