Budapest: the “dental capital of Europe”

A recent visit to Budapest, the “dental capital of Europe” made me consider the perception of medical travel. Many people think that if you’re travelling abroad for treatment because it is far cheaper, then the standard of services can in no way match what you would expect in your home market. Hungary’s dental treatment providers provide a strong contradiction to this perception. I was speaking at the Business Travel Show in Budapest at a dedicated session on dental tourism, organised by the Association of Leading Hungarian Dental Clinics.

Aware of the number of new entrants into the dental tourism market, Hungarian dentists are keen to maintain their position as market leaders. They are also keen that the Hungarian government and tourism board take note of their success and provide support for the dental tourism sector.

Hungary was one of the first countries to exploit the healthcare needs of neighbouring countries and encourage patients to cross borders for treatment. It became common for German and Austrian patients to travel to Hungary for dental treatment in particular, and Hungarian dental clinics prospered in border villages and towns. When we launched Treatment Abroad five years ago, it was to some extent a response to requests from Hungarian dental clinics to increase their profile in the UK healthcare market. Having succeeded in attracting large numbers of German and Austrian patients, Hungarian clinics were spreading their wings and seeking to promote their expertise in other markets. Now, Hungarian dental clinics and services represent the largest segment of services on Treatment Abroad.

The Hungarian dental tourism market is one of the notable successes in the medical tourism market worldwide. In Budapest, the Association of Leading Hungarian Dental Clinics has been formed. The Association represents the interests of seven significant players in the dental tourism business:
The Association has some clearly defined criteria for joining. For example:
  • The practice must employ a minhmum of ten dentists / oral surgeons.

  • The practice must be equipped with a minimum of 5 modern dental medical operating units.

  • The practice must place a minimum of 1,000 dental implants a year.

  • The practice must provide digital intra-oral and panoramic X-ray.

  • The practice must ensure that all practitioners work within industry recognized protocols, including clinical governance and undergo regular internal clinical audits and assessments.
See the full list of Association criteria at ALHDC Code of Practice.

The number of patients from overseas that are going through these seven clinics is staggering. Association members carry out around 75,000 treatment sessions per year. Around 60% of these are for dental tourists. The Implant Center alone inserts around 1,800 dental implants each year. Each clinic has multilingual staff and dedicated cars and drivers for transporting international patients.

Although established markets such as the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia provide the bulk of patients, new opportunities are developing in France, Italy and Russia. I visited three of the facilities - ImplantCenter, Kreativ Dental and Vital Europe. Each has a different approach to marketing its services. Whereas Vital Europe focuses on UK patients and provides both consultation and treatment facilities in London and Manchester, Kreativ relies on its overseas agents to convince patients of their quality of service and flies patients straight to Budapest without prior consultation. ImplantCenter has also dental office in Dublin and London.

The expertise and extent of dental services in each individual clinic is quite something. Each clinic has around eight to ten dentists employed by the clinic, some general dentists and some with areas of specialty such as implantology or orthodontics. All three clinics have extensive dental laboratories on site, owned and operated by the clinics themselves.

There are few private dental clinics in the UK that can match the set up of thes dental facilities in Budapest. The challenge for Hungary is how it maintains its lead in dental tourism. New competitors are entering the market, such as Croatia, Czech Republic and Slovakia, some at even lower prices than those in Hungary. The challenge for these new dental tourism competitors is how they match the standards of the "dental capital of the world".