Why Americans are saying ‘yes’ to dental tourism in Costa Rica
When I look in the mirror and see my beautiful, straight white teeth, I know that I’m one of the lucky ones. I was born with excellent teeth. But the sad truth is that many of my friends and family have had lifelong struggles with their teeth. For some of the less affluent in my social circle, the sky-high price of dental care in the USA is putting the crimp on their lifestyle.
It’s no secret that more than 74 million Americans have no dental coverage. In fact, the number of Americans without dental insurance is four times greater than those without medical insurance. For more than 182 million Americans, their dental insurance coverage is insufficient to meet their needs. Only 52.9% of adults over 65 have dental coverage. Even worse is that fact that people living without dental benefits are more likely to have extractions and dentures and suffer from gum disease. People without dental benefits report higher incidences of other illnesses, like heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes.
Those with dental insurance don’t seem to fare much better. Typical dental plans require a 50% copay for complicated and expensive procedures like crowns and bridges. If you already have a missing tooth, most dental plans won’t help you. The “missing tooth clause,” disqualifies patients from receiving a replacement tooth if the tooth was missing when you enrolled in the plan. Most dental plans limit coverage to a paltry $1,500 a year. When the average price of a dental implant and crown is more than $6,000, these dental plans aren’t much help for the average American.
The inevitable result is that many with or without dental insurance postpone visits to the dentist because of the cost. Our overall health suffers because our oral health suffers, and our oral health suffers because of a decline in our overall health. It’s a medical-dental Catch 22.
Even worse…the cost of dental care has been increasing at a faster pace than the cost of medical care overall. Between 2008 and 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dental care prices rose faster than most medical services. Only hospital services, nursing home care and adult day care services rose at higher rates than dental care.
In 2007, when Patrick Goodness, a Wisconsin-based entrepreneur, went to a local dentist for a new crown, he was amazed at the exorbitant prices. As a relatively affluent 30-something marketing executive, he wondered how the average American could afford to pay for advanced dental care like dental crowns and implants. After a little research, he ran across some online forums that shared the stories of Americans who were traveling out of the country to save money on dental care. Some crossed the border into Mexico from Arizona, Texas and California. Some got on planes to reputable dental destinations like Costa Rica. Intrigued by the opportunity, he visited a slew of dental clinics in Mexico and Costa Rica and found that pricing, as promised, was much lower than their US counterparts. But something was missing: confidence. Without confidence, how many patients would travel to save money on dental care that might be of poor quality, unsafe or even dangerous?
Ready to take a chance, Goodness moved his family with two small children to Costa Rica and began learning about the dental tourism industry in Costa Rica. A few years later, Goodness opened his namesake dental clinic in Costa Rica: Goodness Dental. His promise was simple: Come to Costa Rica and save money on high-quality dental care at an American-owned dental clinic. He did something that no other dental clinic had done before. He guaranteed his dental implants for life, and he put it in writing. Almost immediately, beleaguered Americans, looking for affordable dental care, flocked to Goodness Dental in Escazu, a suburb of the capital city of San José.
Within one year, his small, two-chair, 450-square-foot practice grew into a four-chair, 4,000-square-foot facility with a cutting-edge radiology department, dental lab and, as Goodness tells it “a lavish reception area with free Wi-Fi and three big-screen TVs, a space big enough to fit the first clinic in it and still have room to spare.”
Goodness learned the “ins and outs” of the dental business while working with other dental clinics in Costa Rica and built a business plan for a new type of clinic. He saw how most dental clinics in Costa Rica were getting it wrong, and he vowed to get it right. It didn’t hurt that Goodness was an American, marketing to Americans in a market of Costa Ricans who may not understand what makes Americans “tick.”
“Costa Rica has heaps of average dental clinics,” says Goodness. “My goal was to build a truly great dental clinic that anticipated the needs of our American patients and offered them a highly attentive, patient service-centered experience.”
That sounds great, but what does it really mean? Patients that walk into Goodness Dental are immediately greeted by the receptionist and offered a cup of gourmet coffee, tea, soda or water. While almost no patient waits for more than 15 minutes before meeting with a specialist, the waiting room is so inviting that most patients don’t mind sitting and chatting on the rich black leather sofas, pecking away on their smart phones while they sip their coffee. Most patients arrive at the clinic, picked up at the airport or their hotel from a member of the Goodness Dental staff, their eyes glazed over with amazement as they step through the door. When I asked Goodness about the most common expression he sees as patients enter the clinic, he beamed and gestured expressively.
