Grin and bear it: Dental tourists are having teeth ‘mutilated’ at clinics in Turkey
A woman unleashes a howl as blood dribbles down her chin. Tiny shark-like stumps become visible as her mouth opens, revealing her raw gums to the camera. “#Turkeyteeth,” reads the caption. The woman in the video is in a dental clinic in Turkey, mid-way through a cosmetic procedure that involves shaving down your natural teeth to miniature pegs and having pearly white crowns affixed to achieve a flawless smile.
This beaming, milk-white, spotless grin has been popularised by reality TV stars such as Love Island’s Luca Bish and Jack Fincham, who have both publicly confirmed they visited Turkey to get the work done. While critics of the Love Island smile cruelly liken it to Donkey’s chompers in Shrek, piano keys or Ross after his notorious teeth-whitening experience in Friends, thousands of young people yearn for it.
On TikTok, twenty-somethings share videos recommending overseas clinics offering all-inclusive holiday deals that include a trip to Turkey and cosmetic surgery in the price. It’s not all smiles, though. The grim reality of this trend is that thousands of people are returning to the UK with botched treatment that could lead to lifelong health issues. Last year, the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) found that the number of Brits being treated for serious complications following cosmetic surgery abroad rose by 44 per cent, with more likely coming: social media is awash with clinics promoting their package deals via influencer endorsed marketing. Among the most coveted treatments are “Turkey teeth”, Brazilian butt lifts (BBL) – a surgical treatment that makes the buttocks perkier and rounder – tummy tucks and hair transplants.
Molly arrived in Turkey last year after making an appointment to get what she thought were veneers. The 25-year-old paid around £3,000 for a package deal, which included a consultation via WhatsApp, luxury hotel accommodation for three days, airport transfer, breakfast and brand-new teeth. Molly considered this a fair price since a similar procedure would cost more than double in Manchester, where she lives. Plus, the experience had come recommended by some of her friends.
Molly left Turkey three days later with teeth that she says are “too big” for her mouth. She then started experiencing difficulties with her speech. Disappointed with how “blocky” and “unnatural” they looked, Molly says her gums also began feeling sensitive. She later learnt that her previously healthy teeth had been completely destroyed and she had not received veneers, but 20 chunky, glistening crowns – a treatment that is irreversible.
Dr Sam Jethwa, vice president of The British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and leading cosmetic dentist at Bespoke Smile in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, believes that patients are having their teeth completely “mutilated” at clinics in Turkey. He worries that people are being lured in by the all-inclusive appeal of these deals without considering the end result. So far, he’s seen patients return with nerve problems, dead teeth, abscesses and infections that need root canals.
You just trust the dentists and it all happens so quickly
“Dentistry can’t be sold digitally or in holiday packages,” Dr Jethwa tells me. “A medical procedure involves an assessment, diagnosis, and then finding the best option for that situation. Whereas when you go to Turkey, it’s not tailored to the patient.” He points out that some clinics market the deal as “crown slash veneer”, but those are two entirely different treatments. While a veneer is minimally invasive and keeps the patient’s existing enamel intact; crowns can require filing down up to 70 per cent of the original tooth before 360-degree helmets are placed over each peg.
At Bespoke Smile, where Dr Jethwa is the lead clinician, the process of creating ultra-thin veneers takes up to three weeks in comparison to Molly’s three days. By contrast, Dr Jethwa’s consultation process includes making a trial set of teeth for the patient to look at. Then, each hand-made veneer takes about a day to make. Dr Jethwa questions the “quality” of the materials being used by some Turkish clinics and the severity of the work being done. “No one ever comes in needing 20-plus teeth unless they’ve got a mouth that really needs reconstruction,” he tells me, noting that patients who want their “Turkey teeth” removed and reconstructed could face a bill up to £60,000.
