Regular dental treatment is an essential facet of maintaining good health. But many Americans can’t afford to visit the dentist because they either lack dental insurance or their insurance doesn’t cover enough of the costs of dental treatment. Many people can see the dentist for basic treatments and preventive care, but they can’t afford the more expensive treatments. The end result is that Americans often do without proper dental care or are forced to make drastic decisions that may cost them their natural teeth and force them into dentures.
Illinois resident Deborah McLeod-Morris has firsthand experience with this dilemma. Over the years, McLeod-Morris has had a lot of problems with her teeth. Earlier this year, her American dentist told her that she needed to have nine teeth pulled. McLeod-Morris was devastated by the news, since it would mean she would only have about ten good teeth left. In order to treat her problem effectively, she would either need to get expensive dental implants or have the rest of her teeth pulled and be fitted for dentures.
Remembering how much her father had hated wearing dentures, Deborah McLeod-Morris resolved to get dental implants. But she was shocked by the exhorbitant cost of getting dental implants in the United States. She was quoted a cost of $18,000 for the work she would need done by a periodontist. The restorative dentist wanted $32,000 for his work. By the time she had seen the oral surgeon, the total estimated cost for McLeod-Morris to get dental implants had soared to over $65,000. Her dental insurance plan would not cover enough of the costs to make it possible for her to get dental implants in her hometown.
Enter Dental Tourism…
Faced with such a difficult choice, Deborah McLeod-Morris did what a growing number of Americans are doing when they need to have expensive dental work done. She started looking abroad, finally settling on Costa Rica as the place where she could get her much needed dental implants as well as enjoy an exotic vacation with her husband, Ted.
Says McLeod-Morris, “I started researching [to see] if I could get dental implants cheaper than what my dentists here quoted me. I saw some websites in Poland, started researching those, checked out plane fares, hotels costs… Then I saw India and Costa Rica websites and started researching those. I hate hot weather so I ruled out India. The tickets were cheaper to Costa Rica and the flight was quicker than Poland. It was a practical consideration choosing Costa Rica because after having extensive dental work done, you don’t want to be on long flights and long layovers.”
Dental tourism is a hot trend, not just because dental work is often so much cheaper abroad, but also because it allows people to go to places they’ve never been before. And enterprising entrepreneurs are quickly developing businesses designed to help the intrepid American dental or medical tourist.
Deborah McLeod-Morris consulted one such entrepreneur. Richard Feldman, MBA, MSW, owner of Medical Tourism of Costa Rica , helped arrange everything, from finding inexpensive lodging for McLeod-Morris’ and her husband’s two week stay, to setting up her appointments with the dentists who did the extensive dental work. According to McLeod-Morris, Feldman charged $300 for his services, a price McLeod-Morris felt was quite fair for services rendered. She says, “[Feldman] was a liaison for us, which was very helpful, and took the fear out of deciding to go to Costa Rica for the implants.”
Richard Feldman offered McLeod-Morris a choice of three hotels. The four star Hotel Alta, the most expensive of the three, is where McLeod-Morris and her husband stayed for their two week trip. Feldman had recommended the more comfortable accommodations based on the extensive work that was to be done. Because they had booked the hotel through Medical Tourism of Costa Rica, McLeod-Morris got a discount that more than covered Feldman’s fee. Additionally, Feldman arranged for transportation to and from the airport and the dentists’ office as part of the total cost of the treatment.
Experiencing Costa Rican dentistry
Deborah McLeod-Morris had her dental work done by Dr. Marco A. Muñoz Cavallini and his son, Dr. Marco A. Muñoz Peralta of the International Dental Clinic in San Josè, Costa Rica. Dr. Cavallini removed the bad teeth and placed the posts for the impants. His son, Dr. Peralta, did the restorative work. According to McLeod-Morris, the dentists’ waiting room was full of Americans and a few Canadians, all of whom needed extensive and expensive dental work done.
McLeod-Morris ended up having three more teeth pulled because they were abscessed. The pulled teeth will be replaced with implants and a bridge.
