New evidence suggests dental tourism is skyrocketing, with a now estimated one million people traveling outside their home country for affordable dental treatments and enhancements. According to medical travel resource Patients Without Borders, most tooth tourists are from the U.S., with Europe a close second—with the majority seeking implants, crowns, root canals, and smile makeovers.
And while Hungary, Poland, Thailand, India, and Singapore are fast emerging as top spots for dental work, some are traveling to the U.S. for treatments. Call it Reverse Dental Tourism. And it makes sense, given Americans' worldwide reputation for flaunting mouthfuls of pearly whites. But these aren't your average bargain-hunting snaggle-toothed tourists.
Dr. Michael Apa, a partner in New York-based Rosenthal-Apa Group and pioneer in Facial Aesthetic Design, is one of the world's top cosmetic dentists. Beyond catering to celebrities such as Matt Dillon, Chloë Sevigny, and the Trumps, he also services many of the Middle East's royal families, who pay upwards of $30,000 for his mouth makeovers—and who decamp to New York City for weeks at a time. As a result, Dr. Apa not only helps people looks years younger with porcelain veneers and facial asymmetry adjustments, but his practice also acts as de facto concierge and travel advisor. He was recently honored with a Five-Star Diamond Award from the American Academy of Hospitality Science for being "One of the Finest Dentists Worldwide." Travel + Leisure recently caught up with the doctor in NYC:
Q: Can you tell us how you came to work with teeth, and how you found your way to Aesthetic Dentistry?
A: When I was very young, 5, I had a rare liver disease and almost died. During this time, I decided I wanted to be in medicine. I was obsessed with my favorite baseball players' toothpaste, and that lead me to dentistry. My grandmother was also a big influence on me.
Q: Would you ever be a medical tourist?
A: Yes, I would. Definitely. The world is so small now it's easy to think about traveling to where you will find the best possible treatment.
Q: Mouth make-overs take about a week. I understand your office also helps with travel plans and itineraries while in NYC? Can you share some of your favorite recs for hotels, restos, and spas while in town?
A: For hotels, I love recommending patients stay at The Mark or Carlyle. For restaurants, Jean-Georges at The Mark, Cipriani, Crown, and downtown, Commerce Restaurant. It's on the most picturesque corner in New York City.
Q: You divide your time between NYC and Dubai, where you also have an office. What UAE recommendations do you have?
A: I love to go to the desert—great restaurants and sightseeing. I always stay at the Royal Mirage in Dubai or Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, and always always make a trip to Zuma (Japanese) and Hakkasan (Chinese/Asian fusion) for dinner.
Q: Do you ever travel to donate your services to those people in need who may also need a smile makeover?
A: Yes. I am on the board of Operation Smile, which works in some 60 countries and helps children born with cleft palates. I'm also a member of Kageno, an organization that's re-building, and helping the people of, Ruwanda.
Adrien Glover is the deputy digital editor at Travel + Leisure.