A new kind of tourism is coming to Cambodia - and it has nothing to do with beaches or ancient temples.
Kingdom and Crowns, the country’s first dental tourism company which was launched this summer, is hoping to encourage Australians to travel to Phnom Penh for root canals, attractive smiles and fake teeth.
Dental entrepreneur Michael Howard, a 31-year-old cotton grower from Australia who moved to Southeast Asia a year ago because his girlfriend got a job here, came up with the idea thanks to a toothache.
“I went to Roomchang (Dental and Aesthetic Hospital) and I had a root canal and a crown. I experienced it myself – how good they were,” he said. “It was probably an 80 per cent saving of what I would have had to pay in Australia.”
A root canal and a crown in Cambodia, for instance, costs around $700 – more than three times less than in Australia, which can be between $2,500 and $3,000, Howard said. An implant done by a Cambodian dentist is also more affordable: it costs $2,000 here compared with $6,000 in the United States, according to information on Roomchang Hospital’s website.
“You can come here and save a lot,” Howard said, adding that the cost of getting to Cambodia from Australia decreased recently thanks to several budget airlines. Roundtrip tickets can now be purchased for as little as $700, he said.
Kingdom and Crowns arranges dental appointments, airfare, and accommodation – and the company’s first clients are expected to arrive this winter. Howard hopes their positive experiences will encourage others to trust Cambodia’s dental specialists.
Howard might be the first to launch a dental tourism company here, but others are trying to do the same.
Australian dental hygienist Angela Clifford is also preparing to launch a dental-tourism enterprise. Her company, Dental Holidays Cambodia, is cooperating with the European Dental Clinic – a dental office on Norodom Boulevard that employs Australian and British professionals, including Clifford herself. Like Kingdom and Crowns, Dental Holidays Cambodia plans to recruit customers from Australia for fillings, root canals, crowns, scaling and whitening.
Dental treatment by Australian and European dentists costs less in Cambodia than in Australia because clinic overheads, such as wages for receptionists, assistants, cleaners and guards, are less expensive, Clifford said. The foreign dental professionals also make less.
“I am not here for the money. I would be earning a lot more in Australia, but for me it’s about lifestyle and enjoying my work,” Clifford said. “I am not on a salary here, I earn a percentage of what I bring to the practice.”
Meanwhile, the Roomchang Dental Hospital, which is in a partnership with Kingdom and Crowns, recently hired its first foreign marketing manager – also an Australian – to promote its services overseas.
“Basically just like any dental hospital we are interested in getting the international market to come to Cambodia because a lot of people go to Thailand,” said marketing manager Adam Fogarty. “By itself, the amount of people coming to Cambodia is steadily increasing each year, and we are happy to assist these efforts by providing world-class dental care.
“With dental treatment, the potential for negligence is much lower because it’s just teeth,” Fogarty said. “I don’t know anyone who had a life-threatening experience with dental treatment.”
He added that many of Roomchang’s dentists have received some training overseas and that the clinic is the first in the country to have ISO accreditation.
Approximately 40 per cent of Roomchang’s customers are currently foreigners - and of these foreigners, roughly 10 per cent come specifically to Cambodia for dental work, Fogarty added.
Roomchang’s advertising brochures, which visitors can browse through while relaxing in the hospital’s waiting room, draw clear comparisons between the cost of root canals, crowns and wisdom tooth removal in Cambodia and in the United States – explaining how patients can use the savings for a vacation in Kep, an elephant tour in Mondulkiri, or a visit to Angkor Wat.
Some travelers already come here for dental procedures.
Australian patient Barbara Cockroft, 61, and her husband Ron Cockroft, 68, have been setting up their appointments at Phnom Penh’s European Dental Clinic for six years.
“In six years since we’ve been coming here, I’ve had three crowns and I just finished two implants,” Barbara Cockroft said. “It costs $6,000 for each implant in Australia. Here it cost me $3,000 in total. There is a big difference between $3,000 and $12,000 for the same thing.”
The only problem she ever had was when one of the crowns split and the tooth had to be replaced by an implant. However, Cockroft doesn’t blame the dentist because half of all crowns can cause problems, she said.
“The quality of the work is fantastic. The dental clinic is as clean or even cleaner than some of ours back home,” she said. “Every time I go home people want to look in my mouth and see what I had done. I’m the guinea pig.”