International patients put shine on Latvia's dental sectorÂ
However, Latvia's dental sector - with its reputation for high quality and affordability, is increasingly attracting international tourists of a different kind.
Latvia is emerging as a popular destination for cosmetic dental treatments, with the professional services and affordable prices offered by Latvian dentists, driving a new trend in so-called "dental tourism."
Even the current economic situation hasn't managed to wipe the shine off Latvia's dentistry sector.
Sergejs Andrijevskis, of Riga surgery Dental Art, said the number of international dental tourists had risen dramatically in recent years.
"It's connected with the overall economic situation. People are looking for a lower price, but the same quality," he said.
Dental procedures are some three to four times cheaper in Latvia than in Scandinavia and most Western European countries even when taking into account travel and accommodation costs.
Andrijevskis said the lower cost of rent, salaries and utilities in Latvia allowed dentists to keep their prices down, but maintain high level standards.
This has lead to a spike in the numbers of foreign visitors from Scandinavia, the U.K. and Western Europe seeking out Latvian dentistry services.
Teeth whitening, restoration works, implant surgery and prosthodontic treatment are among the most common procedures.
Andrijevskis said he requests a dental x-ray from his foreign patients which he uses to provide an accurate summary of the procedure and cost involved prior to their arrival.
Patients typically combine their dental work with a holiday.
"In most cases people come for a week, sometimes a little bit longer. They are not always at the dentist's office, so some people use the time to also have a vacation," he said.
QUESTION OF TRUST
In the past foreign dental patients were typically people with some family or business connection to the Baltics, however, now Andrijevskis said people were coming independently specifically for dental treatment.
Andrijevskis said the increase in foreign patient numbers also correlated with Latvia's improved international reputation after its ascension to the European Union.
Andrijevskis said foreign visitors were now more likely to trust Latvian dentistry services.
Under EU requirements Latvian dentists must comply with strict European health guidelines and controls.
"Latvia is becoming more trusted. The more people coming here, the more they give a recommendation," he said.
"In the past [foreign visitors] didn't trust much. We were not part of the EU and people didn't know about Latvia," he said.
Andrijevskis believes Latvia also has the potential to establish itself as a leading international dental tourism destination, adding there was opportunity to capitalize on the new wave of dental tourism by offering all inclusive package holidays, similar to those available in South East Asia for cosmetic surgery.
"The quality of dentistry services in Latvia is the same in any developed European country," he said.
"We are certified at a very high level and offer very high quality services, which makes [Latvian dentists] very competitive to our foreign colleagues."
By Kate McIntosh