Costa Rica’s reputation in medical tourism has grown greatly the past several years due to its cheap costs and high quality care. This also includes dental tourism and many people from the USA come to Costa Rica to get dental work done since it’s so expensive in the US. At the same time, they get to vacation in a beautiful country so it’s no wonder that dental tourism is on the rise in Costa Rica.
If you’re thinking about dental tourism in Costa Rica, I’ll share some of my experience. It’s a bit different since I live in Costa Rica but I am from the US so I can share some insight into my experiences. First Yeison, my husband who is Costa Rican will go over the dental system in Costa Rica, medical tourism and then I’ll talk about my personal experiences with seeing a dentist in Costa Rica as a foreigner. And if you’re thinking about coming to Costa Rica for dental work, I have some tips for you on that as well. Post updated April 2020.
Costa Rica’s Dental System
When Costa Rican students graduate high school, qualified students can go straight into professional school such as medical, dental, pharmacy or veterinary. Dentists spend 6 years in dental school and another 2-3 if they specialize.
At the end of their schooling career, dentists must pass an “incorporation” test. Then every dentist needs to register with the Colegio Cirujanos Dentistas in order to practice.
Medical Tourism in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is one of the top ten countries in the world for medical tourism. Get dental implants and recover on a beautiful beach. Replace your knee and rehabilitate in the mountains overlooking the valley. Sounds nice right?
Due to the high quality of Costa Rica’s health professionals, lower cost of care and shorter wait times, medical tourism is booming. Seeing the doctor in Costa Rica as a foreigner is not an uncommon thing. In fact, this is one of the reasons why so many retired USA/Canadians move to Costa Rica, to take advantage of their excellent health care system as the USA is too expensive and Canada takes too long.
Misconceptions about Medical Tourism in Costa Rica
- Health professionals in Costa Rica are not as qualified as ones in the US.
- That is not true as many of them go on to specialize in the US or work in North America/Europe. Since students enter professional school out of high school when they are 17 or 18, they begin training much earlier.
- If a dentist from another country wants to practice in Costa Rica, they must be reviewed for at least 2 years by a university supervisor. They also need to take and pass the “incorporation” exam.
- Dental work in the US is expensive because it’s high quality. Dental care in Costa Rica is cheap because it’s low quality.
- Just because something is expensive does not mean it is good quality and just because something is not expensive does not mean it’s bad quality. There is a reason why Costa Rica is one of the top ten countries for dental tourism!
- Costa Rica has a universal health care system thereby lowering costs of public medical services. Universal health care is one of the best things about Costa Rica and is something many countries can learn from Costa Rica.
- Costa Rica doesn’t have the latest medical technology.
- Actually, many hospitals in Costa Rica are accredited by international organizations that requires them to meet specific standards including equipment. Some of that equipment is imported from the U. Health professionals have to be up to date with the latest procedures.
- Many dentists purchase their tools from Europe or North America.
- Costa Rican health professionals don’t speak English.
- This is a huge misconception as English is actually mandatory in school and many go on to study or do their residency in the US or Europe.
- Now that medical tourism is so big in Costa Rica, many doctors, dentists, pharmacists, physical therapists, surgeons and veterinarians speak fluent English to cater to the foreign tourists. But of course, not all do as Spanish is the official language.
Dental Work for Medical Tourism
Dental work is the number one procedure sought out by medical tourists since there is a large number of English speaking specialized dentists, a shorter wait time, a shorter recovery time and a much lower cost of care.
These are some procedures normally done:
Not to mention teeth whitening and orthodontic treatment.
How to Find a Dentist
With a plethora of dental professionals in Costa Rica, finding one as a foreigner can be a bit daunting and intimidating. If you don’t speak Spanish, you will have to find an English spoken clinic and you can find those mostly in touristic areas.
Dental clinics will hang a “Odontología” or “Clinica Dental” sign. Many will write on the sign or on the door/window if they are English spoken.
Not all the information is online and most people find their dentists by word of mouth. Ask in the Costa Rica expat Facebook groups, look up forums or use services like Medigo that identify, rate and recommend clinics and health professionals. These kinds of websites are extremely useful since they list information such as types of procedures available, location, prices, accreditation and you can book straight from the site.
My Experience Seeing a Dentist in Costa Rica as a Foreigner – Cleanings
I’ve had nothing but excellent experiences seeing a dentist in Costa Rica as a foreigner. Yeison’s sister is a dentist and I have seen her for cleanings and fillings. All my opinions come from an unbiased point of view, especially as I really really do not like going to the dentist.
