Dental tourism is gaining popularity as dental costs rise. In fact, over 1 million people a year now travel overseas for cheaper dental care. Costa Rica dental prices make it a popular destination for Americans as well as for dental vacationers from all over the world.
If you’re considering teeth implants, veneers, or other dental work in Costa Rica, you’re right to be doing some research first. In this guide we’ll answer some common questions including:
- Is it safe to visit a dentist in Costa Rica?
- How much does treatment cost?
- What kind of work can I have done?
- Where are the best dentists located?
- How do I find a reputable dentist?
- What precautions should I take?
Keep reading for all of this information and more. We hope this guide helps you decide whether getting dental work in Costa Rica is right for you.
Table of contents
- 1 Why travel for dental work in Costa Rica?
- 2 What treatments do people get on a Costa Rica dental vacation?
- 3 Costa Rica dental prices
- 4 The best locations for dental implants in Costa Rica
- 5 Choosing a dentist
Why travel for dental work in Costa Rica?
The cost of dental work in Costa Rica is the main reason people travel there, although the beautiful scenery and interesting history certainly help! Costa Rica dental costs for teeth implants and other procedures can be as much as 80% lower than in the US and Canada.
Costa Rica welcomed around 50,000 medical tourists in 2015. Around 80% of those came from the US and the majority were seeking cheap dental treatment and/or cosmetic surgery. Mexico is still the most popular dental tourism destination for Americans, but the number of visitors to Costa Rica is growing each year as the country builds its reputation as a world-class medical and dental care destination.
Some visitors choose Costa Rica because of its proximity to where they live (a direct flight from Miami to San Jose takes 3 hours). But many come not just for dental treatment but for the chance to have a vacation.
With many companies offering all-inclusive dental vacation packages in Costa Rica you can enjoy an extended break soaking up the sun while you recover from your dental work – and you don’t have the hassle of organizing everything yourself. Of course the main draw is that you can enjoy all of this and still save on the cost of your dental treatment alone in the US.
Is it safe?
This is a sensible question to ask before traveling anywhere for dental work. There are two aspects to consider: the safety of the dental work itself and your personal safety during your stay.
First, remember that no experienced dentist anywhere in the world has a 100% success rate. Complications do happen from time to time but the best dentists are the ones that know how to (and are willing to) fix the problem.
That said, you can certainly take precautions to minimize your chances of ending up with one of the ‘bad’ ones. When it comes to dental tourism in Costa Rica, the best approach is to do as much research as possible before making your selection. Towards the end of this article you’ll find some more information about the kinds of things to consider.
In terms of safety while traveling, Costa Rica has the lowest crime rate of all Central American countries. However, the capital San Jose (which has the largest concentration of dental tourism clinics) still has a problem with non-violent crime. To avoid becoming a victim of petty theft, take some common-sense precautions such as keeping valuables out of sight. This blog post has some useful information about ways to keep yourself and your belongings safe if traveling there.
Costa Rica dental training
It takes six years of dental training for students in Costa Rica to qualify as dentists. Training can begin as early as age 17 or 18 when they graduate from high school – younger than in the US. However, the longer training time offers more practical clinical experience so graduates are fully equipped to start practicing independently.
Any dentists wanting to specialize in a certain practice must complete another 2-3 years of training. Many travel to Europe and North America to complete this training, so not only do they gain access to the latest equipment, they also speak excellent English.
There is no continuing education requirement, but the best dentists in Costa Rica will take the initiative to stay up-to-date with the latest industry standards anyway. Ask your dentist for evidence of regular training so you know they haven’t fallen behind.
All qualified dentists in Costa Rica must register with the Colegio de Cirujanos Dentistas de Costa Rica (College of Dental Surgeons of Costa Rica). On their website you can view a full list of the general dentists and specialists authorized to practice, as well as those who have been suspended. The website is all in Spanish but you can translate it within your web browser.
Interestingly, the College sets minimum tariffs for dentists to charge for each type of treatment. If you find a dentist charging below these minimum rates, that itself should act as a warning sign. You can view these rates by navigating to Departments > Prosecutor > Minimum Rates on the website.
