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WANDERLUST - March 2019

Destination Dental Work: Costa Rica a Top Choice

 By Deborah Charnes


John’s a 77-year-old retired lawyer from Austin, Texas. He’s a fairly nondescript looking American, possibly of Scandinavian descent. He’s seated next to me on the plane to San Jose, Costa Rica. He’s wearing dark pants, a beige shirt and a dark suit jacket. He isn’t dressed like your stereotypical beach goer or cruise shipper. Yet, he doesn’t look like he’s in a business mode. He sports practical shoes rather than shiny leathers. Since I can’t peg him and his travels, I ask why he’s headed to Costa Rica. 

Dental work. 

Dental tourism is big in Costa Rica. As John acknowledges, fewer and fewer Americans have dental insurance. With age, the cost of dental work increases dramatically. In John’s case, he needs a few implants. His Austin dentist gave him a price quote, and warned him that if anything went wrong, he’d need to re-do the treatment for an additional hefty sum. Not the most inviting of scenarios.

John balked. 

Then, he turned to the internet. 

John discovered people were flocking to Costa Rica and Hungary for their dental needs. The prices were considerably lower than those in the States, and apparently, both countries had excellent dental professionals and equipment.

Just like a hotel shopper, John sought real people’s experiences. He searched for a dental clinic with five-star reviews. It was a recurring theme for Costa Rica: outstanding services at exceptional prices. So, he bought a plane ticket for San Jose, and spent a week in Costa Rica for part one of his two-phased dental implant procedures. As he sat next to me, raving about his experiences, he was headed back for his permanent crowns (round two).

The bottom line? John’s implants cost about one-fourth of what the Austin specialist quoted him. And, the Costa Rican doctor didn’t charge extra for any replacements or adjustments.

What’s more, customer service went far beyond the dental clinic. As John arrived at the San Jose airport, a representative from the dental office was at the arrivals area waiting for him. He was shuttled off to a hotel owned by the dentist. The clinic, with hotel across the street, were in a nice neighborhood, with easy access to a mall. What more does an American need?

Customer Service

Richard was on the same early evening flight the very next day. Like John, he was a Texan who couldn’t afford a million-dollar-mouth. Once he hit his 50s, his dental needs were more and more expensive. Like John, he balked at spending all his savings on his teeth. The son of a dentist, he could spot a good oral surgeon when he saw one. A fastidious researcher, he settled on a father and son team in San Jose. 

He acknowledges he has saved thousands of dollars while taking advantage of a top-of-the-line clinic with 50 years of experience with implants. 

When Richard landed at SJO on his Southwest flight from Houston, there was no sign with his name on it. The driver had no problem recognizing Richard, and vice versa. What’s more, the driver sported a new white van with the name of the dental clinic written in script on the sides of the vehicle. When business is brisk, he picks up six patients at a time. There’s no charge for the airport pick up service, but if you want the driver to take you anywhere else during your stay, you pay for the door-to-door service with the English-speaking driver that is used to shlepping tourists around. 

Richard stayed in a hotel connected to the dental clinic. All the signs are in English, and there’s a telephone on the night stand for free unlimited phone calls to the United States or Canada. In the lobby, you can watch CNN News, play a jigsaw puzzle, find sudoku books, plenty of magazines, or choose a romance or crime novels. There’s also a computer with wifl. 

The 24-hour manned reception desk can steer you to a night club, or order you food from more than a dozen restaurants. They can also book you a day tour when you’re on an off day, awaiting your prosthetics. 

Breakfast is served at both Richard’s and John’s hotels with dental patients in mind. There’s no crunchy granola or sticky buns. Rather, soft food. Richard’s indoor/outdoor dining area opens at 6:30 in the morning. There are several choices of pre-sliced fresh fruit. Hard boiled eggs are on the counter, or the attendant can custom make you an egg dish. Other options include oatmeal, waffles, pancakes and croissants. Plus, your choice of coffee, black or herbal tea or juice.  

When you’re getting major dental work done, it’s normal for people to have a bit of the jitters, and their ease of mind and comfort is extremely important. Being able to chat (all in English) with others that are going through the same thing as you, at your breakfast table, is just one more added perk. 

It’s a No-Brainer

Sally and Joe live near Tampa. About 12 years ago, they were on a plane from Costa Rica. There was a gentleman with a huge smile stuck on his face. He was showing his teeth the entire time, almost like a Cheshire cat. Finally, he confided in them. He had had extremely bad teeth. Then, he won upwards of $5,000 in Vegas. At his daughter’s urging, he researched dentists in four countries. He picked Costa Rica, and was thrilled with his new set of white permanent choppers.

Sally could identify. She had a full set of dentures as a result of an accident. In the states, the bill for the reconstruction would have been about $65,000. The tab in San Jose for 12 implants and 22 crowns: $11,500. Plus, a lifetime guarantee.

"I think the quality is fabulous,” she said. On their recent trip they flew Jet Blue from Orlando for $300 round trip. “It’s a no-brainer.”   

Another upside to dental work in Costa Rica is the turn around time. Sally and Joe’s dentist has his own lab, and pharmacy, on-site. Richard’s final visit only required two days. For those that have to stay longer, they can head to the beach, volcanos, coffee plantations or waterfalls, on free days.

Making the Dental Process More Pleasurable

Israel works for one of the dental enterprises. He does his part to make the guests feel comfortable during their stay. Many are seniors. For some, this is the first time that they’ve even left the U.S. It’s not as if they’re on a cruise. They can be in pain. Nervous about major surgery in a foreign land.

Some travel with a friend or family member for moral support. Regardless, they seem to build a sense of community among the other traveling patients. All agree the value of your dental dollars extend much further in Costa Rica. And you can squeeze in some fun, too. 



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Deborah Charnes, of The Write Counsel, is a bilingual marketing communications specialist with more than 40 years’ experience assisting clients in the medical, mental health and fitness sectors. She has written travel and yoga/lifestyle blogs for more than ten years. Additionally, a yoga therapist, she is owner of The Namaste Counsel and The Namaste Getaway. 


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