Americans flock to Costa Rica for more than sunshine and beaches

February 23, 2011 

Should you unexpectedly find yourself with a dental treatment plan with an estimated cost of $9,138, as I did, there’s one sure way to make lemonade: Head for the lemon trees of spectacular, bountiful Costa Rica.

After dutifully researching the Internet, I arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica, on a Tuesday, had my evaluation including a CT scan on Wednesday and by Thursday had completed a treatment plan comparable to the American plan – all in less than three hours for about one third of the cost.

My experience, and my nine-grand treatment plan, is hardly uncommon.

At times I wonder if the American dental community is trying to see how far it can go before the public clamors for government intervention.

A case in point: In reviewing his counterpart’s treatment plan, my oral surgeon in Costa Rica literally laughed out loud at the $85 line item for the removal of the bridge connecting the two teeth to be extracted and replaced by implants. In the process of extraction, the bridge perforce came off.

An added sore point was reflecting on the time I telephoned the local dentist’s office and, while on hold, got to listen to Rush Limbaugh. (True, a dentist’s drill is worse.)

Oddly enough, El Rushbo once threatened to escape to Costa Rica in the event “Obamacare” passed. Had he kept his word, it would have been interesting to hear his spin on a progressive country where many socialist ideals prevail.

Whenever I hear the likes of Limbaugh accuse President Barack Obama of having a socialist agenda, part of me wants to say, “Obama sure is marching in lockstep with Karl Marx, isn’t he? Going along with the Bush administration’s $700 billion bailout of Wall Street banks, appointing people like Timothy Geithner, signing into law no private health insurer left behind?”

Upon bearing witness to Costa Rica’s national slogan “pura vida” (the pure life) in action, another part of me wants to say, “Have you people ever blamed anything bad on socialism?” Glenn Beck’s rants notwithstanding, Hitler was anything but a socialist.

I have routinely seen Costa Rican youngsters with braces on their teeth, a rare sight indeed elsewhere in Latin America. In rural areas, I have observed throngs of children of campesinos (peasants) wearing school uniforms, testimony to its 94.9 percent literacy rate – among the best in the world. A few guys in olive drab may guard the presidential palace and such, but constitutionally no army exists.

Life expectancy at birth for Costa Ricans in 2008 was 79 years, according to the World Bank, slightly better than the United States. Costa Rica’s first woman president, Laura Chinchilla, took office last year and is pursuing most policies championed by her predecessor, Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias, including water purification and carbon reduction initiatives. She’s a democratic socialist, yet opposes abortion in most instances as well as gay civil unions.

That’s not to say that Costa Rica is free of Third World problems. Companies such as Dole and Del Monte use cheap labor mostly from neighboring countries such as Nicaragua, while polluting the environment.

About 1 million American tourists flock to Costa Rica annually, according to the State Department. Many are combining dental work with vacations while others try Spanish language schools, an experience I highly recommend.

Hope springs eternal that if the trend continues, the principles of free market capitalism will force American dental practitioners to bring their charges down to earth. It will be a mighty cold day in Costa Rica when any U.S. lawmakers will.

David Rupel is a retired systems consultant with DSHS partial to travel and diverse cultures. He can be reached at

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