Costa Rica Dental Care: Can You Trust it? Part 1

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Costa Rica Dental Care: Can You Trust it? Part 1

There is no question that dental care in North America is incredibly expensive, and according to a 2012 U.S. Senate report, up to 130 million Americans also lack dental insurance[1]

For those who do have coverage, it is typically considered inadequate to meet their needs.

In Canada, dental care is unfortunately excluded from the country’s national system of health insurance and patients often pay hefty out of pocket costs, similar to their U.S. neighbors.

Enter Costa Rica, where many foreign patients are increasingly realizing the benefits of medical and dental tourism. 

You may have come across this growing phenomenon through segments aired on ABC and Fox News or features appearing in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and many other news and media outlets shedding light on this popular alternative to costly medical and dental care in North America.

Large numbers of patients are crossing borders to take advantage of dentistry at costs significantly lower than they can receive in the U.S. or Canada, 50% - 70% in most cases. 

Before, during and/or after treatment, most dental patients can also soak in the phenomenal natural beauty and numerous activities Costa Rica is famous for. 

But is traveling for dentistry in Costa Rica safe? 

Online, you can find an abundance of material regarding dental care in Costa Rica.  In fact, a Google search for dental Costa Rica produces over 8 million results. 

Although access to so much information can be encouraging to curious prospective patients or those already eager to hop on a plane, it is still an overwhelming and intimidating experience determining who to trust with your teeth.  

A routine visit to the family dentist is already a source of anxiety for many people, let alone traveling to Central America to visit a dentist they have never met.

If you are considering this as a potential option, we’ve addressed the most common questions and fears many people have when deciding to venture to this beautiful country for the significant savings and first class dentistry that can be achieved here.

We hope the answers in addition to essential tips we provide, will assist you in making an informed decision as to whether traveling for dental care is a good option for you.

Before we start, it should be noted that in Costa Rica, as anywhere else in the world, there are quality dentists, bad dentists and those that are more interested in other things, (like your money). 

Prospective patients should always ask many questions and do their homework regarding dentists and clinics they are considering. 

North American patients seem to take this seriously when traveling for dental care, yet not when receiving treatment from their local providers at home. 

We actually see many more incidents of aggressive dentists recommending unnecessary procedures in the United States than we do in Costa Rica. 

How does overall care in Costa Rica compare to the United States?

The last time the World Health Organization evaluated health care systems around the world, Costa Rica ranked one spot higher than the United States. 

With regard to dentistry, Costa Rica has been recognized as a premier destination for high quality dentistry with low infection and complication rates, similar to the States.

Costa Rica also has many dental clinics that are internationally accredited (AAAHC or AAAASF), and it is home to two JCI internationally accredited hospitals - fairly impressive for a country with a population of under 5 million. 

The country is known for its stable democracy, close proximity and ties to the United States, as well as many expats from North American who call Costa Rica their home.

Most patients who have experienced dental care in Costa Rica are astounded by the quality and price as well as the amount of genuine care and concern they receive compared to dentists in North America. 

They take the time to examine you carefully, patiently explaining your treatment plan and addressing any questions or concerns you may have. Most North American patients comment on how they did not feel rushed and how the doctor or dentist genuinely seemed to care about their wellbeing before, during and after treatment. 

Are Costa Rican dentists similarly trained and qualified compared to U.S. dentists?

Dentists in Costa Rica spend 4 years at one of three nationally accredited private dental schools or 6 years if receiving their dental education at the renowned University of Costa Rica (UCR), a public institution.

If wishing to specialize in an area of dentistry (prosthodontics, endodontics, oral and maxillofacial surgery etc.), dental students will spend a varying number of additional years to also become a licensed, certified specialist in that particular area.

In the U.S., students typically have a bachelor’s degree before entering dental school.  Their dental education will also last 4 years before taking board exams and becoming licensed.  They too will spend additional years to specialize in one of 9 areas of dentistry the American Dental Association (ADA) recognizes[2].

The duration and curriculum of the dental education between the two countries is somewhat similar.  Except for public UCR, the private Costa Rican dental schools do not require many of the general education requirements common to a U.S. Bachelor’s degree.  

In both countries, dental students generally spend their first two years of dental education studying basic and biological sciences and their orientation to dentistry.  The last two years are typically concentrated on clinical study, treating patients under the supervision of instructors.  

Many Costa Rican dentists, especially those who focus on international patients, have received some dental education from the United States.  Several have received graduate dental degrees from leading colleges and universities there. 

They also continue to travel to North America and abroad to remain current with the latest techniques, technology and dental materials utilized in the industry.

What are the price differences for procedures?

