Dental Vacation?

I started hearing friends talking about going out of the United States for dental work a few years ago. I didn’t give it much thought for myself until we went for a checkup. We had’t been to the dentist in 5 years. The recommendations for me – deep gum cleaning, 3 crowns, and 2 fillings and for my partner – 1 crown, possible root canal, and 1 filling. Cost for all that: $8,000.

I decided to check out alternatives. I emailed Dr. Marco in San Jose Costa Rica, on the recommendation of a friend who had just been to see him. I received pricing that indicated our dental work would be substantially less expensive, so I booked us flights and we were on our way.

Upon arriving in San Jose, Costa Rica, the dental office had a driver pick us up at the airport and brought us to the Cacts Hotel that is right next door to the clinic.

The next morning we found ourselves in a waiting room full of mostly retired Americans and Canadians – all there for pretty extensive dental work: ie implants and bridges. I had never been in the company of a large group of people who were taking their health care into their own hands by exploring outside of their home countries. Even though there was a large screen TV no one wanted to watch CNN. Many were very knowledgeable of world politics and some quite opinionated. One thing was clear, no one was happy about the dental costs and quality in their own countries.

When our turn came we had ex rays and ct scans done, along with impressions. We met with Dr. Marco who told us some surprising news. In his opinion we did not have to do all the work we had been advised to do by our California dentist. He didn’t believe in doing more work than was necessary. He recommended 2 crowns for me and no deep gum cleaning. He actually advises against this kind of cleaning because he feels it loosens the teeth. My partner was advised to do one crown and one filling and probably no root canal. Amazing – a doctor who was saving us money and pain!

The rest of the week we spent in and out of the office either chatting with other patients or on our iPhones using the reception wifi. We explored San Jose in between appointments. Mostly we kidded around with other patients about “Tico time” when our appointments were usually a couple hours late.. We were able to go back to our hotel and have the clinic call us when it was our turn to be seen. The patients shared restaurant and travel suggestions. One man was a retired farmer, another a retired policeman, some came as couples, others alone. One woman was from northern Vancouver, others were from Florida, DC, Edmunds, Toronto, West Virginia. Some had been coming for years, some new like us. Often there were not enough seats in the waiting room.

I heard many stories of people being advised by Dr. Marco to do less work than they had been advised by US and Canadian dentists. Everyone was saving money even with the cost of flying. Most were also rolling in vacations to the beach and the rain forest.

On the other hand, some patients were there to fix previous dental work done at the office. I don’t know much about implant failure, but doing some quick research it looks like it can have to do with how the implant reacts to the bone or grafting. Also apparently smokers and those with diabetes may be more prone to complications. It was interesting to me that there many smokers in the waiting room. One woman said that quitting smoking made a huge difference in her dental health. Even those who told me they were there due to complications said they wouldn’t go anywhere else and appreciated that the doctors at this office stood behind their work, unlike the dentists they had been to in their own countries.

So back to us, our dental work was completed over 4 days and cost us $1,300 dollars – that is 30% of the US estimate based on the work actually conducted (remember we had less work done based on Dr. Marco’s advisement).

All in all we are happy with our dental work and are now enjoying the beach and sunshine. Yesterday we hiked to some waterfalls and today we are going zip lining. Life is good. Would we do it again? Absolutely.

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