Commentary: Costa Rican dentistry

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Imagine combining a trip to a lush tropical country full of a diversity of landscape, flora and fauna with a trip to a dentist. Sounds like an unlikely itinerary, but that's what a lot of Americans and Canadians do every year.

There are two reasons that people come to Costa Rica for dental care. They know that the quality of care is up to U.S. standards in most cases and that they will pay from 25 to 50 percent of what they would in their home country.

To find the right dental clinic, you have to do a little homework, but my research should save you some time. I am not receiving any compensation from the Goodness (happens to be the CEO's last name) Dental Clinic, but I have been a patient and I can tell you about my experience.

After doing a little web searching and emailing I was called on the phone first by Sue Hallstrom, a Minnesota ex-pat, who coordinates scheduling and transportation for the clinic patients. She gave me an overview of the clinic and answered a lot of my questions. A few days later Dr. Peter Aborn, another U.S. expat, called me and filled me in on dental treatment details.

Aborn, a specialist in prosthodontics, has a very long resume that includes teaching in New York and running a private practice there for 18 years. He came to Costa Rica to get away from the grind of production dentistry and to use his skills in more beneficial ways for a wider variety of people.

His first year in the country was spent in a remote area helping to provide dental and medical care to extremely poor local tribes who have little access to some of life's more basic needs because they are so isolated from the rest of Costa Rica. Aborn quickly established his bona fides as a humanitarian worker, and that kind of life continues for him.

One of his jobs is to act as the Patient Manager and Coordinator for the Goodness Dental Clinic in Escazu, just outside the capital of San Jose. During our first half-hour phone conversation Aborn and I bonded quickly. He came to New York by way of Boston so we had a lot of non-dental things to discuss.

But once we got down to business, I knew I had been lucky enough to find the right Costa Rican dental clinic. Aborn had been one of the teachers for many of the 10 staff dentists. The clinic has a variety of dental specialists, and it prides itself on patient-centered care.

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My story should serve to explain things. The day of my appointment, Hallstrom picked me up and drove me to first have X-rays. I had a full-mouth CT scan and panoramic mouth X-rays for $90. Those results were put on a CD that we carried to the dental office.

At the clinic, I was greeted as if I was a returning war hero. I was given a great cup of coffee and then went into consultation with Aborn and Dr. Karen Yurell, the primary care coordinator, after they had spent about a half hour reviewing my case. They reviewed my X-rays and then presented me with their findings, options for treatment and a printout of details, including cost.

Initially, I was planning on one root canal and a crown at $900, not the $3,500 quoted by a U.S. endodontist. I ended up with three root canals (two new infections revealed in X-rays), one crown and two posts at a cost of $2,300. The U.S. cost for that work would be in the range of $6,000 to $8,000. Almost all of the work was done as I sat in the chair for 4 hours. It was fairly pleasant and the equipment and facilities were of the highest standards. Aborn told me they use U.S. materials, follow U.S. protocols and Occupational Health and Safety Admininistration infection-control standards. Dentists keep a busy continuing education schedule.

Most dental travelers plan trips to Costa Rica of seven to eight days to have their work done. The clinic can do full-mouth rehab, including 20 crowns, in two weeks.

So how come Costa Rica dental care costs are so attractive to tourists? The cost of living is lower in Costa Rica and dentists' salary expectations are lower. They earn 20 to 30 percent of their American counterparts. As Aborn put it, "There is not a driving force to become a millionaire."

Aborn was not critical of U.S. dentists but did note that U.S. dentists are "... caught up in the politics, economics and the driving force of business and they really can't do the work they want to do in a fee structure that is affordable to the people."

When I asked Aborn the best way for Americans to find out about the clinic, he told me to give his contact information: office phone, 866-218-1036, cell, 866-218-1036, email, peter.aborn@goodnessdental.com. That tells you a lot about the kind of operation they run.

Richard Davis is a registered nurse. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at rbdav@comcast.net. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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