09 Jul

Going to a Dentist in Costa Rica

When we were working full-time jobs, dental insurance is something that we always had. It’s a standard employer-provided benefit in both Canada and the US. During those days, we didn’t pay much attention to how much the insurance company was being billed for our dental visits.

However, now that we’ve both quit our jobs to travel and live the good life – we no longer have dental insurance! Amanda needs something called an inlay (bigger than a filling, smaller than a crown), I need a new mouth guard, and we both need standard checkups, x-rays, and cleanings. Let’s go see a dentist in San Jose, Costa Rica!

San Jose
We started shopping around and calling/emailing various dental clinics in San Jose. We used the website WhatClinic to find clinics around San Jose with positive reviews and convenient locations. Note that this website seems to behave similar to Yelp, so aside from the occasional fake reviews, I would not be surprised if dental clinics can pay money to have negative reviews removed.

A couple weeks ago when Amanda was flossing her teeth, an old filling detached from one of her molars. We weren’t sure exactly what a dentist would do to fix this, but maybe a crown would be required? Using this as a guideline to compare different dentists, we started requesting cost quotes for porcelain dental crowns.

If we were in the US, how much would this cost? According to this 2013 study by the American Dental Association, the US National Average Cost of a porcelain crown is $1,026.30!

Of the highest rated dental clinics in Costa Rica that we asked for quotes, the average cost of a porcelain crown was $500. This is half the cost of a dentist in the US! Hurray!

We ended up choosing the Anglada Castro Dental Care clinic. They speak English (like many of the other clinics), their online reviews were positive, their prices were reasonable, and both Dr. Castro and Dr. Anglada have Doctor in Dental Science (D.D.S) degrees from the University of Costa Rica. Sounds good!

In addition to the lost filling, Amanda also had another cavity that needed to be filled. She proceeded to complain about dentistry being a maddening, yet somehow necessary torture of this modern world. The harsh truth is, she is simply not the diligent flosser that she should be. Shame, shame, double shame. Total cost for everything was:

Cleaning and x-rays for both of us: $252.50 USD
Molded night guard: $80.80 USD
One inlay and one standard filling: $429.25 USD (assume 75/25 split on costs for these)

In review, we thought the clinic was clean and professional. Half of the staff spoke fluent English. Everything seemed to be equivalent to the service you would expect in the US or Canada, with just a sprinkle of extra slowness and waiting time. Most of the other clients in the waiting room seemed to be professional-looking Ticos or folks that had flown down from the US. One guy said he does this every year to save money on dental services, and also visits a new part of Costa Rica every time as a mini-vacation. Not a bad idea!

All in all, our experience was positive. If you live in the US and require expensive dental treatment, I would strongly recommend taking a vacation to Costa Rica!

FYI, here are the other clinics that we received quotes from:

Meza Dental Care
Dental Cleaning $70-120
Porcelain crown $420-575, crown buildups $75 and posts $150, if needed
Root canals $350-450
Mouth guards $150-350

Dr. Marco Muñoz Cavallini
Dental Cleaning $100, X-rays $200
Mouth guard $75
Dental Crown Express Service $500,  $450 non metal crown, $300 porcelain fused to metal

MarioGarita Dental (Dr. Garita)
Initial Evaluation and X-rays $50
Dental Cleaning $50
Night guard $200
Porcelain crown $550

Anglada Castro Dental Care (Dr. Castro)
Dental Cleaning and X-rays $125
Dental cap/crown $400
Night guard  $80

  • Flyingaway

    The cost is about a half of what you could get in the U.S. without an insurance, I think. I just got a night guard, the listed price is $425. After insurance and write-offs, I paid $84.5.

    • Travis

      Hrmm, that’s not bad! I guess the question for us is: since we don’t have an employer covering our insurance costs anymore – how much would it cost to get a private dental insurance plan, and would the total insurance costs end up being more than what we would alternatively paying in cash for service?

      Out of curiosity I just did a quick search at ehealthinsurance.com and the “Best Selling” dental plan they recommended was from Humana which had a cost of $581 per year. It had free cleanings and xrays, with 50% coverage of everything else after $50 deductible (with max annual benefit of $1,000 per individual on the plan).

      On the surface this plan doesn’t look so hot, and I’m skeptical whether it would actually save us money. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure it would introduce more insurance paperwork into our lives! 🙂

  • Doug

    Molded night-guard = $80? I see someone else already commented. I was quoted closer to $600, but I live in the Bay Area.

    • Travis

      Yeah! Next time you need a new one, book a flight to Costa Rica and make a vacation of it!