Dr Trishala Lakhani has a wide smile and beautiful teeth. Beauty queen teeth, you could say, with some accuracy. Because as well as being an NHS dentist, the 26-year-old is a bona fide beauty queen.
She started entering pageants while studying in London, and was a finalist in Miss Universe GB this year.
Her teeth reflect both her job and her hobby. They are gleaming white, straight and very even. Could they be improved, though?
Well, for a BBC documentary — her first venture into TV presenting — Trishala consulted a London-based colleague who specialises in cosmetic dentistry, asking if there were any improvements she could recommend.
The expert opinion was no, the only advice would be to leave her lovely teeth well alone. Which was flattering, she admits, ‘because no one has perfect teeth. There can always be tweaks’.
But what would happen if Trishala asked a similar question of some dental clinics in Turkey?
Turkey is the one of the most sought-after destinations for cosmetic dentistry in the world, with prices a fraction of what British dentists charge.
Every year thousands of Brits flock there to have their teeth tweaked (and sometimes a lot more than tweaked). An entire industry has built up offering Brits dental makeover holidays, where a new set of Love Island-style ultra-white gnashers is part of the deal. It’s such a phenomenon, the hashtag #turkeyteeth now trends on the video-sharing website TikTok.
Dr Trishala Lakhani, 26, is a dentist and a beauty queen who fronts a BBC documentary about cosmetic dentistry
Without revealing her true identity, Trishala sent photographs of her own teeth to 150 Turkish clinics asking what their dentists would recommend by way of improvement.
Of those, 120 responded and of that figure, 70 said they would recommend replacing her teeth — every single one in some cases — with crowns or veneers. This would involve shaving down her own strong, healthy teeth, leaving pointy pegs to which the fake teeth would be attached.
This process, Trishala explains, involves taking away around 60-70 per cent of healthy tooth.
‘The first [dentist] offered to do 28 teeth with crowns, and said they would only need me for two days. The second just said: ‘Crowns. I think you need them.’ How rude!’
However, of the 50 British clinics Trishala approached, asking the same question — could her teeth be improved? — not one suggested any treatment. All said they would not advise any major cosmetic work, and certainly none offered to replace her teeth without so much as a physical examination.
‘I was shocked at some of the clinics in Turkey,’ admits Trishala. ‘Not just that they were offering a full set of crowns for perfectly healthy teeth, but at the way it was done. How can you formulate a treatment plan when you’ve only seen a photograph of teeth on an iPhone? There was no proper consultation or examination, no X-rays.
‘Yet this is how these things are being arranged. Sometimes the whole thing is done over Instagram. As a dentist, I’m worried by that.’
Trishala works in a hospital setting, and her patients include those who need dental work because of cancer treatment. But she was keen to front this documentary precisely because the British dental industry has watched with mounting horror as the ‘Turkey Teeth’ trend has grown.
Katie Price has not been shy about sharing every part of her smile journey on social media, posing for this photo with her teeth filed down to stubs
The outcome was the lightning white, perfect smile which she flashed to the camera
‘I was first aware of it in my first year out in practice after university,’ she explains.
‘So many patients were asking my advice on going abroad for treatment. Since then, it’s even more popular.
The hashtag count for #turkeyteeth is now up to something like 130 million. What’s particularly worrying is it’s young people driving that.’
Indeed, a recent survey by the Liverpool Echo newspaper in that city found 63 per cent of those considering treatments were aged between 18-34.
What has this got to do with British dentists? Well, they’re the ones consulted when things go wrong — which they do, it seems, worryingly often.
Of 1,000 British dentists contacted for this programme and asked about their experience, 597 replied, saying they had seen complications from crowns and veneers applied in Turkey. Problems included everything from infections to issues caused by ‘Lego teeth’ (with full rows applied in one block, rather than moulded to individual teeth).
One in five of those estimated that the repairs they carried out cost in excess of £5,000 — making the ‘cheap’ Turkey option, which can have an initial price tag of between £2,000-£3,000 — anything but.
Trishala says some British dentists won’t touch these so-called #turkeyteeth, leaving patients marooned.
‘One of the biggest problems is some British dentists are refusing to touch teeth when work has been done in Turkey, saying the minute they do, they are liable — leaving patients in a terrible position,’ Trishala says.
The global dental tourism industry is predicted to be worth a huge £4.6 bn by 2025. While the pandemic provided a lull, it seems clinics abroad are now enjoying the fruits of a double whammy — the return of international travel, and issues with British dentists still not being back to pre-Covid capacity.
Trishala also warns that the social media factor, particularly with veneers and crowns, shouldn’t be underestimated.
Influencer and one-time Love Island winner Jack Fincham has shown off his uber-white teeth — which, yes, were done in Turkey — and Katie Price has not been shy about sharing every part of her smile journey on social media.
Influencer and one-time Love Island winner Jack Fincham has shown off his uber-white teeth, which, yes, were done in Turkey
In fact, documenting your entire #turkeyteeth experience on Instagram or TikTok — right down to gruesome images of filed-down peg teeth, or blood-stained faces — has become a thing in itself.
So, too, is documenting the horror when things go wrong. Healthcare assistant Lisa Martyn, 48, appears in the documentary but her issues with her new teeth first became a talking point after she made a series of TikTok videos warning others to steer clear.
Lisa, who lives in Kerry, Ireland, travelled to Turkey for new teeth in 2011. Thanks to unsightly gaps at the sides of her mouth and her two front teeth being worn down after years of grinding them in her sleep, she says: ‘I just hated them. You’d never catch me smiling in photographs’.
Quoted more than £5,000 to have her two front teeth ‘fixed’ in the UK, she had taken out a loan to pay for this, but was impressed when a friend had her teeth done in Turkey — at a fraction of the cost.
