Dental Tourism, Why and Why Not…

So, I keep hearing about how crazy it was to travel for my dental work.  I guess this is still a topic of conversation among my friends and family.  So, I thought I’d put the idea that this was a crazy notion to rest.  This was not an impulse decision. Most who know me, know that I agonize over details.  It can take me months to decide on a color of paint, on where to hang a picture, on what car to buy, on whether to spend $10 or $8, or whether the book should be hard copy or Kindle!  Let me walk you through the process I went through, maybe it will help you understand how the process works or help someone else come to their own decisions.

November 1, I went to see a new dentist here in NH.  I had been seeing the same dentist in Maine for 32 years, he retired, so I was forced to see someone new.  I had crown and bridge work, some of which was 30 years old. My old dentist literally ‘re-glued’ me every 6 months or so. Well, the new dentist wants no part of keeping me together, the old stuff must go.  One is a 5 part bridge, the other a 3 part. Besides, I also need a root canal and the supporting teeth of the 5 part bridge are full of decay, so those need to be extracted and replaced with implants.  I’m a mess.  So, doing my due diligence, I start calling around and pricing things out. K’ching!  Best estimate is $35000, assuming all goes perfectly! I would have to see 2, maybe 3 different dentists. One for the implants, one for the crowns and one for the root canal. I don’t have dental insurance, so in my mind, I might as well move into a dentist office, get a job in a dentist office or marry a dentist to get this all done, none of which are going to happen, so I had to find another route!

I happen across an article in a magazine about folks combining travel with medical, so I start googling. First stop was Amazon for a book, Patients Beyond Borders.  Steve and I were heading off for a week away and it seemed like the perfect book to bring, so I loaded the Kindle.  I read every single page of that book, feeling like I discovered this underground movement of medical and dental tourism and I must have been hiding under a rock not to know about it before!  It helped me feel like this isn’t crazy, other people are doing it and more importantly, it helped me narrow down where to go for dental treatment.

Once we were home, I got busy on Google.  I called a couple of Medical Tourism travel companies, Planet Hospital and Healthbase and I started asking around. I spoke with friends in Arizona, ‘snowbirds’, who talked about all the people they know who travel from Yuma, AZ to Algodones Mexico for all of their care.  I spoke with friends in Texas who know of folks who also travel into Mexico for care.  By the time I was done reading, asking, researching, I had narrowed down to Mexico, Hungary, Thailand and Costa Rica.  One thing I knew for sure at this point, is that I would save a bundle of $ by going out of the country for this work.

Next step was figuring out where to go.  I ruled out Thailand and Hungary first, not because they weren’t good places to go for treatment and someday, I would love to see those countries, but I felt that the flights were too long and too costly. If anything went wrong, I wanted to be able to get back to the doctor in a) a reasonable amount of time and b) for a reasonable cost.

Now I’m looking at Mexico and Costa Rica.  I asked my dentist for digital copies of my x-rays and started researching individual dentists in both countries.  I had a couple of names of dentists in Mexico from friends and basically googled my way to find names of dentists in Costa Rica. I emailed the dentists with my x-rays and asked for treatment plans. At the same time, I started researching the travel time and the travel costs. I found I could get from Boston to Costa Rica in under 10 hours.  (I can’t even get a dentist appointment here in the states that fast!).  Costa Rica wins for travel time.  In researching Costa Rica, I came across a Topix board about nothing but dental care and dentists in Costa Rica. I read each and every one of the over 2500 posts by people just like me, trying to make a similar decision.  Dentists names were mentioned, treatment plans, costs, travel ideas, I was a sponge trying to absorb it all!

Once I had treatment plans and estimates from a few dentists, I now had an idea of costs. Mexico and Costa Rica were similar and all the estimates were at least 50% less than the costs would be in the US.  Sure there were variations among the foreign quotes, but basically all within a few thousand of each other and significantly less than what I had expected. Next step was I asked the dentists if I could contact former patients. 2 of the dentists gave me a list of former patients names, emails and phone numbers. I randomly emailed and called people asking them about their experiences. I did the same with random people who posted on the Topix board.  All in all, this helped me solidify my decision.

Steve likes to share that I did more due diligence in researching my dentist in Costa Rica than I did researching the dentist I saw here in NH and he’s absolutely correct. I’ve never researched any medical or dental practitioner like I did making this decision.  It was a huge decision for me. It was scary. I was going to a foreign country for major work. Heck, I don’t even know Spanish (thank goodness the doctors are more than fluent).

Finally, what helped me narrow down to make a decision on which dentist, the Costa Rica dentist actually called me at home. His idea.  He made an appointment with me!  I was able to ask him questions, I was able to realize there was no language barrier and he made me feel totally welcome and more importantly, he made me feel like he really cared.  I doubt any US dentist would take that extra step for my business! You’re lucky if you can speak with a medical practitioner directly here in the US at all, especially if you’re not a patient yet and certainly, if you could, you would probably be charged $ for the call!  Further more, after going and having my treatment done in Costa Rica, I can say that both dentists (the father did 2 of my implants, his son the third) who did my dental implants probably do more implants in one week than most US dentists do in a year.  They specialize in it, that’s all they do and because of their affordability, they do one heck of a lot of them!

Now my dear daughter needs dental work.  At the tender age of 19, she needs an implant. She has 4 baby teeth that have no adult teeth in behind them and one needs to come out. One might think I’ll take her to Costa Rica but no, we won’t be going.  Why not?  Well, she only needs one at this time and cost wise, it just doesn’t pay. The rule of thumb I’ve heard over and over is if the work will cost over $6000 in the US, then it’s worth looking into medical tourism, under $6K and well, the cost just isn’t justified. Her work will run around $6K.

