Costly Hong Kong dental care pushes more patients to visit neighbouring Shenzhen to fill service gaps

Costly Hong Kong dental care pushes more patients to visit neighbouring Shenzhen to fill service gaps

The retiree was disheartened by the long waiting time, before a friend recommended she visit the hospital across the border.

Cheng arrived at the hospital at about 10am without needing a reservation, had the tooth extracted and left at around noon. The procedure, along with a check-up, X-ray scan and anti-inflammatory drugs, cost about 1,000 yuan (US$138).

Cheng, a widowed mother of two who lives alone, said she was satisfied with the hospital’s efficient and quality service.

“I will continue to seek dental care across the border despite the long trips,” she added.

Cheng is among a growing number of Hongkongers heading to the mainland to seek dental services following the coronavirus pandemic.

Residents are seeking a variety of services from teeth cleaning, extractions and implants to root canal work at mainland Chinese hospitals and clinics.

Many attributed their decision to long waiting times and the high cost of dental services in Hong Kong.

Mainland hospitals and clinics have also ramped up advertising to attract more Hong Kong patients, hoping to cash in on the trend of more residents heading north to spend on cheaper goods and services.

Shenzhen C.K.J Stomatological Hospital is popular with Hongkongers looking for dental services, and is just a 10-minute walk from the Luohu border crossing.

The hospital was not crowded last Thursday morning as many patients had appointments. A Post reporter spoke to 10 people and found eight were Hongkongers.

Hong Kong engineer Mike Wong, 36, said it was his third visit to the hospital and he was following up on an endodontic treatment to disinfect tooth pulp and stop any bacterial infection.

He said the treatment cost him about 4,000 yuan but it would have been HK$30,000 to HK$50,000 at a Hong Kong clinic.

While Wong said he had more confidence in Hong Kong dentists, the service in Shenzhen was satisfactory and he could get to the hospital in about 40 minutes from his home in Mong Kok.

“Endodontic treatment is not a high-risk procedure, so I’m not very concerned. The overall service turned out to be good,” he said.

Costly Hong Kong dental care pushes more patients to visit neighbouring Shenzhen to fill service gaps
Retired minibus driver Cheng Yee-man is part of a growing trend of Hongkongers seeking more affordable dental services outside the city. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Retired engineer Clarence Mak, 66, said he was accompanying his wife, 60, to the hospital to have a rotten tooth removed after the pain became unbearable.

The couple had struggled to get a timely booking in Hong Kong, so they travelled from their home in Yau Ma Tei to the Shenzhen hospital without a booking and paid about 4,000 yuan.

Chapman Chan Wing-kei, chief strategy and investment officer of C-MER Eye Care Holdings, which owns the hospital, said Hongkongers last year accounted for about 10,000 visits on average per month there and the 12 dental clinics run by the group in Shenzhen.

The figure accounted for about half of all patient visits.

The average monthly number of visits by Hongkongers had risen about 10 per cent this year, he added.

Before the pandemic in 2019, Hongkongers accounted for around 7,000 visits per month on average, about 45 per cent of the total.

Chan said more than half of their Hong Kong patients were above the age of 50.

Dental services at the hospital cost about half the typical price of those in Hong Kong, he added.

Dental scaling costs 180 to 500 yuan per treatment, fillings are 300 to 1,500 yuan per tooth, while an extraction is about 200 to 500 yuan, or more in complex cases.

“Some patients’ needs cannot be met in Hong Kong because of the city’s high medical costs,” Chan said. “We are providing an alternative for them with accessible costs and at convenient locations.”

He said the hospital planned to bring in more dentists and set up an extra 20 to 30 consultation rooms to help cater to growing demand for services among Hongkongers.

Chan said he expected the number of Hong Kong patients to rise further once the hospital’s inclusion in an expanded healthcare voucher scheme took effect later this year.

Chapman Chan, chief strategy and investment officer of the C-MER Eye Care Holdings, says he expects the number of Hong Kong patients to rise further once its hospital’s inclusion in an expanded healthcare voucher scheme takes effect later this year. Photo: Edmond So

Demand was also spurring plans to launch a general hospital nearby later this year, to offer specialty services such as eye and dental care, as well as imaging tests, he added.

Employees at Luohu district’s Maiya, part of a chain of dental clinics, said the number of Hongkongers heading there had risen since the border reopened early last year and now accounted for about half of their patients.

The chain of clinics has also placed extensive advertisements on Hong Kong MTR trains and at border crossings.

Hongkonger Ken Chiu said he had his teeth cleaned at the clinic on Thursday morning before meeting a friend for lunch in Shenzhen. The NGO employee, who is in his 30s, said it was his first such experience across the border and that he previously had his teeth cleaned in Hong Kong for HK$500 per session.

Chiu said he was satisfied with the clinic’s 30-minute service and intended to go back. “The service is good while its cost is low,” he added.

Hong Kong residents are forced to queue for hours to secure a spot at government dental clinics while many cannot afford private dental care.

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Lengthy dental queues for Hong Kong’s low-income people

Lengthy dental queues for Hong Kong’s low-income people

Hongkongers do not enjoy free dental care except for emergency pain relief and extractions at 11 clinics operated by the government that offer these services not more than twice a week at each facility.

Preliminary registration for emergency consultations at nine of the 11 clinics starts at midnight and closes once the quota is reached. Patients must register in person and return for the appointment during the day.

The Audit Commission has slammed the arrangement, prompting authorities to allow patients to preregister at 8pm from June 11.

The government in February announced its healthcare voucher scheme for elderly residents would be expanded to include seven more medical institutions in mainland cities in the Greater Bay Area from the third quarter this year. Five offer integrated medical services and two provide dental care.

The scheme was launched in 2009 and offers eligible residents aged 65 and above an annual voucher of HK$2,000 per person, with the amount allowed to accumulate up to HK$8,000.

The bay area refers to Beijing’s scheme to link Hong Kong, Macau and nine Guangdong cities into an integrated economic and business hub.

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