Dental tourists flocking across Irish border to save thousands on treatment
Cheaper dental prices are helping to boost the number of people travelling from the Republic to Northern Ireland for treatment, with some dentists claiming 50% of their patients now come from the south.
Practices in cross-border areas, including Newry and Armagh, have become hotspots for people flocking to have procedures, hoping to make savings that could mount up to thousands of euro.
Costs of standard procedures including extractions and fillings remain similar – between £45 and £60.
The greater difference is noted in more intricate work such as crowns, root canals or bridge work.
In a snap website survey by the Belfast Telegraph, one dentist in Cookstown's charges started at £100 for root canal work. This compared to a dentist in Galway charging between £287-£657 for the same procedure.
A bridge unit was priced by one practice at £295 in Armagh. One Dublin dentist was charging between €750-€850 (£615-£697) for the same procedure.
Dr Conor McEnhill, the owner of Appletree Dental Care in Newry, said his private income was largely dominated by southern patients and it was "overwhelmingly fees" driving the trend.
"They are coming here because they are motivated by the fees, that is principally it," he said.
He said patients travelled from as far as Cork and Limerick for an appointment. "The number of patients I see day-to-day vary, but it wouldn't be less than 50% of my patients."
He said while there had always been a trend for people to travel north, he believed an increasing number of Irish customers were taking advantage of the significant savings in Northern Ireland since 2010.
That year, Irish state support for dental care was severely curtailed.
Dr McEnhill, who previously ran a practice in the south, said it was "unquestionably" cheaper to run a practice in Northern Ireland.
He added that the subsidised dental care grants provided by the NHS did not make it a level playing field when it came to competing with the Republic.
However the Irish Dental Association (IDA) said it was "unfair" to contrast prices of practices in smaller towns in Northern Ireland with city centre practices in Dublin and Cork, where running costs were greatest. Fintan Hourihan, chief executive of the Irish Dental Association, said: "Firstly, dentists in both jurisdictions are equally professional and dedicated.
"Secondly, the detrimental effect of €400m (£319m) in cuts since 2010 to the PRSI and medical card dental schemes on the oral health of the population in the south is truly appalling.
"Our experience is that patients ultimately choose a dentist based on the quality care they offer, the friendly and expert advice they offer and the convenience and peace of mind offered by local dentists in their community.
"A quick review online of fees in southern towns like Dundalk, Cavan or Ennis, reveals prices as low as €300 (£239) for a crown by dentists practicing in the Republic."
The IDA also argued that the 'patient traffic' was not as high as was claimed and patients did not make their decisions simply based on fees alone.
However, Dr McEnhill said: "The patients themselves take a different view, which is why we are as busy here as we are dealing with southern patients."
Noelle Collins, who owns NC dental clinic in Newry, added the price was a major reason for patients coming to Northern Ireland for treatment.