Story and photos by Karen Daly
Costa Rica evokes thoughts of lush rainforests, active volcanoes, intense sun and great waves to surf. But not too long ago, a friend of mine told me about friends of his who had gone to Costa Rica to have their teeth fixed. My first thoughts were: are they crazy? Why would anyone go to a third world country to get their teeth fixed? Were they looking for trouble?
Then a couple of weeks after having had the conversation with my friend, I met the people who had had their teeth done. Their smiles were impeccable. I was incredulous and started asking all kinds of questions. The couple had needed major dental work and could not afford the treatment plan their dentist had suggested. They were in need of root canals, dental implants, and crowns.
The treatment they needed would cost in the vicinity of $35,000 for both of them had they had the work done with their dentist. They knew that getting the work done at home was impossible due to cost and started researching options online.
Costa Rica turned out to be an affordable option. My new friends got me thinking. I have always taken care of my teeth; six month check-ups and any needed cavities repaired and filled. I had noticed over the years however, that the color of my teeth had changed; my smile was not as bright. I had my front teeth bonded after having built up calcium deposits when I was a youth while wearing braces, so whitening my teeth was out of the question as bonding material cannot be bleached. I had discussed this with my dentist a while ago who told me my only option was veneers on my front teeth and whitening of the remaining teeth. Veneers at a cost of $2500 a pop, for my six front teeth and Zoom whitening for an additional $500 would bring the total to well over $15,000.
At the time I remember thinking, oh well, that’s never going to happen. Now, with the news of my friends going overseas, I started to do my homework.
My first thought was… Isn’t Costa Rica a third world country? It didn’t sound like a good idea, but I wanted to understand what my friends had found out. Costa Rica was designated third world years ago, but is now known as developing and believe me, Costa Rica is developing. The dental/medical tourism industry is booming. I had counted at least 25 dentists at first glance.
I sent off an email to the five I liked the best, based on where they were trained (USA) and certified, experience and a number of other factors. One of the five dentists did not respond, one of the dentists’ coordinators responded, but his emails were discombobulated and something seemed off, so I passed.
There were several emails exchanged between myself and the three remaining dental coordinators. I felt so comfortable with Nora Allen, the coordinator for the dental clinic I eventually settle on, the choice was easy.
I picked Adult Dentistry of Costa Rica (www.healthcostarica.com) headed by Dr. Garita and Dr. Alvarado. Nora put me at ease, answered all the questions I had and even some I hadn’t thought of. She suggested accommodations, and when I mentioned having difficulty finding reasonable fares for the flight, she helped me with that too. Nora is American, born in NY and now living in Florida. She has been working with Dr. Garita and Dr. Alvarado for many years; first while living in Costa Rica, then continuing to work for the clinic after returning to the States for personal reasons.
I began the adventure on Monday, November 7th and returned home on Friday, November 11th. Nora had made all of the appointments for me in advance and had discussed the treatment plan with Dr. Juan (as he is affectionately known by his staff and clients). I was greeted on the Tuesday at 1:30 pm. The entire staff was kind, professional and explained everything clearly as we went along. A panoramic x-ray was taken, an exam of my teeth was preformed and I was discussing the plan with Dr. Juan in no time. It was decided that I would get four crowns on my front teeth, two veneers on my eye teeth and have the remaining teeth Zoom Whitened.
The doctor prepared an estimate, I signed it and then we got straight to the treatment. Four hours later, I had my teeth whitened, and a mold of my teeth before preparation for the crowns/veneers, were made.
I was the one who wanted to get as much done as possible in the first day, so that I could have as much down time as possible to visit the beautiful country, otherwise I could have had the initial work done in two appointments. Another appointment was made for Thursday afternoon and I was back at the hotel in about 15 minutes.The following day, Wednesday morning, I was up and enjoying a hearty breakfast at the hotel, which is included in the cost of the accommodations.
The Hotel I chose of the many suggested by Nora was Apartotel La Sabana (aparthotel-lasabana.com). The hotel and rooms were clean, the staff welcoming and English speaking. There is a pool on the premises, with lounge chairs and beach towels available for the guests. The cost of my room was $60 US a night, breakfast included. There were also kitchenette type rooms available, for $71 a night. So, if you are going to staying for a longer period of time, you can go to the grocery store on the corner of the street and prepare your own meals. I just popped to any one of the number of restaurants within a 3 or 4 minute walk. This hotel offers a discount if you mention that you are seeing Dr. Garita, as I would imagine a lot of the other hotels in the area would, so it is worth mentioning. Oh, and as an added bonus, they provide free transport from and back to the airport!
There are so many different excursions to enjoy while in Costa Rica, it was very hard to pick just one or two that I wanted to do the most. I decided to go to Jaco beach to get a bit of surfing done, and then go off to have a Rainforest adventure, by getting into a tram for a 90 minute ride through the tree tops, where I was privileged to witness some of the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen in my life; rugged mountains, breathtaking waterfalls, a complex web of life that awed me. Some the countless animals I was fortunate enough to see were toucans, guans, tapirs (very funny looking animals), and my favorite, spider monkeys! After the tour, it was time for a little excitement so I took a quick zip line/canopy tour. I’ve zip lined in many countries, but nothing compared to this; I cannot adequately describe the stunning scenery.
After that it was back to the hotel for a relaxing evening. I took a short walk with a couple from Wisconsin (that was also staying at my hotel and having work done by another dentist in the area) to the RostiPollo on the corner and had a lovely chicken meal and two cervezas for $10, tax and tip included. Actually, the tip is always included when you get the bill in any restaurant there.
Thursday morning, another great start to my day with a tasty meal, a little lounging by the pool with a good book and then it was time to go back to the dentist. Once there, I spoke to Dr. Juan who showed me around the office, where I met the charming technician working in the onsite lab where my crowns and veneers were made (this is one of the reasons why the wait-time is so drastically reduced).
A little bit of tweaking here and little bit of tweaking there and two hours later, I got a chance to see my new smile. I was speechless. I never imagined that it would be such a dramatic change, but was it ever. I couldn’t stop smiling and looking at my new smile in the mirror.
Back to the hotel where I packed and prepared for the trip home the next morning.
After another breakfast where I enjoyed the sweetest pineapple I have ever eaten, the transport was at the hotel to take me to the airport by 9 am. I was back home before I knew it and am still, months later, tremendously happy with the results. And exceedingly happy with the fact that I spent a total of $4,000 which included airfare, hotel, food and taxis to and from the dental office as opposed to the $15,000 plus my dentist had quoted.
I also took the time to visit my dentist and ask his expert opinion. He thought the work was very well done and was quite impressed. I then found out my insurance company covered a good portion of the work.
What more could I ask for?
So what have we learned, class? I was able to get affordable, professional dental work done; I had a fantastic mini-vacation/getaway in a magnificent interesting country, and have so much more self-confidence when I smile with my teeth (instead of a closed mouth) or laugh without my hand in front of my mouth.
Should you be contemplating dentistry in Costa Rica or any other foreign country, the number one rule is to thoroughly check the credentials of the dentist. Do not base your choice on reviews on the internet; you can’t count on them being authentic.
If you do decide to choose Adult Dentistry, contact Nora and tell her I say “hi”.