Healthy smile designers


Article in Gesundheits Bild (German magazine)
July 2004

‘I’m going to have a beautiful white smile in a few hours’, Dirk Weber thinks with hope. He is a 37-year-old putting an original idea into practice – he is having his teeth treated abroad. This is taking place in a dentist clinic he had found by himself. The clinic is just next to the Polish-German border. Weber lives in Berlin and a 150 km journey is no problem for him.

Today he is going to have the last of his four visits planned with his Polish dentist. ‘Unfortunately, having my teeth treated abroad I had to finish work earlier. Still, I could manage somehow.’

Medical tourism is flourishing in Szczecin. The clinic is open every day to 9:00 p.m., to 4:00 p.m. on Saturdays, on Sundays as well if necessary. This is another reason for Weber to ‘do his business in Szczecin’.

He has been aware of his need for dentist’s help for a year already. After a visit at a German dentist, he found out he had to invest in four full ceramic crowns and a three-point bridgework. According to the bill issued by the German dentist, the cost of treatment was supposed to exceed 6000 Euro. ‘This is a lot of money’, Weber says.

As he did not feel any pain, he decided to put off his treatment until later. In May this year, he read about the possibility of dental treatment in Poland. The prices of these services were more attractive than the German ones. Engineer Weber was looking for the information he needed in the Internet. ‘I read patients’ opinions on a forum, and they were absolutely positive'. His friends, however, responded distrustfully. ‘Think what you’re doing, you’re going to have a lot of trouble if anything goes wrong’, they said. They were more worried about me than I was myself.

He is driving 160 km/h to have his last appointment, laughing. He took this journey eight times, about 1200 kilometers. He always tried to make the journey as cost-efficient as possible. ‘I always fill up my car. Petrol costs only 80 cents in Poland. Besides, I always buy cigarettes – they are 1.60 Euro per packet’. He definitely saved most on dentist services. ‘Less than half an hour after the telephone conversation, the cost statement and the treatment program were faxed to me. All the dentistry works were valued for about 3000 Euro.’ This made him convinced. ‘I never suspected that treatment in Poland could be performed poorly’, he says. ‘The dentist has a diploma of graduation from the Medical Academy and certificates of additional professional courses’.

The treatment began as early as during the first diagnostic visit, with polishing the teeth under the crowns. Not only to save time and money, but mainly because the patient was urging. ‘I wanted to get over that quickly, without any unnecessary bureaucracy’. For this reason, at first he didn’t even apply to his sickness fund for refinancing.

It’s 6:30 p.m. Weber is slowly entering the border crossing, showing his passport to the border control officer. A few minutes later, he points to the building situated not far from the exit ramp. The sun is setting behind it. Although it’s getting dark, a banner is still visible: ‘HAHS – Implantology Clinic’. It is displayed on the front of the building, above the parking lot where Weber is leaving his car.

The patient is slightly stressed before the visit, during which his crowns will be cemented. Small drops of sweat appear on his forehead, under his fair hair: ‘I'd like to brush my teeth now before it starts’.

A Danish patient is standing at the reception desk, speaking English. Dirk Weber is waiting patiently. ‘They are having certain problems with communication here. The assistants speak only Polish. It’s best to speak to the director, who speaks very good German’.

Marcin Gaborski (30 years of age), executive of the clinic, is still at work in the evening. He was the person with whom Weber arranged all organizational details over the phone and via e-mail, including making his appointments and agreeing on payment methods. ‘Gaborski is a professional who knows exactly how to attract a patient and to win his loyalty'.

Marcin Gaborski is the only person in the clinic to wear a grey suit instead of a white coat. He takes care of Weber’s record. He always does that for foreign patients. However, he does not participate in treatment – he is not a doctor. He graduated from the faculty of economy and company organization and from post-graduate studies in ‘International Management’ in Berlin.

Although it’s late, the clinic is busy. The doors of treatment rooms keep opening and closing, the assistants are talking to each other, the secretary is carrying documents. The place employs twenty-seven persons: nine dentists, nine dentistry technicians in the Protodens laboratory, eight dentists’ assistants and three receptionists. According to Gaborski, it’s not the size of the clinic that guarantees high quality of service, but top quality materials, perfect treatment methods and techniques. ‘All prosthetic materials are ordered from Nobel Biocare, the leading manufacturer on the Swedish market’, he says.

For Weber, a computer scanned a dentition impression. The produced 3-D image was sent to Sweden. Nobel Biocare lab workers in Sweden initially polished the bridges and crowns, which were then finally shaped by our technicians.

Marcin Gaborski would be happy to see more German patients in his clinic. At present, 15 out of 100 patients come from Germany. ‘This is going to change when the quality of our services is commonly recognized', he declares. ‘We do not only want to treat patients coming up for minor operations. The Germans are very good patients – they expect the best solutions for their money.’ For patients insured in the Polish National Health Fund, treatment in Hahs clinic is too expensive.

Weber takes a seat on the dentist’s chair. There are six chairs altogether, three of them located in sterile surgery room. Agnieszka Lewinska, 32-year-old dentist, kindly welcomes the patient in English and immediately starts cementing the crowns. She works habitually and quickly. Only seldom does Aneta, her 23-year-old assistant, have to help her. The dentist has a brief word with Weber during treatment. The Berliner seems to trust her entirely – he is not asking any questions.

It’s 8:40 p.m. Treatment has been fully successful. Weber is grinning at a handheld mirror. ‘It’s fine’, he says. All the consecutive phases of treatment, including painful polishing of teeth, two fittings, root canal treatment and today’s cementing of the crowns and bridge, are over now. It all took eight days. While Agnieszka Lewinska is putting down the bill, the patient is breathing deeply. He says in a slightly lisping voice: ‘It all fitsss great. Doessssn’t hurt at all’. Gaborski congratulates him: ‘Congratulations. How would you like to pay?' Just like in a superstore, Weber pays with a credit card. His ‘new teeth’ actually cost him half the German price – 3358 EUR disappeared from his account. Moreover, Hahs clinic provides 5-year guarantee. This is more than in other EU member states. ‘I'm going to have my teeth treated only here’, Dirk smiles, showing his new dentition. Satisfied, he gets into his car, which he bought in the Netherlands, with 30% discount.

Till Weingarten
GESUNDHEITS BILD 2004, issue 4