Some travel for new experiences, some for exotic cuisines, and some – for the best treatment. Why do people from Israel, the USA and Belgium fly to Belarus for dental treatment and how much does a Hollywood smile from Belarusian dentists cost?
To fix a smile in Belarus cost four times less than in USA
Gennady Grishin was born in Belarusian Gomel but moved to the USA 30 years ago. He is a social worker in a company that helps disabled people with housing and jobs. Gennady supervises those who work at small enterprises, in a store or car repair shop. He does night shifts several times a week, jokes and smiles a lot.
— My Hollywood smile is 100% made in Belarus. My medical tourism started with an injury. I decided to replace the brakes in my car on my own. The wrench flew off and broke my top and bottom teeth. You understand I looked so so. Needed to take care of my teeth urgently.
— At first, I consulted local dentists. The treatment would cost $30,000, that’s the price of a new car. My insurance did not cover dentistry. I started to search for other options abroad and thought of Israel as I had a place where I could stay there.
A local dentistry clinic was ready to help at a price twice lower than the American one, 15,000 dollars.
Then one of my friends told me, “Gena, stop looking. Go to Belarus, they will fix you a nice smile”.
The search for a dentist was complicated by the fact that Gennady had little time to get prosthetics, only one month.
— Dentists in Gomel couldn’t promise to make the deadline. By chance, I found a dental clinic in Minsk that suited me 100%. I contacted their doctors, send them my x-rays, and they replied, “Please, come, we can do it”.
– I still had doubts as I remembered the Soviet medicine very well. I knew that although Americans charge a lot, they provide superb quality. I consulted my friends and dental technicians again. They confirmed things had changed, and modern Belarusian dental clinics had almost the same equipment and materials, while the dentists were as professional as their American colleagues.
All expenses, including installing fixed dentures, return ticket from the USA to Belarus, food and guided tours in Gomel, as well as a trip to Minsk, amounted to $7,000.
— After everything was done, and I met my American dentist friends I told them not to make funny comments when I open my mouth. Not to tell me “Oh gosh, that’s terrible” even as a joke. But when things came to it, my friends said, “It is a really good job!” Can you believe it?
‘In Belgium, GPs don’t wear white coats’
We met with Elena Luzgina in April clinic near Minsk, where she arrived from the small Belgian town of Tessenderlo. Elena has lived in Belgium for six years. She moved there for love that eventually transformed into love to a new home.
— I like the pace of life in Belgium, and I am falling in love with it every day. I live in a town, not in a city. People here are friendly and kind; neighbors, colleagues, even strangers would treat you in a nice way. In Belarus, I worked in banking and insurance; here in Belgium, I work as a shop assistant for an international brand. The staff is like a family. We always smile at each other every time we meet during the day.
Smiling is vital in Elena’s communication with colleagues and customers.
— We might have up to 15,000 customers a day. Even if I do half of a shift, I will smile several thousand times a day. That’s an immensely powerful exchange. You will always get a smile back – unless it’s you are the one giving it back.
Once, when visiting her native Minsk, Elena decided to take care of her smile. A friend recommended a clinic with high-quality medical services and a comfortable atmosphere.
— Many of my friends travel to Belarus for dental or other medical help, and for beauty treatments. In Belgium, it takes a lot of time to find a qualified professional who would do the job impeccably. The quality often fails. Things are much better in Belarus in this respect. Besides, there is a quality-price ratio for patients – one gets a high level of services at reasonable prices, almost twice cheaper than in Belgium.
Elena adds that an appointment with a Belarusian doctor is more appealing visually.
— In Belgium, one must visit a general practitioner to get an appointment with any other doctor (except dentists). As a rule, GPs don’t even wear white coats. As if you are a friend, not a patient. It is not a matter of sterility or hygiene of a doctor, but of the fact that psychologically I trust a doctor in a white robe more.
