Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Why I only go to the dentist in 2nd world countries

Medical and dental tourism has become a thing now. And while I probably wouldn’t make a special trip to another country for a medical or dental procedure, I do take advantage of these cheap services when I already happen to be in a developing country. Especially when it comes to dentists – who, in places like Costa Rica, may be able to work on more than just your teeth…

Last March, a bunch of us were sitting around at Hostel 7 Casa del Gingi in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, trying to avoid dying of the extreme mid-day heat.
The daily routine

‘Who wants to go surfing?’ someone casually asked. Two or three people said yes, I and some others said we’d pass, and Mirabai said, ‘Maybe later, I have to go back to the dentist.’

Well that sure sounded like a story to be told. ‘What? The dentist? And back to the dentist?’

‘Yeah,’ she sighed, while pointing at the scar on her forehead. ‘He needs to check on my cut; he took the stitches out a few days ago…’ Seeing that we still looked confused, she added, ‘I was surfing last week and my board popped up and hit me in the head. So I had to get stitches.’ As if that was the clarification we were looking for.

‘Ummm…shouldn’t you have seen a doctor, not a dentist?’ duh, right? ‘Did he do the stitches with floss?’

‘Well as it turns out, my head was bleeding profusely and I walked up the beach into town and into the first medical-looking building I saw, and person in a white coat immediately greeted me and said “wow, you need stitches, come have a seat.” When he was finishing up I started making small talk and asked him how long he’s been a doctor in Santa Teresa, at which point he laughed and said “I’m a dentist!” and carried on with the stitches. And it was really cheap!’

So… next time you need stitches in Costa Rica, feel free to pop by the closest dentist.

Surfing and water...what else does one need?

Teeth cleaning abroad
But my main point is that I only get my teeth cleaned in foreign countries now. Everyone knows that dental insurance is a joke in the US, and a basic teeth cleaning appointment will cost you $100-$200 in the San Francisco Bay Area. So far, I’ve gotten my teeth cleaned in Cape Town, South Africa, and in San José, Costa Rica; both cost under $40 and the dentists were very thorough and friendly (and yes, mom they wore gloves). Just Google Map search ‘dentists’ in ‘wherever you are’ and have your hotel/hostel call them up for you to make an appointment. I’m due for another teeth cleaning soon so I’ll most definitely go in Uruguay. I also had a $25 doctor’s appointment in Bucharest, Romania a few months ago which was also very professional.
Dentists in San Jose, Costa Rica

Travel insurance
And by the way, regarding travel/medical insurance, always check if your main health insurance provider covers you for emergency medical care abroad (Kaiser Permanente definitely does and will mail you some claim forms). And, if you booked your trip (i.e. your plane ticket) with a credit card it most certainly also covers you for basic travel insurance (including medical, lost luggage, trip delays, 24 hour advice/concierge, etc.). Just Google ‘X credit card company’ + ‘travel insurance’ to track down the policy details, or call the number on the back of your card. Between the two of them it’s usually not necessary to buy travel insurance.