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Costa Rica In 5 Parts

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.”

La Sabana Hotel, San José, CR

Reality Check

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.


7 responses »

  1. Really interesting story. I hope everything comes out well.

  2. Marcy you look lovely.

    Bernie–That is so sweet of you–I’m smiling! Thank you.

  3. Nowadays Dental Implant s are made from titanium as it mixes with the live cells in the mouth and do not cause any adverse reactions. Dental Implants vary in price depending on the dentist you choose to get your implants done. Dental Implant surgery success rate is of 95% but failures are very rare. Failure in surgery is due to improper selection of patients who doesn’t have good oral health.

  4. Dental implants are replacement of tooth roots. Dental Implants provide a strong foundation for removable replacement teeth that are made to match your natural teeth. When a tooth is lost the specialized bony process that houses the tooth begins to resorb due to lack of stimulation. This causes a decrease in width and height of the bone in the area the tooth is lost. Neighboring teeth and opposing teeth begin to move into the space. This causes food lodgment, subsequent decay, gum disease and abnormal forces being transmitted to teeth leading to fracture of cusps which may necessitate root canal treatment or extraction. Loss of teeth can also cause the cheek and lips to collapse giving an aged look.

  5. Hm…looks like we’re getting some advertising from dentists! Never thought I’d be helping to promote the dental profession. I guess it’s okay as long as they’re offering dental ed.–MS

  6. Hi, I am planning to go to San Jose for badly needed dental work in January. After finding your story, I am really wanting to know the names of the dentists to avoid because I can never go back to redo it. I was booked with the Rosenstock clinic for face work also but seeing your experience caused me to stop fast. I have spent a lot of time online looking for real reviews and most of them won’t tell the names of the drs and dentists so they are frustrating instead of helpful. Please help. Thank-you, Shirl

  7. Very interesting article.The blog explain clearly.I got a idea too.Good.Keep sharing your thoughts.

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