‘I return to Belarus for 30 years to visit a dentist’
Larisa Tetueva has lived in Tel Aviv, Israel, for the past few decades. She travels to Minsk to visit the dentist whom she knew long before emigration and whom she totally trusts. Larisa is a world-famous opera singer, and bad teeth are simply not acceptable for her. After all, she is always in the limelight.
— When we moved to Israel 30 years ago, I took up every job I could find. My experience as accompanist wasn’t in demand. But my lucky day came: a group of philanthropists established the IVAI (International Vocal Arts Institute) project in Israel, and its winner received a grant to learn from the best teachers in the world and the training at Metropolitan Opera in New York. And I won it.
— At that time, it seemed impossible to imagine, I couldn’t even dream of singing at Metropolitan. I had to work 24/7 but it was totally worth it. Later, I performed the most famous opera parts: Rosina in The Marriage of Figaro, Desdemona in Othello, Michaela in Carmen, Tatiana in Eugene Onegin. In total, over 40 parts during my career.
Naturally, Larisa can afford any doctor in case of necessity.
— Medicine in Israel is rightfully considered one of the best in the world: specialists, technology, equipment, research, treatment of patients are simply superb. There is a system of medical insurance: one pays a small monthly fee, which gets you a free and very affordable medical help when it comes to it. The higher the fee, the wider the range of medical services is. I can afford a dentist in Israel, it wouldn’t hurt my budget. Still, I have chosen a Belarusian dentist, who I have known for ages and whom I totally trust.
Another point in favor of a Belarusian dental clinic for Larisa are the conditions it offers to patients.
— The clinic has its own hotel, which is super convenient. Everything is according to the highest standards: immaculate cleanliness, beautiful interiors, tasty breakfasts and a transfer from the airport. I do not need to think about where to stay when I arrive. All the staff is attentive, polite and professional.
When I tell my friends I go to Minsk to visit a dentist, they always want to know more. They like the result they see on me. “Larisa, we also want this”, they tell me. So I just reply – if you have a teeth problem to solve, do not hesitate to do it in Minsk.
‘We felt so welcome and like at home’
Spouses Oksana and Tomi Suuvere are Estonians, born and raised there. The two got acquainted at work for one of the local mobile providers. The family likes an active lifestyle: they play a lot of sports, and love to travel. They traveled to Belarus as well, only their plans didn’t initially include sightseeing.
— We couldn’t wish for a more professional dentist that we met here. The surgery was unusual and difficult – dental implant placement and jaw bone graft, says Oksana.
My mum was the first to use the services of Belarusian dentists. About a year ago, she was fixing her smile. A person she rented a flat from in Minsk recommended the clinic to her. My mum liked everything, from the professionalism of the doctors to quality of service and prices. Even my husband, who is not a big fan of dentists, eventually made up his mind and we came to Belarus.
The Suuvere family didn’t have to look for a place to stay. The private clinic had opened its own hotel by that time. The atmosphere surprised the couple, “We felt so welcome and like at home”.
— We didn’t do much sightseeing during our first visit to Minsk – only a walk around Uručča neighborhood, the National Library of Belarus and back to the hotel, as the surgery was scheduled for the following morning. But we had much more free time during our second visit. My mum and daughter joined us, so we had a rich program – open-air water park, dolphinarium, circus, and Gorky Park. My husband was super excited to visit your ‘Olympics’ (that’s what Oksana calls the 2nd European Games in Minsk – author’s note). We booked the tickets to track and field competitions in advance and supported the Estonian team.
We came to visit the dentist but didn’t fall short of fun and entertainment.
When it comes to the quality of service and equipment at dental clinics, the family says that Belarus and Estonia are about equal. As for the prices, dental services in Belarus cost almost two times cheaper.
– Well, not two times in our case, – Oksana remarks. – Tickets, accommodation, entertainment, food, and rather expensive visas, added to the expenses. But even if the costs matched the cost of treatment in Estonia, my husband would have chosen to fix teeth in Belarus anyway.
Text by Daria Kluiko. Photo courtesy of the interviewees.