This is just like in the States, I thought. And it was. The chair was the same uncomfortable leather lounger, set up at an uncomfortable angle. The smell of the office was the same sterile, stale air. The mosquito whir of the drill in my ear was, sadly, exactly the same as well.
I was at the dentist in Costa Rica, my new home. Visits to the dentist have always stressed me out. But I understand it is a necessary stress. Adding to my anxiety, this was my first time ever going to a dentist in a foreign country. I was to find the experience to be exactly the same in Central America as it was in the U.S., except for one thing—the cost.
On this first visit I had an exam, a teeth cleaning, and directly after, had two cavities filled with resin. I walked to the counter to pay and was pleasantly surprised by the cost—$150. This was less than half the price it would have cost for the same procedures at the dentist I went to in Dallas. I was paying out of pocket, as I was not yet a resident and could not participate in the nationalized health program, nor did I have private insurance. With the national healthcare insurance, called Caja, all of the costs would have been covered. As it was, I was pleased with the price, especially since I chose a more expensive English-speaking dentist—I was not yet comfortable with the Spanish vocabulary needed specifically for dental work.
As costs for dental work in the U.S. climb ever upward, the costs in Costa Rica have stayed relatively low. So low, in fact, that for more intensive procedures—like implants or crowns—a patient can fly to Costa Rica, have surgery, recover on the beach for a week, and still save money. The cost savings are significant and can be anywhere from 70% to 90% less expensive than the U.S.
You may ask: “But what about the dentist’s credentials?” Or, “How good is their equipment?” Great questions, and it might come as a surprise to find the majority of dentists (and doctors) who practice in Costa Rica, study and get some or all of their training in the U.S. And like my first experience described above, the offices are outfitted just like they are back home. The equipment is exactly the same—the only difference is the cost.
Since moving to Costa Rica three years ago, I have visited the dentist multiple times. I have been to two different practices and have had exams, cleanings, had new cavities filled and old ones repaired, and even had my teeth whitened once. Each experience was excellent. There is still the stress of sitting in a dental chair each time, but the work is competent and the price is low.
I’ve had multiple friends come from the U.S. to have significant work done. Each one had come because they could save money, and each one left happy with their work and dental vacation. There are not many places I can think of to relax and recover from dental surgery, but Costa Rica fits the bill.
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