Coincidently she was going on holiday there, too. ‘I still wasn’t planning to have my teeth done, but by the pool all these British and Irish people were,’ she says. ‘There were reps at the hotel, handing out brochures. It’s a thing you can just add on to the holiday, like an excursion.’
Intrigued, Lisa visited a couple of clinics, but then — sensibly, she thought — called her friend and asked her which clinic she had used. An appointment was duly made and, to her delight, the dentist said she could give her a full new top set for £1,800. In hindsight, Lisa admits: ‘She didn’t explain anything to me. I wasn’t warned of any issues.’
For ten years, she had no regrets, and thought her teeth were ‘great’. Then, last year, a crack appeared in one tooth.
She contacted the clinic in Turkey and was told replacing one tooth wasn’t possible, ‘because the whole lot were attached, not separate’. She would need to have the whole top row replaced, but they could do a good price.
‘They quoted me £3,500 for a full set. I thought it was a real bargain. Obviously, now I think that it was the most stupid thing I’ve done.’
Healthcare assistant Lisa Martyn, 48, appears in the documentary but her issues with her new teeth first became a talking point after she made a series of TikTok videos warning others to steer clear
Back to Turkey she went. This time the clinic was even busier, the waiting area a ‘conveyor belt’ of British and Irish people. ‘They don’t operate with an appointment system,’ Lisa says. ‘You just turn up and wait, and people were coming in off the street where they’d take their money off them and file their teeth down to pegs immediately, presumably so they couldn’t change their mind or go elsewhere.’
Her experience this time was very different. ‘I sat for a whole day, then at 4pm they said they didn’t have time, so I’d have to come back the next day. I did that. Nothing was explained.
‘My teeth were all filed down and I was sent away with temporary veneers, then went back to have the real ones fitted.’
This was where the agony started. ‘They do that without anaesthetic. They were drilling and banging. I nearly hopped out of the chair, the pain was excruciating,’ Lisa recalls.
She was still in the chair when, to her horror, she saw her new teeth for the first time. ‘I said: ‘They are smaller than before.’ The girl brushed it off and said: ‘No, no, they are the same’. But they were a completely different size.’
In agony, she came home, and so began the nightmare that she documented on TikTok. Every few weeks she’d update her followers. ‘I couldn’t eat. I’d gone to Turkey weighing 18 and a half stone, and I went down to 15. This throbbing pain didn’t settle.’
She consulted her own dentist, who — ‘and I was lucky here’ — agreed to treat her. X-rays showed she had an infection and would need root canal treatment and antibiotics. The treatment is ongoing. ‘So far I’ve had one root canal treatment, but the infection has spread so I need another. And I’ve had four courses of antibiotics.
The cost? So far it’s been £600 on the first root canal, £240 on a consultation, and £80 for each course of antibiotics. The next root canal will be £1,400.’
The ultimate cost will not just be financial, though. One of the most shocking things about Lisa’s #turkeyteeth is she was not fitted with veneers, as she had thought. Her new teeth were crowns — a much more invasive procedure.
‘We have found this is very common,’ says Trishala. ‘People were talking on TikTok about their veneers, but actually had crowns. With veneers, minimal shaving down of the tooth is done, but with crowns, quite a large percentage of healthy tooth is removed, raising the risk of serious issues.
‘The problem with crowns is they do not last a lifetime. They may have to be replaced — after ten or 12 years in some cases, and more of the healthy tooth has to be replaced each time. If someone is 22 when they have their first treatment, this is a problem.’
TikToker David Kosir shows his teeth before getting his them done in Turkey and then another pic in the dentist’s chair with the bottom row shaved down
Indeed, aside from the potential cost of having to renew your teeth every decade or so, young people risk being left with no teeth at all — something Lisa spends much time trying to educate them about through her videos.
‘I know one day I’m going to have a full set of dentures or implants, so for the people who are even younger when they start, where are they going to be?’ she says.
Little wonder then, that, in the show, another dentist, Dr M.J. Rowland-Warmann, director of a dental clinic in Liverpool, says: ‘If I did 20 crowns on a 21-year-old for the purposes of improving the colour, I would have my licence revoked — I would be struck off.’
Trishala, meanwhile, emphasises that there are professional and ethical dentists in Turkey (‘they have some of the best dentists in the world’), but potential patients should think long and hard first.
‘They need to make an informed choice. So many people we talked to were not offered alternatives – like composites, which can give the same effect but with minimal damage to the natural tooth,’ she says.
But will her warnings be heeded? Unfortunately, as the show highlights, some simply do not care.
Tilly Entwhistle, 20, from Manchester, says her British dentist was horrified at the work she’d had carried out in Turkey — a whole mouth of healthy teeth filed down and ‘done’.
‘I was bullied as a child because of my teeth and called names like ‘Bugs Bunny’,’ she says.
‘Dentists in Harley Street had quoted me up to £10,000 just to get the top set of teeth done. In Turkey, it is not even a quarter of that price. Plus it was like a holiday as well so that was a bonus.
‘Now, my dentist has said she would never touch my teeth as she wouldn’t want to take any responsibility in case I had any future issues. But the improvement it’s made to my life means the risk has been more than worth it. It’s sad dentists can’t sympathise with what it’s been like for me.’
Lisa, meanwhile, urges others to think beyond the instant smiles. ‘I’m now just working to pay for dental treatment. I have pain every day of my life and am on painkillers all the time,’ she says. ‘You may think you are getting a bargain, but you are not.’
Turkey Teeth: Bargain Smiles Or Big Mistake? is available to watch now on BBC iPlayer.