A man gets a checkup at the Roomchang Dental Clinic in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district, May 21.
It wasn't the Angkor temples, Mekong dolphins or white sand beaches that brought Australian Karen Albress to Cambodia.
Instead, she came to Phnom Penh to get her teeth fixed - one of an increasing number of foreigners traveling to this tiny country to take advantage of cheap dental work.
Competitive fees and high professional standards are helping Cambodia develop a reputation among foreigners and overseas Khmer as a provider of quality dental care, say officials and dental surgeons.
"In Australia, the dental work would have cost anywhere from $9,000 to $15,000, depending on the dentist, while in Phnom Penh it cost me $900. Even adding to that a $1,200 flight and holiday expenses, I was miles in front," Albress said.
"I could never have afforded to have the work done at home," added the 35-year-old, calling the quality of care she received "outstanding."
"The surgery was immaculately clean, the staff were kind and friendly and there were more people taking care of me than I've ever had in an Australian dental surgery," she said.
Hem Chhin, the under secretary of state for the Ministry of Health, said an increasing number of foreigners and Khmer living abroad were traveling to Cambodia for dental care.
The biggest draws, he said, were the competence of Cambodian dentists - who undergo seven years of training - and their use of the latest equipment and techniques, as well as low fees compared to other regional countries.
"We are proud that foreigners are coming here for dental care," Chhin said, adding that "the number of dental clinics in Phnom Penh has mushroomed over the past five years, especially along main roads."
Phnom Penh has about 30 clinics, which are defined as having four or more dental chairs, and about 500 dental cabinets with fewer than three chairs, he said.
Dental clinic operators echoed Chhin's reasons for Cambodia's growing popularity as a provider of dental care to visitors from overseas.
"Cheap prices, standard techniques and equipment, as well as good hygiene are contributing factors for attracting foreigners," said German-trained Dr Tith Hong-yoeu, the director of the Roomchang Dental Clinic in Phnom Penh's Daun Penh district.
He said that while the cost of dental care was about the same as in Vietnam, Cambodian dentists were about 50 percent cheaper than those in Thailand and significantly less expensive than Western dentists.
Roomchang, which was established in 2000 and has seven dentists, treats between 20 and 30 patients a day, about half of whom are foreigners, Hong-yoeu told the Post.
"Our vision is to constantly upgrade techniques, quality and human resources," he said.
Hong-yoeu also welcomed a growing awareness among Cambodians, especially the younger generation, about the importance of oral health care.
"More and more Cambodians begin to love their teeth; dentistry is on a positive track," he said.
The Sorya Dental Clinic, also in Daun Penh district, is popular among Cambodians who live overseas, according to its founder and director, Dr San Eang.
"Cambodian-born foreigners like to take the time to have their teeth done when they visit their homeland," said Eang.
He said the clinic, which opened in 2001, treated an average of 150 patients a month, most of whom were rich Cambodians or Khmers based overseas.
Eang said the clinic treats one or two foreigners a day, most of whom only want to have their teeth cleaned.
There was little difference between the quality of treatment in Cambodia and the West because the training needed to qualify as a dentist was similar, he added.
However, the cost of some procedures was up to eight times higher in developed countries.
Hubert Li, the general manager of the Pachem Dental Clinic group, is optimistic that Cambodia has the potential to become a major provider of dental care services in the region, competing against such countries as Singapore and Malaysia.
"This is because the dental treatment market within this region is becoming very competitive," he said.
The group, established ten years ago, has three clinics in Phnom Penh and one in Siem Reap, and Li said it planned to open another 24 throughout the country in the next five years.
Li said about 20 percent of the group's patients were foreigners.
Dr Someth Hong, who operates an eponymous clinic in Phnom Penh's Chamkarmon district, said foreigners accounted for about 30 percent of the 300 patients visiting his clinic each month.
Hak Sithan, the head of the Oral Health Office of the Ministry of Health, said about 20 clinics in Phnom Penh were of international standard.
The city has more than 300 dental clinics and cabinets, most of which are illegal, and about 500 dentists, with about 50 percent working in private clinics, he said.
(Additional reporting by Tracey Shelton)