Cosmetic tourism – how to stay safe

An operating theatre, close up on surgical equipment
4 minute read

An operating theatre, close up on surgical equipment

Summer is here, the weather is improving and a certain programme on TV is another reminder, or perhaps pressure is a more accurate word, on many people as to how they are expected to look.

The perceived solution is often cosmetic surgery and/or cosmetic dentistry, and recent media reports have focused on an increase in travel to undergo cosmetic and dental procedures.

Why do people travel abroad for cosmetic procedures?

Tempted by lower prices for private treatment compared to the UK, many take the decision to undergo surgery abroad. The thought of enjoying a holiday whilst recovering at the same time is tempting for many, but it is easy to forget that you will more than likely be advised to stay out of the sun whilst your wounds heal and consuming alcohol and smoking are advised against. Spending your recovery relaxing by the pool is unlikely.

Whilst many have very positive experiences of undergoing surgery abroad, travelling abroad to undergo any elective surgery is not without risk. The consequences of negative outcomes are more prevalent than ever and the Foreign Office has issued a warning to those considering travelling, particularly to Turkey, for surgery. This announcement has come after an increase in the number of people who have died since January 2019 having travelled to Turkey for surgery.

Travelling for weight-loss surgery

For many, their weight is a constant battle and after years of various failed attempts to shed the pounds bariatric surgery is the only option left to consider. Others consider surgery after having children and either struggle to lose those excess pounds or have managed to lose the extra pounds only to be left with excess skin.

In England, accessing bariatric surgery on the NHS is extremely difficult and NICE guidelines set out the extensive requirements that must be met. This is an extensive programme to ensure people are suitable for such a serious procedure. Agreeing to follow up care is also required. Given the criteria and waiting list it is perhaps not surprising that many people consider alternative options.

Cosmetic procedures such as liposuction and tummy tucks are invasive and expensive treatments not without significant risk not to be undertaken lightly.

Surgical options abroad

The BBC has also highlighted the risks of surgery abroad in recent news articles Belfast woman’s warning after Turkish cosmetic surgery ordeal – BBC News. This Morning has dealt with the issues experienced by a mother and daughter who travelled to Turkey for surgery.

The British Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons has produced an information guide for those considering cosmetic surgery abroad. It provides some very useful guidance to consider when looking at surgical options abroad. Cosmetic Surgery Abroad | BAPRAS

Given the cost of surgery, it is understandable to see why people consider cheaper options. However, one shouldn’t lose sight of the risks of travelling abroad for surgery. One needs to consider what happens if the surgery is unsuccessful and you are due to travel home. Do you have insurance to cover these risks and the likely consequences of not being able to make your pre-arranged flight and having to stay abroad for longer than you had anticipated? Are you travelling on your own or will anyone be with you if you require assistance if your recovery does not go to plan?

Many travel insurance policies will not cover elective surgical procedures so they will not step in to provide assistance. It would be advisable to take out specialist insurance which covers elective cosmetic treatment.

What are “Turkey Teeth”?

The second area of growth is cosmetic dentistry and again, Turkey is a growing area for this type of work. The term “Turkey Teeth” is trending on social media with #turkeyteeth allegedly having over 31 billion views. The BBC has also produced a short documentary on the issue which makes for interesting viewing.

The British Dental Association (BDA) carried out a survey earlier in the year with regard to dental tourism and the results are rather surprising.

Again, one of the main considerations for making the journey to Turkey is cost. However, the programme highlights the lack of understanding people have as to the procedure they will undergo and the extent of work that is carried out to healthy teeth.

One other area of concern is follow-up care and the fact that veneers don’t last a lifetime and will require replacement. Maintenance is expensive and there is a risk that teeth may be lost and dentures required.

The General Dental Council has produced a Guide on travelling abroad for dental care. This includes details of questions you should consider as you investigate options.

Points to consider when carrying out your research include:

  • Checking whether there is a professional regulatory body in the country where you are having treatment;
  • Who is going to assess you prior to any treatment being carried out;
  • Speak with your own dentist before you make any plans as they may be able to offer advice on your plans;
  • Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions

According to BDA research, dentists are concerned about the quality of care and difficulties in making a complaint that patients experience having undergone treatment abroad.

It is rather easy to say but if you are considering a cosmetic procedure abroad, you shouldn’t be pressured by a hard sell. Take the time to carry out research in full and ask lots of questions. Genuine practitioners will take the time to answer your questions and should also advise if they don’t believe that a procedure is suitable.

It is easy to find positive and glowing reports of successful cosmetic dentistry, but you should also consider searching for negative reviews. In my experience, only after something has gone wrong do people seem to find these negative reports.

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