By Marko Kovac
In Zagreb, Croatia
Croatia has decided to take an unconventional approach to tourism - with dentists taking a starring role.
Dentistry in Croatia is much cheaper than in the UK
With many questioning the future of mass tourism on the Adriatic Sea, the EU candidate country of 4.5 million has started promoting itself as a dental treatment destination.
Croatian dentists are offering treatments for a fraction of a price of those in Britain, Switzerland, Italy or the United States.
"Scanning different international markets, we have recognised the potential for providing high quality dental services to foreign nationals, especially the British," said Kresimir Doblanovic, from Zagreb, Croatia's capital.
"We have the same level of expertise as our colleagues in Britain, but almost 80% of people there can not afford the highest level service.
"The margin is so big that it pays off to our patients to fly from Britain, stay in Croatia for a week and get their teeth done here."
For another dentist, Mladen Frntic, foreign patients are a make or break strategy.
"If it weren't for my international clients, I would go bust very soon", he said.
Domestic market limited
Frntic sees the Croatian market as too poor and too small for dentists' investments and innovation to pay off.
Treating even two foreign patients per month makes a big difference for him.
Kresimir Doblanovic has plans to expand
Doblanovic and Frntic are only two amongst many dentists around Croatia who have recently started servicing international clients.
So popular has travelling long distances for dental work become that many web sites now provide country-by-country overviews for cheap dentistry.
TreatementAbroad.net is one such site that Croatian dentists are increasingly using to promote their services.
It gives background on selected countries, advises on what qualifications to look for from foreign dentists and posts patients' testimonials.
Site visitors can also get a price quote from the site after submitting their specific requests.
Keith Pollard, managing director of the website, said: "Less accessible NHS treatment is driving people to look abroad. Croatia is one of our most popular destinations.
"Croatia seems to have washed away the stigma of a dangerous country, after a war in the nineties tore it apart."
He also echoes dentists' claims of Croatia being a heaven for the price sensitive customer.
Based on patients' testimonials on TreatementAbroad.net, a new set of teeth in Croatia is less than half the price of one in Britain.
Pollard says he has not had a single complaint for services he promotes in Eastern Europe.
Plans for expansion
The constant rise of demand from abroad has prompted some enterprising dentists to think of expanding their businesses further - with the natural beauty of the Adriatic Sea offering an ideal opportunity.
Kresmir Doblanovic said: "Many patients have asked me whether I have an office on the Adriatic coast, because they want to come with their families and combine dental with the usual kind of tourism.
"That's why right now I am finishing up plans of opening my second office on the seaside."
Eric Jansson, an American living in the UK, is one happy customer.
He recently visited Zagreb on a business trip and decided to fill a gap in his agenda with a visit to the dentist.
He inquired about dentistry services at the local pharmacist and some hours later he already had his teeth cleansed.
"I managed to get an appointment in only two hours. Back home in the north of England there's a half a year waiting list for these kinds of services.
"The dentists I went to in Croatia spoke English, had what seemed as all the latest equipment and they did a very thorough job."
Jansson was so impressed he is now thinking of returning with his wife and children for more treatment.
For those planning their visit beforehand, the Croatian dentist may speed up the treatment by asking patients to first scan their teeth locally and e-mail the x-rays.
By the time the patients board one of the recently introduced low-cost, no frills flights into Croatia, their implants or prosthetics are already prepared and waiting.
Once established in western markets, Croatian dentists plan to turn to oil-rich Arab countries, where, they say, insurance pays for all dentistry services.
A permanent contract with a major company that would outsource dental services for their employees could further strengthen their position in the global cheap dentistry market.