The bottom line so far…
Remember the original quote Deborah McLeod-Morris got for getting dental implants in America? It was over $65,000. For just her dental treatment in Costa Rica, so far Deborah McLeod-Morris has spent just $4,000!
For her $4,000, McLeod-Morris has had eight implants, one of which was a one-step implant. She has also had preparatory work done for five crowns. The total cost of the work, which will be completed next year, was originally estimated to be $17,500. It turned out that the sinus lifts McLeod-Morris thought might be necessary were not needed. On the other hand, she did have to have three extra pulled, so the original estimate is, so far, close to being correct.
In addition to the cost of the dental work, McLeod-Morris has so far spent about $1200 for two plane tickets and around $2000 for two weeks in a four star hotel, food, and laundry. Next June, she will spend another two weeks in Costa Rica, having the second part of her treatment completed. Even with the food, lodging, and travel costs factored in, McLeod-Morris expects the total cost of getting dental implants in Costa Rica to be about one-third of what she would have spent for the same procedure in the United States.
Is dental tourism for you?
A lot of Americans are turning to medical and dental professionals abroad to take care of their healthcare needs. Many of those people have been completely satisfied with their experiences. However, there are some risks to medical and dental tourism. Americans who think they might want to seek out healthcare abroad should take the time to assess and plan for these risks before they take the plunge.
Here are a few things to consider:
* Remember that American health insurance is not likely to cover any of the costs associated with venturing abroad for medical or dental care. You will most likely have to pay upfront for any treatment you get. You will also have to pay for airfare, lodging, transportation, and food, and those costs should be factored in with whatever the total treatment costs will be.
* You’ll need to do your homework and make sure the facilities and health care professionals involved with your care are fully qualified to do the work. Look for firsthand testimonials from people who have been there and done that, as well as credentials that can be verified by official sources.
* Language barriers can be a problem. Be sure to choose a health care professional with whom you can communicative effectively.
* If something goes wrong, you may not have the legal protections you would have in the United States. You could be stuck with an unpleasant outcome and no legal recourse. However, it’s worth remembering that one of the main reasons why dentists and physicians abroad don’t charge as much for their services is because they don’t have to worry about being sued for huge malpractice claims.
* Follow up care might be tricky. Look for a package that allows for aftercare following the procedure. Otherwise, you might have to go back to the United States before you’re fully ready to travel and end up with more complications, some of which could be life threatening. Be sure to allow for time to rest and recuperate after the procedure is finished. Choose a country where rest and relaxation will be possible
* You may need to stay abroad for several weeks, which could present issues at your workplace or with other responsibilities you may have at home.
Dental tourism was the right choice for Deborah McLeod-Morris
In Deborah McLeod-Morris’ case, dental tourism has so far turned out to be a Godsend. When asked if she would recommend her dental tourism experience to others, McLeod-Morris responded with an enthusiastic “absolutely!” From what she could tell, all of the other clients at The International Dental Clinic were also very pleased with the experience.
McLeod-Morris will have to go back to Costa Rica next year to have the rest of the work done; but for now, she is allowing both her mouth and her bank account to heal. The costs of getting the treatment have been significantly less than they would have been had she stayed local.
Best of all, McLeod-Morris and her husband, Ted, have had an exciting opportunity to visit another country and enjoy its culture. McLeod-Morris said “Ted and I took a four in one tour of the Poas volcano, a coffee plantation, the rainforest and La Paz waterfall, which was a wonderful experience.” And the next time she visits, she and her husband will get to enjoy Costa Rica even more, since the hard part of the treatment is already behind them. That’s certainly something to smile about!
Interview with Deborah McLeod-Morris
Medical Tourism of Costa Rica: http://www.medicaltourismofcostarica.com/index.php
International Dental Clinic: http://www.aestheticdentistrycr.com/index.html
Raya, Patricia and Mogenis, Connie (2008). Medical Tips from the Inside: Things You Need to Know! Jupiter, Florida: Merit Publishing International