Prices for dental procedures are typically 50% - 70% cheaper than in North America.  Dental implants for example, which are not covered by many North American dental insurance plans, cost approximately $800 in Costa Rica compared to $1,500 or more in the States.  Porcelain crowns commonly priced around $900 – $1,200 in the U.S, are typically priced between $400 and $500 in Costa Rica.

For your convenience, you can click the following link to review comparison pricing of these and other common dental procedures. 

Why are prices so much lower in Costa Rica?

There are numerous reasons why pricing is dramatically lower for dental care in Costa Rica than in the United States or Canada.  Primarily, Costa Rica’s economy is vastly different and dentists here pay much lower overhead costs including staff wages, clinic/property rental fees, etc.

Additionally, many international manufacturers of dental materials utilize variable pricing based on different global economies.  A quality brand name implant or crown for a Costa Rican dentist typically costs less than what an American or Canadian dentist pays for the exact same implant or crown.

Although it is changing, most dentists in Costa Rica still do not carry malpractice insurance so this is another cost not passed on to the patient. 

Lack of malpractice insurance may initially cause some patients to pause, but it should be noted that there are low incidences of claims for dental malpractice in Costa Rica.  The country also tends to be much less litigious than in the U.S, minimizing the necessity of this type of insurance. 

Are the dental materials used in Costa Rica of lesser quality than in the U.S. and Canada?

Quality dentists in Costa Rica use the same proven and respected brands of materials as the finest dentists in North America.  Except for the lower price you pay as a patient, there is no difference in quality. 

Popular brands for implants include Zimmer and MIS.  Porcelain crowns and veneers from E.max and Empress are among other popular brands featured in both countries and used by quality and experienced dentists.

A little known fact is that you may already be experiencing Costa Rican dentistry without even knowing it.  Some U.S. dentists and clinics outsource their work to dental labs in Costa Rica. 

The new crowns or bridge you just received from your U.S. dentist may have originally come from Costa Rica, but now with double or triple the price tag.

What happens if I get home and experience any problems?

Understandably, this is probably the biggest concern for most patients considering dental care in Costa Rica or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. 

As mentioned before, infection or complication rates are similar to the U.S.  For example, dental implants have a failure rate of about 4% or less in the United States and this is no different in Costa Rica.  Under similar conditions, if your implant fails in Costa Rica, it is quite possible it would have failed in the U.S. as well.

The prospect of having a costly or large procedure repeated once you are back home and far from the dentist who performed the procedure, is extremely rare when receiving care from a qualified provider in Costa Rica. 

In almost all cases, Costa Rican dentists are willing and eager to resolve any dental issues at no additional cost.  Prior to treatment, you can also inquire regarding guarantees they provide for their work and the materials used for your given procedure (crowns, implants, bridges, etc.).  Guarantees range from 5–10 years and sometimes a lifetime, depending on the dentist and procedure.

These guarantees do not include travel costs necessary for the patient to return to Costa Rica for treatment. 

If you do encounter any problems after returning home, most Costa Rican dentists who treat foreign patients are very accessible by phone to address any follow up concerns from patients. 

Immediate post-procedure issues are commonly related to tenderness in the area where the procedure was performed, which typically only requires additional time for healing.

Other cases can include patients who have returned home and after some healing has occurred (from receiving crowns for example), their bite feels a bit off.  In these instances, a simple visit to their regular dentist for minor adjustments may be required.

In our experience, most patients have no issue with this, as it is a commonly related occurrence whether receiving care at home or in Costa Rica. 

A visit to their regular dentist for a slight adjustment or minimal treatment, pales in comparison to the significant savings the patient has enjoyed in Costa Rica.  However, most patients do not experience any issues after returning home, except perhaps for a heavier wallet.

Patients with health issues need to consider any risks associated with travel in general.  Average flight times to Costa Rica are from 3-6 hours from most major U.S. cities and there are many direct flights.

Part 2 of  "Costa Rica Dental Care: Can You Trust It" will address the folowing questions:

-  If I believe the dentist was at fault or negligent, what type of recourse do I have?

-  How do I find safe, quality providers? (on your own vs. using a facilitator or consultant)

-  Will I be able to sightsee and enjoy Costa Rica while I am there for treatment?

Read Part 2 by clicking here

You can use the sign up form on this page to receive future informative posts regarding dentistry and Costa Rica.  

[1] Sanders, Bernie, Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging U.S. “Dental Crisis in America: The Need to Expand Access”, Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor and Pensions. February 29, 2012. Web

[2] American Dental Association. “Dental Specialties”, ada. American Dental Association. n.d. Web 

Receive a free estimate based on your dental needs as well as much more information regarding dentistry in Costa Rica by visiting our website, or by calling 800-931-2737.