The following is an interview with David G. who had his dental crowns done in Costa Rica. It is part of our ongoing series of dental tourism interviews with patients and dentists who have shared their insight and experiences in order to help people who are considering a foreign country as the destination for their dental work.
First off, where are you from?
I’m originally from Chicago, but have been living in North Carolina since 1994.
Who was your dentist?
Two Costa Rican dentists at DDS Dental: Dr. Prada (prosthodontist) and Dr. Gonzalez (periodontist, also implantologist).
How did you choose them?
In 2010 I discovered I needed a second full-mouth restoration to fix issues and replace worn-out crowns from my original 1995 work. The 1995 work was done in North Carolina. After researching dentists in Costa Rica by talking with more than 50 patients of a dozen dentists, I did a fact-finding trip to Costa Rica to choose the dentist and get second opinions on the procedures. I had office visits with seven dentists (and saw three dental labs, too) during my C.R. trip.
When I was researching in 2010, I checked scores of references. Some dentists have dozens of references and other dentists have none. My rule was to ask for AT LEAST five references from a “general” dentist, but preferably 10 references for procedures similar in complexity to the one you are considering. Keep in mind that references from patients who received their procedures at least six months earlier are likely to provide the best chance of discovering substandard workmanship–it sometimes takes a few months for bad dentistry to become noticeable. For “specialist” dentists–make sure the dentist graduated from a bona fide post-DDS graduate program–only a couple of references will suffice. Specialist dentists generally won’t give you as many references as the better “general” dentists.
Note: this is a great example of how to go about finding a quality dentist abroad that you could apply to any other country. You may not want to travel to the country to do research like Dave did, but it is relatively easy (and free) to talk to previous patients of a dentist you’re researching.
Please tell us a bit about your experience at the clinic.
It was very professional, like a good U.S. clinic. Dr. Prada and Dr. Gonzalez worked well as a team, and they performed the procedures quickly and thoroughly.
What procedures have you had done?
I do not have implants, “just” a full-mouth restoration. I have 28 crowns by Dr. Prada and 28 crown lengthenings by Dr. Gonzalez. In 2013, I returned to fix a crown that kept on falling off because the natural tooth was too short to hold it. This was the only negative I experienced. I had a root canal for that tooth.
How much did the procedures cost?
About $700 for each crown on a natural tooth; this was the “high-end” crown of solid zirconia. The crown lengthenings were a bargain at a little over $2K, and I paid $500 for twilight anesthesia.
Readers might not see the quality (and savings) advantages of Costa Rica from my brief description above. But an apples-to-apples comparison makes it clear. In October 2010, North Carolina dentists quoted me $1,300 and above for each crown on natural tooth. That compares with my eventual cost in Costa Rica of $700/tooth. That’s almost 50% percent savings, which can quickly add up for 28 teeth. But more important than the cost advantage was the improved quality. The N.C. crowns were of various materials that had been popular for ten years, whereas the C.R. crowns were a new solid zirconia (“Prettau”) material that wouldn’t become popular in the States until quite recently (I’m writing this in early 2015). The solid zirconia material had greater strength, durability and aesthetics than anything I was offered in N.C.
Furthermore, the N.C. dentists were all “general” dentists who didn’t do many full-mouth restorations or similarly complicated cases. My C.R. dentist was a U.S.-trained SPECIALIST who handled complicated cases on a daily basis. Based on his experience, he suggested that the final result would be more aesthetic if a second complete “prep” were done on my teeth after the gum surgeries had healed. This took him an additional 12 hours; though he set aside two full days at his clinic just for me. No other dentist would even remotely entertain the possibility of doing a second complete “prep.” In summary, my trip to Costa Rica was a success in terms of both cost and quality. Different people will make different choices, but after researching my particular case, I realized that the decision to seek dental care in Costa Rica was a no-brainer.
Note: for reference, a typical all-zirconia crown in the US costs around $1,018.
I made four trips to C.R. plus the 2013 trip, so travel was definitely a big expense.
How many trips to Costa Rica were required to complete the procedures?