Anyway, put your minds at ease,  readers,  friends and family.  And trust that if I need further medical or dental treatment beyond what I already have had and what remains to be done, I will be looking outside of the US, without any reservation or hesitation. Great medical and dental care is available across the globe. Why isolate ourselves to the US and the rising costs here, when you can combine seeing the world with receiving the same quality if not better care elsewhere?   Steve and I can now say we have visited San Jose and we look forward to going back to see many other parts of Costa Rica, and I’ve got a great big beautiful smile!

‘Nuff said, now it’s back to food, till we start getting around to booking our flight back to beautiful Costa Rica!

Cheers!  Karen


6 thoughts on “Dental Tourism, Why and Why Not…

  1. I travel every winter and have all my dental care done when I’m in Third World countries. The care is just as good and it usually costs about a tenth of the price it does here. Who can afford a Dentist in the US anymore?

    • Patryantravels, I know that I can’t justify dental work in the US anymore! My daughters root canal alone was over $1800, the crown another $1500! Insurance only covers a small portion of that. It’s a shame that so many people are forced to choose between putting food on the table and a roof over their heads and are totally unable to take care of their mouths. I don’t see that changing either. I’d love to hear where you’ve gone for work. I’m sure the first time you agonized much as I did! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Hi. I’ve been following your intelligent comments on Topix, where I’ve mostly been lurking since last summer (with the exception of an irritated reply to a grouchy blog policeman who wanted to regulate the discussion to strictly clinical issues.) Like you, I STUDY my options carefully, so this has been a long, crabwise process that essentially mirrored yours, the reference checks, the emails, the phone contacts with previous patients et al. Currently I am waiting for a response from Dr. Marco about how soon I can get down there, after having 5 extractions done here last Friday. Concern about possible infection gumming up the implants (couldn’t resist the pun) prompted the decision to have the teeth yanked here. Again, like most of your friends and family I imagine, mine murmur gentle cautions which I interpret as “You’re crazy.” I don’t thnk so. Good luck on your blog. I was happy to see it, and to be the virgin respondant. Maybe I’ll run into you down there–hope so!

  3. Hi Connie, Thanks for commenting! 🙂 You’ll find that you are surrounded by kindred spirits when you go for your dental work in Costa Rica! Where are you staying? Did they say whether you were a candidate for immediate load or 2 stage implants? Not that that matters, I was told Immediate load, then once there, they changed their mind on one of the 3. I’d rather they change their mind and do what’s right and solid. I don’t even notice I have had work done at this point. I told Steve I might even try a (tender) steak this weekend! Yummm!

  4. Hello, I live in the Boston area and I’m about to walk (or fly) a mile (or many more) in your moccasins. My next step is to choose a dentist – I’m leaning toward Dr. Obando at Nova Clinic who I discovered through a guy named Bob (Costa Rican Dental) who lives in Georgia and acts as an agent in the U.S. His estimate for 3 crowns (1 new, 2 replacements), a couple of cavities and deep scaling is $1,800 as opposed to $5,200 here in the states. So, I’m borderline on the “is it worth it?” index but figure to save around 2k with flight and lodging. I’ve been to Costa Rica as a tourist and loved it. I’ve surfed through that Topix Forum which left my head spinning. I’m looking for any tips from airline to lodging (my stuff is not major and probably don’t need a surgery rehab hotel) and any last minute advice on dentists, especially if you have a really really check out this place recommendation. Did you stay a few days after the procedures to make sure everything was OK? My friends all think I’m crazy but it sure would feel good to beat the ridiculously high prices here. I started researching this after my root canal, which took 20 minutes, cost me $1,200. How is your mouth feeling now? Thank ya kindly.


    • Hi Kirk, Thanks for visiting! My friends and family thought I was crazy too, not anymore! My mouth is feeling great, thanks for asking! I enjoyed my first steak in over 9 months last week, delicious!

      My dental work isn’t done yet though, I have to go back to have my work completed in July or August. As for staying extra days, I was originally scheduled to be in CR for 18 days, assuming I could have all single stage implants. When that changed, I changed my flight and left only a few days after the implants were done (a morning after the root canal). I will admit, my gums were still a bit tender when I left, but nothing I couldn’t tolerate. I think staying a few extra days is really a personal choice and depends a lot on what procedures you’re having done. My next trip is all crowns, so I’m planning a little over a week, mostly with the hopes of being able to travel and see more of the country! For lodging, we stayed at the Aparthotel Christina right in San Jose, spotlessly clean, great breakfast and the suites had small kitchens, making it convenient to reheat or cook if we wanted to. The dentist I saw has an Inn next to the clinic, I may stay there next time as it was very near downtown and you can wait in the Inn rather than in the waiting rooms. Taxi’s are very inexpensive in San Jose, I don’t think we ever paid more than $3 or $4 to get anywhere. As for dentists, I have heard good things about Obando among others. I think it’s important to talk with other patients, especially those who have had the same procedures that you need. I spoke to and emailed with patients of 3 different dental clinics in Costa Rica. I also spoke with the dentist before going over. Ask about any guarantees they put on their work. Not that you expect things to go bad, but that can happen no matter where you get work done! Anyway, so far, I am quite happy with the work I had done at Dr. Cavallini’s clinic. Good luck!

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