When I went for a cleaning, Yeison’s sister did the entire cleaning from polishing to flossing to checking for cavities. Then when it came to fillings, she did the entire procedure including numbing my mouth which barely hurt at all. Before in the US, I had to have the hygienist hold my hand because I would get terrible anxiety about the numbing shots and they were not nice about it.
I was very surprised at my first dentist appointment in Costa Rica because in the US, the dental hygienist does all the cleaning. Then you see the dentist for a grand total of 1 minute. Yeison’s sister did everything start to finish. This is normal here in Costa Rica. There isn’t really a dental hygienist so when you go to see the dentist, you see the actual dentist for your entire appointment, not just the hygienist.
Yes, I’m still unbiased and Yeison’s sister is the best dentist I’ve ever been to. You really feel like you get personal attention and care because the dentist does everything in the appointment.
I have also been to a dental clinic in Tamarindo and it was also as good of an experience of going to the dentist could be. The cost of a cleaning in Tamarindo cost around $70 USD which is more expensive since Tamarindo is a touristy town. In San Jose, prices are around 30,000 Costa Rican colones for a normal cleaning ($54 USD). I personally prefer to go to the dentist in San Jose because it is cheaper than where I live and I speak Spanish so I don’t need an English speaking dentist.
Unfortunately, I didn’t listen to my orthodontist as a teenager and stopped wearing my retainer in college. My teeth started moving again very badly to the point where I had to get braces again 🙁
I’m super happy with my orthodontist. He is wonderful, very gentle and extremely kind to someone who absolutely hates going to the dentist. Truly a gem and my experience with him so far has been excellent and he does the entire work (cleaning, changing rubber bands, tightening wires). It has been a thousand times better than the orthodontist I had in the US who I barely saw at my appointments.
*Update* I got my braces removed in 2019 and am extremely happy with the results. He is based out of San Jose and goes to Liberia once a month (so I drove from Tamarindo to Liberia, 1.5 hours, every month to see him for 2 years). If you’re interested in his contact info, please send us a message (recommended if you know Spanish).
Costs of Dental Work in Costa Rica
When it comes to the cost of dental tourism in Costa Rica, it will depend on several factors. The cost of travel, hotel, food and transportation does add up but depending on the procedure, you can indeed save a LOT of money in total costs. Then you can use that money you saved on the dental procedure to splurge on your vacatio!
Let’s break it down for basic costs.
- Flights: Anywhere from $300-$800 USD. (More or less depending on time of the year and departing destination)
- Hotel: Mid range hotels can be from $80-$120 a night depending on time of year and location. But there are many other options on Airbnb or VRBO.
Now let’s look at how much some procedures cost in the US and Costa Rica
These are approximate costs that I found online. For the Costa Rica cost, I checked for prices in on the El Colegio de Cirujanos Dentistas de Costa Rica website (College of Dental Surgeons of Costa Rica). These are starting prices and you can check the Colegio website for prices of more procedures.
- Veneers (Traditional)
- US cost: $900 to $2500 USD per tooth
- Costa Rica cost: 83,000 CRC (~$148 USD)
- Dental Implants (single)
- US Cost: $4500 USD
- Costa Rica Cost: Starts at 484,000 CRC (~$861 USD)
- Root canal
- US cost: $900 to $1500
- Costa Rica cost: 125,000 CRC (~$222 USD)
- When I had just top braces, it cost 25,000 CRC per appointment (~45 USD) for a check up. For both sets, it was 32,000 CRC (~$57 USD) for a check up. I had the porcelain braces which are more expensive than metal.
I should mention that if you do go to touristic areas such as Tamarindo or Playas del Coco, the dentists charge more because they cater specifically towards foreigners and for speaking English. Like I mentioned earlier, my cleaning in Tamarindo cost me around $70 USD. It was around 30,000 CRC ($54 USD) in San Jose.
Should You Come to Costa Rica for Dental Work?
It really is up to you. Many people come to Costa Rica for dental work because the wait time is too long (Canada) or it’s too expensive (United States). They see it as a two in one: fix what needs to be fixed, recover in a beautiful country and make a vacation out of it.
With everything, there are pros and cons, risks and things to think about. Take these into consideration when coming to Costa Rica for dental care.
- The dentist’s background. Make sure you do your thorough research and get recommendations from people who have actually gone to the dentist and can vouch for them. Like any other country in the world, there will be people who want to take advantage.
- Location. Pick a place that has easy access (San Jose, touristic areas) and stay somewhere that’s close to your dentist’s office.
- Contact potential dentists. Call, email, Facebook them. Get in contact with the clinic and the dentist and ask questions.
- Arrange follow up visits accordingly. Do you need to be checked every month or every 6 months? Figure these logistics out because they can play a big part of whether you should come to Costa Rica for your procedure or not.