Molly admits that she felt misled by the clinic she visited in Turkey. “All I wanted to fix was the roundness of my teeth and get the square look,” she tells me, explaining that she already had healthy, relatively straight, white teeth – no overhaul necessary. “I didn’t know about the danger of drilling down the teeth. You just trust the dentists and it all happens so quickly,” she sighs, saying that she was stripped of the opportunity to preview her new teeth before going through with it. “It’s just like a machine process [at the clinic] that isn’t personal to you at all. Now, at [age] 25, I’ve got these big blocky teeth, which is going to cost a fortune to correct.”
Dr Jethwa recently saw a 21-year-old man who had received dental work in Turkey and had resorted to using chewing gum to secure his two front crowns because they kept disconnecting. “He showed us what it looked like underneath the crowns and there must have been about two to three millimetres of tooth left,” says Dr Jethwa. “They were just destroyed.” The patient’s teeth needed to be removed and replaced with implants. This would involve rebuilding his gum (when the gum tissue is lost and needs to be grafted), which would take up to 18 months to look “normal” again, explains the dentist.
Plastic surgery procedures such as liposuction are similarly marketed by Turkish clinics as glamorous holiday experiences with a seemingly budget-friendly price tag. Marc Pacifico, BAAPS president, has seen Brits return from Turkey with burns from overaggressive liposuction, litres of fluids collecting around their abdomen after the same treatment and dead skin from tummy tucks. These popular surgical treatments are, like dental work, much cheaper in Turkey. Pacifico explains that the cost of adhering to strict safety regulations in the UK is what makes the treatments more expensive in comparison to abroad. “The reality is that if you have surgery, complications can happen even in the best of hands,” he warns. “But if you’re going somewhere that doesn’t have the same regulatory framework and the safety standards, there’s a much higher risk.”
In the UK, cosmetic practices are regulated by the Care Quality Commission, a public body of the Department of Health and Social Care, which monitors medical services from cosmetic surgery clinics to mental health services. Both Dr Jethwa and Pacifico reiterate to me that some excellent dentists and plastic surgeons practice in Turkey, but it’s often about finding the right clinic that prioritises the quality of the treatment over quick turnarounds.
When I speak to 27-year-old Kristian, who visited Turkey to get liposuction and a BBL four months ago, he tells me that research is crucial when choosing the right clinic. He, like Molly, visited Turkey for the cheaper cost and had been recommended the experience by some friends. Kristian describes his experience as “painless” and says that he’s pleased with the outcome. When I bring up “Turkey teeth” and the gruesome videos circulating social media, he reassures me that there are excellent clinics while some are merely trying to make quick money. “I know I’m going back [to the same clinic] because they were so good,” he tells me, saying he’s considering getting a facelift next time.
Dr Jethwa and Pacifico both agree that effusive influencer marketing behind overseas surgery deals is dangerously normalising the idea of “quick fix” procedures. The word “trend” makes Pacifico feel uneasy when it comes to surgery. “I’m very nervous when there is something that appears to be fashionable and can be achieved by surgical procedure,” he says, before pointing to a popular trend called buccal fat removal – a face gouging, cheekbone sculpting procedure – that has been popular among celebrities in recent months. “Making a decision about surgery is a lifelong decision,” he reiterates. “By glamorising the procedure, and making it sound like it’s a holiday, it takes away the reality of the risks and problems.”
On 31 January, it was reported that an 81-year-old man called Clive Worthington took his own life after fighting for compensation over botched dental work that left him in agony. Though Worthington received dental surgery from a UK-registered dentist, the story is a pertinent reminder of the pain and mental health impacts inflicted by surgical complications.
While Molly is in the process of seeking professional advice from UK dentists about the best option for mending her smile, she’s been left with financial anxiety and regret. She hopes to find a payment plan to help her afford the costs. “Do your research in the UK and think before you go,” she says, cautioning people considering flying out for cosmetic work. “I wouldn’t have got the work done if I had known about the long-term effects and now I have to pay to try and correct that.”
If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch