Q: Greetings, Peter.
I am planning a trip to Costa Rica, specifically to have expensive dental work taken care of. How can I find reputable dentist?
Highland Beach, Fla.
A: Thanks for a very good question. Although much has been written about medical tourism, not much information is out there about dental tourism. Yet many people travel abroad not only to go sightseeing, but also to have dental procedures done at a fraction of the price they'd pay back in the States.
The most popular and well-known place that Americans go to get inexpensive but quality dentistry is Los Algodones, Mexico, which is just over the border from Yuma, Ariz. However, Costa Rica is among the top five countries where Americans seek dental work. The other hot spots are Argentina, Brazil, and Malaysia.
The vast majority of dentists in Costa Rica are well-trained and reputable, but you'll still want to do some research to find someone you feel safe and comfortable consulting.
The best place to start is with a personal recommendation. If you know someone who's been to Costa Rica and was satisfied with the dental work, consider using that person's dentist. If you don't know anyone who's had work done there, put the word out to friends and family and see if anyone volunteers a name or two.
Next, get some books. Two well-respected titles are "Patients Beyond Borders," by Josef Woodman and "The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Medical Tourism," by Patrick W. Marsek and Frances Sharpe. Both offer a wealth of tips and advice not only for finding a dentist (or doctor) but also for planning and financing your trip.
After that, hit the Internet. Unfortunately, there are no truly complete and impartial directories or rating systems for Costa Rican dentists, so you'll have to spend some time browsing through various Web sites and forums. A good place to start would be a service like MedicalNomad.com, CRMedsearch.com, or RevaHealth.com, all of which list hundreds of dentists all over the country. Narrow down your search by specialty and region, then pick a few names. Meza Dental and Prisma Dental are two hugely popular clinics, but they may not be right for you.
Go to each clinic's Web site and check its accreditation, the dentists' credentials, and see how long have they been at the practice. Look at news releases to gauge how much media attention they've received. Browse some message boards and forums to see what other people are saying about the practitioners you think you'd like to see. TripAdvisor.com has a forum.
Then start to establish a relationship with one of more providers by e-mail and phone. Introduce yourself and explain who you are and what you need done. Ask for references from other patients, and discuss costs, post-op care, and anything else you're concerned about. You'll know pretty soon from your interaction whether the place gives you a good vibe or a bad one. If the clinic gets back to you promptly and is helpful, use it. If not, find another. The same rule applies once you actually get to Costa Rica: If you go to your chosen dentist's office and you don't feel comfortable in any way, cancel the appointment and call another dentist on your list.
Finding a good dentist is not an easy process. You must be willing to put in a fair amount of legwork. Expect that it will take about eight to 10 hours of early research to find a list of reputable dentists, then another eight to 10 to a establish a relationship with one or more.
And don't forget to enjoy your time in Costa Rica. There are incredibly beautiful beaches, rainforests, rivers, and mountains that you won't want to miss before or after you've had your dental procedure done.