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Giuseppe Costanzo has become a regular visitor to this tiny beach resort on Croatia's coast. But unlike many tourists, the 63-year-old Italian has come to take a seat in a dental clinic rather than claim a spot on the sand.

The retired postal worker from Latina, near Rome, says he has come to have his teeth implants done by a Croatian dentist.

"It's almost half the amount that I would have to pay in Italy," he says.

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Costanzo is among the growing number of foreigners coming to Croatia for dental work.

Whereas a porcelain tooth crown can cost $1,100 to $1,300 in Britain, a Croatian dentist charges just over $300.

Others have spotted the potential: The town has just opened another dental centre catering to tourists.

Croatian tourist officials say the country has great potential in health tourism, a growing market they are keen to develop to prolong the July-August high season, which sees eight million tourists - nearly twice Croatia's population.

Croatia is joining a growing list of former Eastern Bloc countries - Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania - offering cheap medical and dental care.

Not to mention existing markets in Cuba, India and elsewhere in Asia.

There are no official figures on the number of foreigners coming to Croatia for dental services. However, it is believed most of them visit the northern Adriatic coastal port of Rijeka, just over the border from Italy, and the upmarket resort of Opatija. The area has 262 dentists, nearly a quarter of 1,300 registered in Croatia.

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Apart from the growth in foreigners coming for dental work, the number of those seeking plastic surgery is also on the increase.

Again, the pull factor is price.

"Compared with Italy, prices are on average 50 per cent lower," said Zoran Zgaljardic, a facial plastic surgeon in Opatija, who says about a third of his patients are Italians.

Operations most in demand are rhinoplasty, or nose jobs, liposuction, breast implants and a growing number of men seeking facelifts.

"Breast implants are around 3,000 euros [here] while in Italy you'd pay between 6,000 and 8,000 euros," Zgaljardic says.

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