Ask people why they come to this tiny town just a skip and a jump over the Austrian border and you get a mouthful.

"These 11 teeth," said Heinz Kusche as he shoved a wide, pudgy finger over a few incisors and, rather alarmingly, somewhere down his throat. "In Austria, you'd pay six to eight thousand shillings {about $600 to $800} for this work. In Hungary, you pay between two and three thousand shillings."

"I've got a bad one back here and back here and here," offered up Gottfried Divos, a Viennese electronics worker who stretched his mouth to jack-o'-lantern proportions to shed some light on the subject. "I've been coming here since December, and I have to say, by driving one hour or so, I save a lot of money."

You might say fate has smiled on Sopron, a city of 55,000 people 120 miles west of Budapest that has tapped into the Western health care market and where Hungarian dentists such as Lazlo Szilagyi, who claims to serve 10,000 patients, make the most of what he calls "word-of-mouth" advertising.

Szilagyi, now 51, had worked in a state clinic in less-developed eastern Hungary before he and his wife Zsuzsanna, also a dentist, moved here in 1986 to set up a small private practice.

When the communist system fell apart three years later, the couple, working out of a small office in a decrepit hotel on the main drag of Varkerulet Street, realized they could be living in a boom town.

The Szilagyis invested all they had in medical equipment, appealed for credit from Western firms and decided to buy only gold and porcelain fillings that met Western standards. Today, the full-service clinic and laboratory that they run, in the 30-room hotel that they renovated and now own, is packed with patients who have jumped the western border.

"I close my eyes only when I'm sleeping," said Szilagyi, who clearly has mastered the art of speaking in sound bites. "People are trying to take advantage of opportunities. What we're doing here is high-tech with a heart."

Seven Hungarian dentists, employed by Szilagyi or on contract, work in modern offices on the second floor. Two eye doctors lease space on the first floor. Patients who opt for surgical or other more time-consuming procedures can stay overnight on the brand-new Med Hotel's third floor in antique-filled rooms for $75 a night. Credit cards are accepted for all services.

Since 1989, 80 dentists have opened their doors in Sopron, and it is estimated that more than 100 dentists have been working full- and part-time here. Austrian clients make up the bulk of Szilagyi's clients although he says customers include travelers from Germany and Britain.

Few Hungarians can afford the prices at Szilagyi's clinic. The prices are cheap by Western standards -- about 40 percent less than Austrian prices -- but about three times what Hungarians would pay in a state-run clinic, dentists say. One exception, at least at Szilagyi's clinic, is made for orthodontic work.

About half the orthodontic practice is devoted to Hungarian children, who are charged less than half the $2,000 that Austrians pay for basic orthodontia over a three-year period. "It'd be impossible to get so much money from Hungarian children," said Giselle Rehak, an orthodontist who travels two hours from Budapest twice a week for the work. "And the Austrian children can get back a lot of it."

Much of the lure is the savings. National health insurance covers some of the procedures in Austria, but patients traveling here often seek elective procedures -- such as bridges and root canals -- that would not be covered under the Austrian plan.

Austrian dental associations have dismissed the number of patients who opt for over-the-border care as minimal. But the enterprising Hungarians clearly have struck a nerve with some doctors in Vienna, Semmering and Linz.

Patients here said many have lost business to the border trade and try to scare patients away with tales of poor hygiene and substandard methods at the Hungarian clinics.

"I must tell you, I've been very pleased with the work," said Bridgit Kleiss, a cleaning woman who drives three hours to avoid paying the higher prices in her small town of Wels. "But now that I come here, I can't use any dentist in Linz. They tell me: You use a Hungarian, I won't touch you.' "

The occasional health warnings, oddly enough, only help to boost his business, Szilagyi said. He has fought back by giving patients some consumer rights. He provides them with detailed certificates explaining the material he puts in their teeth and assuring them that every procedure is guaranteed for five years.

"It's the best propaganda for us," he said. "Whenever they start a campaign, we get more patients." CAPTION: Dentist Szilagyi works on a patient at his Sopron clinic. He says he serves 10,000 patients, many obtained through "word-of-mouth" advertising.