ISTANBUL: Briton Rida Azeem knew her dental trip to Turkey had gone badly wrong the second she took off her mask.
“My husband said, ‘What have they done to you? Your face is all sunk.’“
“I had big gaps underneath my gums and you could see all the metal bits (of the implants). It was done so badly it was unbelievable,” the engineer from Manchester said.
“Originally they were going to do five implants,” said Azeem. But when the treatment was about to start, the dentists told her they would “have to remove all your teeth.”
“They looked professional,” said the 42-year-old, who now has to wear false teeth.
Attracted by the promise of the perfect smile at an unbeatable price, 150,000 to 250,000 foreign patients flock to Turkey every year, according to the Turkish Dentists’ Association, making it one of the world’s main dental tourism destinations, alongside Hungary, Thailand and Dubai.
But the “Hollywood smile” sold by clinics in Istanbul, Izmir or Antalya often involves trimming — or even extracting — healthy teeth, sometimes taking all of them out.
“Many dental clinics in Turkey treat teeth that don’t need treatment,” the head of an Istanbul clinic, who did not want to be named, said. “They put veneers on teeth that only need bleaching or lightening, sometimes they even put full crowns.”
Azeem is far from the only foreign patient to have been left disfigured or in chronic pain.
Alana Boone, a 23-year-old Belgian woman who traveled to Antalya in July 2021, was one of five foreigners who suffered serious complications.
The 28 crowns she had done seemed fine, but only on the surface. They were “placed too deep. Now I have inflammation and pain every day... at times it is very intense,” she said.
“The only solution would be to remove everything but dentists do not know what they are going to find.”
Marie, a French nurse, felt she needed work on her lower teeth to boost her confidence after going through a separation. “I wanted to look more attractive,” she said.
But a Turkish dentist persuaded her to put crowns on her top ones too — 28 in total.
“I had very healthy teeth. I began to regret it all when they began to file my teeth,” she said.
“After about a month, the problems started: Teeth began to move, and food began to get stuck between them ... My breath is so awful that even mouthwash” doesn’t help, said the fortysomething.
The British Dental Association has sounded the alarm about the phenomenon, warning of the “considerable risks ... of cut-price treatment” abroad, warning of many cases of infections and “ill-fitting crowns and implants that fell out.”
Patrick Solera, of the French dentists’ union, said he was horrified to see influencers going to Turkey “to have their teeth trimmed.”
“You do not put a crown on a tooth that’s a little yellow, and trimming a healthy tooth to put a crown amounts to mutilation. In France they lock you up for that.”
But Tarik Ismen, of the association, insisted that Turkish dentists were only responding to a need. “Some people want to look like Hollywood stars and have a bright, fluorescent smile. If Turkish dentists are not going to do it for them, there are Albanian or Polish ones who will do it,” he said.
He said that botched surgery rates of “three to five percent is acceptable ... and could happen anywhere,” adding that not one of his association’s 40,000 dentists had been struck off.
“Turkish dentists are the best and the cheapest in the world,” declared Turker Sandalli, who pioneered dental tourism in Turkey 20 years ago.
He boasted that “not one tooth has been extracted in 12 years” in his Istanbul clinic, where 99 percent of the clientele are foreigners.
“But — and I am sad to tell you this — 90 percent of Turkish clinics go for cheap dentistry,” he said, accusing “2,000 to 3,000” illegal operators of blackening the name of industry.