Post-dental work, outside Butterfly Farm
Part I: Turisma Dental y Medical
EJ (all names have been changed) has been coming to Costa Rica for seven years and has nine dental implants to show for it. At $800 a pop you might think she’s spent a small fortune, but considering that implants go for as much as three grand apiece in the States, EJ’s were a bargain. At 69, she’s absolutely stunning, with long platinum hair and the taut, milky skin you sometimes see on women from Great Britain, where she was born; she now lives in Colorado.
DeeDee, like me, is here for the first time, attending to various crowns, bridges and other dental issues. A world traveler and fanatical ballroom dancer, she’s been to dentists (and ballrooms) all over the U.S. as well as in Argentina. She’s hoping her Costa Rican practitioner lives up to his online reputation.
As for me, after spending most of my barely “disposable” income and every windfall I’ve ever gotten on my rotten teeth, I came to Costa Rica for the grand finale — a lower denture — at approximately a third of the cost estimated by my very talented and wealthy Emeryville dentist.
In addition to lower prices, Costa Rican dentists, most of whom were trained in the States, seem to be outdistancing their U.S. brethren, offering options I never even heard of, for instance, a technique involving implants and abutments to keep dentures from slipping while eating or talking. The one tooth I had pulled in CR was a far less painful and bloody experience than my previous extractions (and there have been many: for more of my sordid dental history see Dental Adventures. With good tooth genes I have not been blessed.)
The Gringo guests at La Sabana Apartotel where I’m staying, particularly the women, spend the time in between appointments poolside, swapping dental war stories. Deedee, like me, is a native New Yorker; EJ complains that we talk too fast, as she whips her head back and forth to follow our verbal volleys. In New York we call it “participatory listening.”
Mid-week a journalist checks into the hotel, sets up her laptop at a table by the pool, and proceeds to immerse herself in work. Deedee, who talks to absolutely everyone (everyone who speaks English,that is) finds out her name is Sue, she’s from Canada, and she’s writing a story on dental tourism in Costa Rica. She’s researched many Costa Rican dentists individually, so we surround her, anxiously calling out the names of our respective guys. The only info she has on mine is that he’s not a specialist in any one particular field (which he doesn’t claim to be). She comes up empty on EJ’s dentist, but Deedee’s turns out to lack all credibility among Ticos (native Costa Ricans), has generated a trail of lawsuits all over the globe, and some of the claims on his website are outright lies.
I cannot help but gloat just a little: when I told Deedee that my dentist charges slightly more for implants than hers, she tried to convince me to switch (in the midst of treatment no less!). Deedee is one of those people that habitually offers advice based on what she considers her own superior choices, a fairly common personality trait that never fails to make me crazy.
The Red-Faced Lady in the Big Floppy Hat
One guest at La Sabana intrigues the rest of us: her face is marked by grotesque red blotches, lines and blisters; she wears a big floppy hat and stays out of the sun. One day DeeDee waylays her and gets the scoop: she’s had laser skin treatment to clear up old acne scars, discolorations and other imperfections. Cost: a bargain basement $1300.
Backyard View from Friends’ Home in Atenas, CR
Dr. Alberto Meza looks more like he stepped out of a movie set than a dentist’s office. He speaks perfect English and performs perfect work on my mouth. His office driver, José, picks me up and returns me to my hotel for each and every appointment. Cost for my new bottom teeth: $805.
Caveat: I did not opt for the implant/abutment system that would hold the dentures tight: the cost, despite being so much lower than in the U.S., was prohibitive; however, should I decide to get the work done at some future date, Dr. Meza assured me he can still do it. All in all, I am pleased with his work. (For the first time in my life I can smile without being embarrassed.)
After a week in San José — which I advise visitors to get out of as soon as possible — I’m off to stay with my friends Kat and Layne in their 2-bedroom house in the small town of Atenas. It’s an hour’s bus ride; Layne comes to escort me, worried I’ll get lost if I go alone. Having discovered my grasp of the Spanish language is much worse than I’d thought, I’m grateful for his solicitude.
Coming Soon (Topics liable to change on a whim):
Part II: Costa Rica Will Make You Gorgeous
Part III: In Search of Pura Vida
Part IV: Otto Apuy, Costa Rican Artist
Part V: Coming Home
Other writing about my Costa Rican adventure can be found on Kat Sunlove’s blog, Fabulista de Costa Rica.
- The Costa Rican Tropical Climate (thediamondringreview.com)
- Costa Rica Part II (marcys.wordpress.com)
- Costa Rica Part III (marcys.wordpress.com)