Dental Tourism in Costa Rica: My Experience – Part 1, by Vikki Riggle

by Vikki Riggle

My "before" picture

My “before” picture

Picking out a new dentist can be a scary experience, right? Well, imagine doing it blindfolded, while throwing darts at a map on the wall and you’ll have some idea of how I felt when I decided to look for a dentist in Costa Rica. I mean, I’m not at all dental-phobic but let’s face it, dentistry can be a scary proposition. I know this from first-hand experience, having met and suffered from the attentions of a very bad dentist earlier in my life. As a result, I have lost nearly all of my natural teeth and suffered with serious gum disease that could have been prevented. Bottom line: I want and need to know that I’m getting GOOD dental care. Let the search begin.

dental tourism_googledentist

Over 11 Million Results!

Getting Started with Dental Tourism in Costa Rica

First I Googled “dentist in Costa Rica” and was immediately overwhelmed.  I spent hours checking out websites, reading reviews, and emailing everybody I knew in Costa Rica to get recommendations. Still overwhelmed, I turned to a website I’ve been reading for years, and saw an ad for a recommended dentist who is approved by Blue Cross. I emailed for more information. At the same time, I emailed three other websites whose presentation and information seemed professional and promising and contacted a couple of the providers recommended by my friends.



Within 24 hours, I had responses pouring in. Reading through them was a lot like sorting a can of mixed nuts. There were high prices and low prices, excellent English and basic English, slick presentations and ordinary emails.  How on earth was I supposed to make sense out of any of this? All I could do was trust my instincts and start eliminating offers. The first few were pretty easy; after all, if I was going to pay U.S. prices, why would I fly to Costa Rica and incur the travel expenses? Out went the ones who seemed more interested in hype or promises than in actually talking to me about my specific needs. Gone were the guys who insisted that I bring panoramic x-rays from my U.S. dentist. Really? I couldn’t even imagine asking my dentist here to give me x-rays so I could have work done elsewhere. Nope, not for me.

Narrowing Down the Providers

My list was winnowed down to three possible dental providers. Two of them worked through representatives who are American and easy to communicate with. The dentists work from clinics in or near San Jose and offer incentives for travel, hotels, transportation, and discounts. The third was a dentist far from San Jose where I would be on my own for all those accommodations. Nice as he was, I chose to eliminate him as well. Finally, I’m down to two choices and I’m communicating with both of them, asking for estimates and treatment recommendations over and over. One of them, Bob Reardon, happily hung in there with me the whole way. One very late night, while I was tossing out emails full of questions, he actually called me to help me sort out my options. Nice touch, Bob.

So, after chatting with Bob for nearly an hour, and covering so many options I was getting confused, I told both Bob and the Other Guy that I really needed to step back and give myself time to think about my choices. A few months went by until I knew I couldn’t delay any longer. After contacting both men, and telling them I was ready with a final treatment plan decision, I asked for one last estimate. Bob never flinched, just jumped in there with a “great to hear from you” and gave me the new estimate. Other Guy also gave me an estimate but it was quick and curt and didn’t have the feeling of personal attention that I was getting from Bob. Plus, it was higher in cost. My decision made, I let Bob and Other Guy know. Other Guy snapped back, told me I was a “huge waste of time” and made me realize I truly made the right decision.

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Suites Cristina Apartment Hotel, San Jose, Costa Rica

Tickets were bought and Bob had arranged everything else. All I had to do is get on the plane and catch a cab to the hotel. We checked in about 2:00 a.m. no problems, and my taxi is waiting to take me to the clinic at 8:00 a.m. The driver’s name is Wagner (he says his mom was a huge Robert Wagner fan) and he speaks self-taught English amazingly well. We hit it off and chat the whole way. I arrive at the clinic where Wagner tells me he’ll pick me up when the clinic calls him.

Meeting My Dentist

The clinic itself is in a small shopping center in Escazu, a very Westernized part of San Jose. When I open the door, I see that the clinic is spotlessly clean, cool, modern, and simply but comfortably furnished. The manager greets me and within 10 minutes I’m in the chair, meeting the rest of the staff. My dentist is Dr. Chavarria, a soft-spoken young man, who tells me most people call him Dr. “Chava.” Works for me.

dental tourism_staffNovaDental

The Staff at Nova Dental

Dr. Chava explains that he and his assistant will speak Spanish to each other as he examines me but I can ask questions at any time. He is so gentle, and I am so tired, that I keep dozing off in the chair. I apologize but he just laughs and says it is a compliment to him. Come to think of it, it is a compliment. I’m so relaxed and comfortable I can actually sleep. Who would’ve thought it?

After a thorough exam and panoramic x-rays, Dr. Chava reviews the treatment plan proposed through Bob. That plan is to have partial dentures made both top and bottom, possibly using implants to anchor them on the bottom. He also tells me he has another option for me and talks about implants vs. dentures. He expresses concerns about my satisfaction with bottom dentures (the same as my dentist back home) and gives me the price for both options. Not only do I trust this man’s advice, the price is so reasonable that I would be foolish not to go for the better treatment plan. I decide, right there on the spot, to have implants done on the bottom. We take impressions, set up the rest of my appointments, and I’m ready to go. Wagner is there within minutes to return me to the hotel.

dental tourism_Back at the hotel

Back at the hotel

Time for Dental Surgery!

At my next appointment, I meet the surgeon, Dr. Obando. He, too, is a lovely young man with a great chair-side manner and sense of humor. My surgery is scheduled for 4:30 p.m., a time when most U.S. dentists are ready to close. I have started my antibiotics, and he starts the numbing process. Would you believe me if I told you I fell asleep again? No? Smart person you are! No, I didn’t sleep during the surgery; too much happening in my mouth for that. But I have to say I was as relaxed and comfortable as I’ve ever been in a dental chair. No problems at all.

dental tourism_Nova Dental Accredidation

Nova Dental Accreditation

After my final appointment, I left my new dental clinic with seven brand new, beautiful crowns on my bottom teeth and a follow-up plan to crown the implants and have the upper partial denture delivered.  I would have to wait at least three months for the healing process to finish. Back in the States, I had a different dental issue come up and went to see my U.S. dentist. When he saw the work in my mouth he was both impressed and glad I had changed my mind about the partial on the bottom. I asked him if he would like to give me an estimate to finish the work and he jumped at the chance. While his assistant worked up the price, I wrote down my cost to have the work done is Costa Rica. Including hotel, airfare, meals, and dental work, my costs would be a little less than $6,000. My dentist’s estimate FOR THE EXACT SAME WORK, was over $12,000. Sadly, he told me he can’t compete, that he has to pay his staff and his landlord in American dollars. I thanked him anyway and headed home to tell my husband the news.  All he said was “Well, I guess you’re going back to Costa Rica, huh?”


My “after” picture

Yes, yes I am. My appointments are set for the first two weeks in September. Once again Bob has made all the arrangements and the dental clinic has given me all my appointment dates and times so I can plan to do some day-tripping on the days I have no visits. I couldn’t be happier with the doctors, the clinic, the hotel, and Bob. The whole experience has been a positive one for me. I hope to be able to do another visit in the future and repeat the implants on the top but for now, I’ll be happy just to have TEETH again. I’m so excited that I’m counting the days. When it’s all over, I’ll let you know how the finished product has turned out. In the meantime, if you’re interested, let me encourage you to contact Bob Reardon at his email address:  [email protected] and to visit these websites and to see the places I’ve mentioned. If you decide to contact Bob, please feel free to let him know you learned about him from me. Dental tourism in Costa Rica was a great choice for me!

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