Monday, September 30, 2013

Dental Tourism in Costa Rica

My journey to becoming a dental tourist began somewhere off the coast of Nicaragua in 1993 when the crown on a molar broke.  Our next landfall would be much further south, so I cautiously chewed on the other side for a couple of weeks until Yankee Rogue was safely moored at the Costa Rica Yacht Club in Puntarenas.  (Note:  anchoring out was our normal routine; however, in the fast-moving waters of the estuary, a mooring the prudent option; besides, I had fond memories of the Yacht Club serving $6 filet mignon dinners back in 1989.)  We dined (me gingerly) that first night at the club with one of the club board members & his lively wife, & my very first question was "Who is the best dentist in Costa Rica?"

The next morning I called the recommended dentist's office in San Jose, & a couple of days later caught a public bus to the capitol, & then a taxi (necessary in the city because there were no street addresses then; more on that later) to a modern dental office.  I met the dentist, who spoke perfect English & who had gone to graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  The work was done efficiently in a couple of visits, with a great deal of concern for my comfort.  I don't recall the exact cost of my replacement crown, but remember that I thought it very reasonable.  I was even given some local anesthetic for our ship's medical kit in case of an accident in which one of our crew had to be stitched up by the other (we'd both taken Medicine at Sea classes in California & had practiced suturing raw chicken breasts).

We were in Puntarenas a while for a semi-overhaul, so I returned to San Jose a couple of times for some more dental work, once seeing a specialist for a complicated root canal.  A decade & a half later, my U.S. dentist somberly informed me that I needed some major work that would require more money than my first house had cost, three different dentists & several months of appointments.  I immediately flashed back to the chat I'd had earlier with her assistant about how her friend had just bought a cheap ticket to Costa Rica.  "Umm, I'll have to think about this," I mumbled to my nice local lady dentist before dashing out the door to go home & check on flights to San Jose.

I did more than check on airfares.  Thanks to the internet, which had matured in the years since I'd crewed in international waters, I was able to conduct thorough research, making what I considered the best choice of dentist for the work I required (my old dentist was no longer in practice in San Jose).  My new dentist of choice was Dr. Telma Rubenstein, who works with her husband Dr. Josef Cordero at their clinic, Prisma Dental.  They specialize in cosmetic dentistry, including implants, & their office is the most complete & professional I have ever seen.  Their x-ray equipment, including a panoramic machine, is much more modern than what I've ever seen in the U.S.  Their lab is right next to the dental office, so work is done quickly, & if there is ever a problem it can be resolved almost immediately.

Dental tourism is described in detail in Wikipedia, but basically it has flourished in many parts of the world during recent years as the prices for dental work in some countries, like the U.S., have skyrocketed.  Not only are traveling dental patients able to save a great deal of money, in many cases more than enough to cover all of their travel expenses, but they are able to receive excellent care that can exceed that available locally.  General anesthesia is often available for complicated work or for those for whom the dental chair is traumatic.  Tranquilizers & pain meds, including shots, have been offered me at various times to ease the experience.  Antibiotics have also been prescribed when appropriate.

No matter what dentist I have seen over the years in Costa Rica, the commonalities are concerned patient care, quality work, & efficiency.  They are all aware that time is critical for tourist patients, & it is not unusual for office visits to be extended to whatever length is necessary to ensure that the patient's work is completed in the shortest amount of travel time.  In my experience, U.S. dentists schedule lengthy & complex work in relatively short segments, seeing many patients in a single day.  In contrast, at Prisma Dental as much work that can be completed in a single day is done, even if it means sitting in the chair most of the day or well into the evening.  I've even had a driver from the office meet me at the airport to make sure I got started right away on my work.  This may not appeal to everyone, but I'd much rather have one long semi-miserable day & get over it instead of having to confront my dental fears over multiple visits.  Note that implants will require two separate trips, one for the installation of the metal posts, & the second, after six months of healing, for the finishing crowns.  Last time I checked, general anesthesia for the post(s) installation (my recommendation) was $500, which includes the services of an anesthetist.

If you are having crowns or bridges made in the lab, you are then free to play tourist for a few days until your final installation visit.  (I recommend staying an extra day or two just in case your new work needs a final adjustment).  As an alternative to touring in-between dental appointments, many visitors opt to use the in-between time for cosmetic or other surgery.  A single round-trip ticket can take you home again improved literally from head to toe.  It is not uncommon for couples to travel together, getting whatever medical and/or dental services each of the partners needs or wants (his & her facelifts are more common than you might think.)  Watch this site, as I'll be posting more soon on medical tourism & where to stay during your visit.

Your primary motive for visiting Costa Rica the first time might be to save money on your dental work, but please take the opportunity to savor this incredible country while you are there.  Sample the amazing geology, the diverse flora & fauna, the culture, the delicious food, & most of all the joyful people you will meet.  Dental frugality may be your initial motive, yes, but don't miss the serendipitous experiences available while you are there.

Chances are good you'll want to return to Costa Rica again & again.  Just think of the great souvenir you can bring home--your new beautiful smile!


  1. Great article -- concise and informative.

    I'm writing this from the Prisma waiting room, actually -- I had some cavities filled yesterday. You have great taste in dentists ...

  2. You are writting some interesting and Best content i also bookmark this url....You guys are writing some Amazing tips. This article really helped me a lot. Thanks for sharing this. Totally Awesome Post Please Keep Posting Regulary... you are totally awesome...
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