“They all say the same thing when they arrive. ‘Wow!’ They just can’t believe that dental clinics like this actually exist,” Goodness says.
The average age of patients choosing dental tourism at Goodness Dental is between 40-70, however a larger number of younger patients under 40 has begun to arrive, seeking dental implants and cosmetic dental treatments like crowns and veneers to counter decades of neglect and damage from skipping visits to the dentist in the USA. In fact, only 36% of American adults are expected to visit a dentist this year. The Kaiser Family Foundation claims that one in four American adults have untreated tooth decay. This is one of many reasons for the growing dental tourism industry that now tops $33 billion in annual revenues.
Uncertainty is one of the primary reasons that people don’t visit the dentist. The fear of not knowing the costs for preventive care or a more serious developing dental problem, keeps many patients from receiving the care they desperately need. Finding out in advance how much you’ll have to pay out of your own pocket for dental work can be next to impossible. Most patients simply can’t afford any unplanned expenses, so they decide not to visit the dentist, further increasing the chances they’ll soon suffer from advanced dental decay and possible gingival disease.
It was this lack of transparency with expensive dental treatments that inspired Goodness to launch his dental tourism clinic in Costa Rica. At Goodness Dental, patients receive a comprehensive treatment plan and pricing estimate from trained patient coordinators before they even purchase their airplane tickets. When patients arrive at the clinic, a full set of digital x-rays and CT scans are taken to help the team of specialists create a final treatment plan that the patient reviews prior to treatment.
“The patient has complete understanding of treatment pricing and approves all treatments before we start our work,” says Goodness. “The patient benefits from our complete transparency in pricing, allowing them to budget and save for dental care prior to their arrival. No more guessing or fear about prices. This is why Goodness Dental is ranked as the number one dental clinic in Costa Rica.”
Dental care in Costa Rica is a bargain when compared to U.S. dental rates. A single dental implant can cost as much as $4,000 to $6,000 in the USA. The same titanium implant is less than $975 in Costa Rica. A porcelain or zirconia dental crown in New York, Chicago or Denver can cost $1,500 to $2,500. At Goodness Dental in Costa Rica, this same crown can be fabricated and placed by a skilled prosthodontist for only $525. Patients seeking full mouth restorations or popular All on 4 dental implant procedures at companies like Clear Choice in the USA can spend upwards of $60,000. This same procedure in Costa Rica is 60% less, with most quotes for this procedure coming in around $25,000. There are some clinics that perform these procedures for even less, but patients need to be wary of such low-cost clinics, as they often cut corners by using lower-quality materials or opting to use general dentists instead of specialists. Working with an American-owned clinic like Goodness Dental in Costa Rica gives patients the security and assurance of a leading, recognized brand with a fully English-speaking staff.
Goodness Dental is the number one ranked dental clinic in Costa Rica according to CostaRicaDentalGuide.com. Even more impressive is that Global Clinic Rating, an international accreditation organization, ranks Goodness as one of the top 10 dental clinics in the world. “Global Clinic Rating reviews more than 126,000 dental clinics around the world,” says Vladimir Hruda, co-founder of the global medical and dental accreditation organization. “Goodness Dental is one of the top clinics in the world, demonstrating excellence in clinical outcomes, qualitative standards and patient satisfaction.”
Since launching Goodness Dental in Costa Rica, patients report an average savings of 50-70% on their dental care. Goodness plans to expand with new clinics and is also now marketing its services to U.S employers which benefit by offering discounted dental services and a vacation in Costa Rica to their employees.
Goodness Dental is helping thousands of Chicago-area patients save money, but many patients still have no idea that affordable dental care exists outside of the USA. Since only 30% of the American population has a valid passport, Goodness recognizes that much more needs to be done to reach the poorest Americans, who can’t afford dental care at home and probably can’t afford to travel to save money. “We’ll keep doing our best to educate Americans about dental tourism and keeping our prices low, so that more and more patients can get the dental care they need,” says Goodness. “Our goal is to help America smile again, one patient at a time.”
James Madigan is the CEO of CostaRicaDentalGuide.com. Originally from Ireland, James came to Costa Rica in the 1990’s and fell in love with the country and her people. He has written extensively on the topic of dental tourism in Costa Rica and is committed to helping international patients find affordable, high quality dental care in Costa Rica.
This article was sponsored by Goodness Dental. To sponsor your business, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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