The temples of Angkor Wat, the beaches of Sihanoukville and the dental chairs of Phnom Penh.
If Minister of Tourism Lay Prohas has his way, that’s how tour operators may soon tout Cambodia’s many must-see wonders to foreign visitors.
Citing the country’s high-quality care and reasonable prices, Lay Prohas hopes to promote Cambodia as a premier destination for “dental tourism.”
Dental tourism is a relatively new phenomenon: Cities in India and Western Europe already promote themselves as good places for tourists to take in some sights and take care of their teeth.
Dentists in Phnom Penh, many of whom already see a steady flow of foreign patients, welcomed the potential arrival of dental tourism in Cambodia.
“I support [Lay Prohas’] idea and I appreciate that he’s willing to support us,” said Dr Tith Hongyoeu.
Tith Hongyoeu works with five other dentists out of the Roomchang Dental Clinic, which treats about 40 foreigners a month from throughout Europe and from countries including Japan, Korea and the US.
Most of Roomchang’s foreign clients hear of the clinic through word-of-mouth, Tith Hongyoeu said.
Pat and Lee Maliska, a couple from the US state of California, visited Roomchang last week.
While he and his wife didn’t come to Cambodia specifically to get dental care, Lee Maliska said he could understand the attraction of dental tourism.
“Obviously, they’re trying to appeal to a niche market,” he said. “The standards seem to be high, and the service is tremendous, so you can see why the niche would fit.”
Lay Prohas said tourists who end up needing dental care in Cambodia often get more for their money than they were expecting.
“To their surprise, they find the service here is good and the price is low,” he said.
Dr Sophearoth Poch, vice president of the Cambodian Dental Association, said the quality of the country’s dentistry has been taking strides forward during the last six years.
“The dental field in Cambodia
…has been improved a lot both technically and clinically,” Sophearoth Poch said. “Since 1999…
our dentists have become more and more professional.”
In 1999, more Cambodian dentists began traveling and training abroad, exposing themselves to new technologies and treatment techniques, he said.
There is currently one dental school in Cambodia that enrolls about 50 students each year for its seven-year professional program, Sophearoth Poch said. Dentists who are already practicing are also encouraged to attend continuing-education and short-course seminars abroad to hone their skills, he said.
The Cambodian Dental Association has 200 members, about half of whom operate in Phnom Penh. Members must be professionally trained and licensed by the Ministry of Health.
Sophearoth Poch agreed that for visitors from other countries, dental care in Cambodia is a bargain. At his Aspara Dental Clinic, the cost to extract an impacted wisdom tooth is about $50. The same procedure in the US costs up to $340 per tooth.
Perhaps the best deals for tourists are cosmetic procedures, like teeth whitening, that would likely not be covered by insurance back home.
At the European Dental Clinic, whitening costs $250, compared with up to $600 at a US clinic.
Lay Prohas plans to pitch the idea of dental tourism to tour operators at the industry’s annual conference early this month.
“Tourism is many things,” he said. “Sightseeing, food, shopping, entertainment, as well as…