Destination Dentistry – Worth It

If you are anything like me, having dental work done is one of the least exciting experiences you can have, much less if its “dental implants” or the “All-On-4/6 Full Mouth Restoration”. But this procedure is a necessary evil for those of us who have had dental challenges in the past. One of the questions, and always a big one, ”How much will a full mouth of dental implants cost?”. Single dental implants in the US can range from $2500 up to $5000. If they cost more than that, call the police and report the thief!

One alternative to paying the high prices in the US is going to countries like Hungary, Costa Rica and Mexico to have dental work done. As the patient, you can usually plan on saving 50-70% off what your treatment plan in the US might cost. Sounds appealing, right? It sure did to me!

I was in a season of my life where cost was not as much of an issue, even though its ALWAYS an issue, no matter how much money you have. I had given 10’s of thousands to dentists here in the US (primarily in AZ), and I was fed up with making these dentists rich! It felt like every time they say me, they would go back into their office and look up a new boat or car, and then come back with their price.

Deciding to try my hand at some “lemonades” with these lemons I was growing in my mouth and turn my dental issues into a vacation. Where better to go than Costa Rica? I had never been, but their marketing department does a good job of making it look appealing, so I though “Let’s give it a shot.”

Actually, I had gone down to a boarder town in Mexico back in 2009 to have my top teeth done for my wedding, because I was always SUPER self-conscious about my smile. SO I had some experience in my past with trusting foreign dentists with my smile before I ventured down to Costa Rica, and at the time, I was pretty happy with what the dentist in Mexico had done, so my confidence was high when I considered this decision

Narrowing the Playing Field

Part of the problem I faced right off the bat was the lack of “real” education and reviews about who to trust down in San Jose (capital of Costa Rica). I had done as much research as I could at the time, but there wasn’t an abundance of information, so I had to narrow it down to the top 3 that I could find any decent information about. Once I had the three choices, I boarded and American Airlines flight direct to San Jose. (TIP: Don’t Go it Alone, bring an Advocate)

I knew that 4 ears and eyes are better than 2, and I also wanted to look at future options for my mom, so I invited her to join me from the beginning. I made plans for Jen (my wife), my 2 yr. old son and Cheryl (my mother-in-law) to join us a few days later once we had made our selection of clinician and clinic.

Once we arrived in Costa Rica, we checked in to our hotel after renting a car. We stayed our first two nights in San Jose (not a lot of American brand hotels, FYI) while doing our research. After going to a few clinics, I decided to make my decision with Dr. Berenes. He seemed knowledgeable and skilled, and was even deploying new technologies at the time like PRF (Platelet Rich Fibrin) which would aid in the healing process. His office was in a nice part of town and his staff was nice, so this was the one I was going to gamble on.

Count the Cost

Now we needed to get down to dental implant costs. I needed two implants and they cost $1100 each with the restoration. But I also had to pay for 2 flights (6 months apart to let the dental implants go through osteointegration) and we had to stay each trip at least a week, so I had to find accommodations for those two weeks. We had car rental and food to also consider, but the most important part for me personally was the ability to have a vacation while getting teeth work done. I knew it wouldn’t all be beaches and sunshine but I sure as heck was willing to give it the ole’ collage try

Cost to get my 2 dental implants

  • Dentist in San Jose – $2200
  • Flights – $450 each (granted I had 4) – $1800
  • Car Rental for 9 days – $575
  • Car Rental for 2nd Trip – $475 (shorter trip)
  • Accommodations for first trip – $8,000 (we stayed at a pretty nice place, so it was a bit “extra”)
  • Accommodation’s 2nd Trip – $ 3500
  • Gas for both trips -$350
  • Food and groceries – $1000

Total for Two Teeth = $18,175

So, needless to say, it wasn’t the most economical route for two teeth, but two significant vacations with a lot of memories, so to me, it was worth it.

The Rest of the Story

For our older generations reading this, they will know who Paul Harvey was and the saying “Now, the rest of the story.”

After coming back from the second trip down, I had both teeth all fixed up, or so I thought. About 6 months after the final restorations (the implant crowns) we seated, I woke up one morning and while brushing my teeth with a Sonic Care, I heard one of the most unsettling sounds one could ask for. There was a rattle inside my jaw that vibrated throughout my entire head.

ONE OF THE IMPLANTS HAD FAILED!!! You have to be kidding me, I thought! All that work to have MORE DENTAL WORK FAIL! Needless to say, I was seriously frustrated. I called the clinic in San Jose to be told, “come back down and we can try and fix it. It will take two more visits”. Are you serious?

So now I forced to make a decision, and now that I got the “Costa Rica Vacation” bug satisfied, I made the call to have a local Prosthodontist do a bone graft and remove the failed implant. I actually had the doctor also do some temporary restorative so I didn’t have to go 6 months without missing a tooth, so it was fairly expensive to fix it right. Another $5500! Ugh!

SO was it Worth It???

Because I had an amazing vacation with my family, that memories for a lifetime were made, I would say it was worth it. But would I recommend someone else to try and find a doctor outside of the US to do dental work… that depends.

  1. How extensive is the work you need to have done? One or two implants, I would defiantly say that it will cost more than It would be to have it done locally. But if you are doing the All-On-4/6, then maybe its worth it.
  2. How well do you do with dental anxiety? Almost ALL clinics outside of the US do not offer Nitrous Oxide, which I am a big fan of when it comes to dealing with anxiety in the chair. And if you are going to have serious surgery like this, do you want IV Sedation, and my argument would be, don’t risk it. But, money has a way of us putting up with a bit more pain to save $20K or more, so that’s your call.
  3. What’s your risk tolerance?
    1. Do you feel the clinic will be sterile? Most 3rd world clinics don’t adhere to the same levels of cleanliness that they do here in the US.
    2. What is your plan if there is a failure. You might use up all your savings going back down to have the doctor fix what has broke.
    3. What do you do if you need a new set of teeth? Can the clinic down there give you a back up set?
    4. How much can you know about the clinic before you board the plane? Homework is key.
    5. What is your recourse if they totally mess it up. Here in the US, we have lawyers and dental boards as leverage, while in other countries, what can you do but take it in the chin.

If you are thinking of getting this procedure done and are looking to save a lot on the procedure, maybe destination dentistry is a good option, but hopefully my story will give you a lot to consider, so that whatever you decide to do for the sake of your smile, that when its all said in done, you are confident in your decision.

Cheers and here’s to your smile!

~ The Smile Mentor