It was one trip to do the “prep” (removal of the old crowns) and crown lengthenings; another trip for the second complete “prep”; and a third trip a month later for the “delivery” of the crowns. As I mentioned, there was an earlier fact-finding trip in which no dental work was done, and a follow-up trip in July 2013 to fix a problem.
Dr. Prada was the only dentist who would even consider doing two complete preps. It is very time consuming, and other dentists laughed at me when I asked them.
What did they advise you to do if you have a problem with your crowns?
Like other reputable Costa Rican dentists, Dr. Prada offers a guarantee on his work.
For issues requiring immediate attention, I had a local dentist who was sympathetic to me. While waiting three months for my gums to recover from the crown lengthening procedures, I had to visit my dentist about three times to re-cement one of the temporary crowns that liked to fall off. (This temporary crown was on the tooth that would later lose its permanent crown.)
Why did you choose Costa Rica over other countries?
It had a lively dental community. There are also good dentists in other countries, but I didn’t have time to research every country, so I concentrated on Costa Rica, where a lot of information was available.
What other costs are involved?
Yes, travel: airfare ($800 from North Carolina at the time), food ($20/day but Costa Rica restaurants aren’t the best), and hotel ($110/day, but smart shoppers find AirBnB places for half this). I liked to stay at one of my favorite hotels anywhere, Villas Del Rio in Escazu, http://www.villasdelrio.com. I love them, and it doesn’t hurt that they’re right across the street from Dr. Prada’s office in Escazu. On my birthday, they always send me a “Happy Birthday!” email.
Where did you stay while getting the work done?
Mostly at the Villas Del Rio I mentioned above. But I also stayed at the Cristina Apartotel for a few days and took a taxi to Escazu.
What are your recommendations for restaurants and attractions in the area?
I’ll pass on restaurants. I’d sometimes send out for delivery pizza at the local Papa Johns.
I loved a butterfly farm an hour away in Alajuela (http://www.butterflyfarm.co.cr).
If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering getting dental work done in Costa Rica, what would it be?
I don’t have any implants, but I know a lot of people who got implants in Costa Rica. They often post their stories on Topix. About 60-70 percent of the Topix posters have had at least one implant, usually more. There are even some who have had a full-mouth restoration with many implants. One such person is “EssKay” who sent me before-and-after photos of his work with Dr. Prada and Dr. Gonzalez. I posted the photos on my blog last week, http://www.smilingatlast.com/2015/02/PradaStephenPics.html. His procedures: extraction of all his teeth, bone grafts, a sinus lift, 8 implants on the top and 6 on the bottom, and full bridges.
(For people interested in implants with Dr. Gonzalez, I suggest contacting Dr. Prada first and letting Dr. Prada coordinate and oversee everything.)
Philosophically, I like the “specialist” dentists in C.R. Specialists have received two years additional graduate training after their DDS degree. There are many implant specialists in C.R., including the popular Dr. Anglada, the well-known Dr. Obando of Nova Dental, and of course my Dr. Gonzalez.
My advice is to stick to the “specialist” dentists or to “general” dentists who have a following and for whom you can check a lot of references. Unfortunately, there are a lot of mediocre or inconsistent general dentists in Costa Rica, some of whom have a prominent Internet presence. For general dentists, I like and recommend the Cavallinis and Costa Rica Dental Team. The Cavallini clinic is especially known for their economical implants.
Another friend wanted economically-priced implants but of high quality, so I recommended the Cavallini Clinic, which is very popular. He completed his work in January 2014 to his great satisfaction. All the dentists mentioned above have their own large fan-clubs of satisfied implant patients.
Thanks for your web site, Alex. By the way, in case anyone is wondering, I am not against US dentists. I support American dentists, and I hope that everyone can find a local U.S. dentist for the quality work they need. For those who can’t, I suggest giving Costa Rica a look, where you can get both better quality and savings on dental work.
Thank you for all of your insightful answers Dave!
If you have any questions for Dave, please leave a comment. For more information, photos and videos of David’s experiences, visit his blog: http://www.smilingatlast.com