You’ll find that some clinics hold accreditations with international health organizations like JCI (Joint Commission International). This shows the facility meets certain standards for training and equipment, but it is no guarantee of patient satisfaction.
What treatments do people get on a Costa Rica dental vacation?
Simply put, the most common treatments are the ones where people can save the most money. Patients typically travel to Costa Rica for implants, veneers, crowns, and some other cosmetic dentistry and restorative work.
A filling might be $100 cheaper in Costa Rica but that saving alone won’t cover the cost of your flights and travel expenses. That said, you can still bundle smaller treatments like fillings, cleanings, and extractions to make the trip financially worthwhile.
Here you’ll find information on some of the most popular treatments for dental tourists. Following this, you can get an idea of Costa Rica dental prices.
Implants are easily the most expensive way to get replacement teeth, but they are also the longest-lasting. Even if you just need one implant you could save money by traveling to Costa Rica, but if you need several or even a full mouth restoration, the savings become even greater.
The following news report follows one lady who was quoted $55,000 to fix her teeth in Florida. In the end, Costa Rica teeth implants cost just $22,000.
Remember that it takes two or three visits over several months to have implants fitted. You’ll need to factor in the cost of multiple visits when working out if it’s worth traveling overseas. You can read more about dental implants and the fitting procedure here.
If you are getting dental implants in Costa Rica, check that you’re being treated by a qualified prosthodontist. This specialism involves several years’ extra training during which the dentist focuses on replacement teeth and restorations to the mouth and jaw. Not all dentists who advertise their services for implants carry this qualification, so it’s best not to make any assumptions.
A quicker alternative to traditional implants is All-on-4 implants. These replace a full arch of teeth using just four or six implants supporting a set of dentures. Temporary dentures can be placed at the first visit, earning them the name “teeth in a day”. You then return a few months later for your permanent teeth.
Getting All-on-4 in Costa Rica means one less visit to the dentist than traditional implants, plus the treatment itself is cheaper because it involves fewer implants. However, we recommend reading our guide to All-on-4 to discover all the pros and cons of this treatment.
If your teeth are healthy but you don’t like the way they look, you might be considering veneers. These thin covers are placed onto existing teeth to improve their aesthetic appearance.
The cost of veneers in Costa Rica will depend on the type and material you choose. Composite veneers are less expensive than porcelain but they don’t last as long. Read more about veneers to discover which type is right for you.
Dental crowns are another popular treatment for people traveling to Costa Rica, with possible savings of hundreds of dollars per crown. Often a crown is recommended after root canal treatment to preserve the tooth for as long as possible.
It might take a couple of weeks to get a crown made in the US, but here they are usually processed in just a day or two. Did you know that’s because US dentists often order dental prostheses from labs in Mexico and Costa Rica? However, some dentists use 3D printing technology to make crowns while you wait.
Other types of cosmetic dentistry offered in Costa Rica include laser teeth whitening and smile makeovers.
Costa Rica dental prices
The table below shows the average cost of dental implants in Costa Rica, as well as other common procedures. These figures are just approximate; you’ll need to get a personal quotation for your own treatment.
|Single tooth implant||$750 - $1,500|
|All-on-4 implants||$6,000 - $15,000|
|Acrylic dentures (upper or lower)||$500 - $900|
|Dental bridge (3-unit)||$400 - $1,100|
|Porcelain-fused-to-metal (PFM) crown||$300 - $600|
|Porcelain veneer||$350 - $600|
If you have a dental insurance plan, it’s worth checking whether there is any provision for work completed outside of the US. Not all insurers offer this, but some have in-network dentists located in other countries.
Why does it cost less?
The dental tourism market is very competitive. This means that dentists and clinics that want to stay ahead must offer great service and prices while maintaining high standards of care and hygiene.
The lower cost of dental work in Costa Rica is not a reflection of lower quality, but more the lower cost of living. If dentists have reduced costs in terms of building rental, wages, taxes and other overheads then they can afford to offer their services for less. These economic factors mean they also earn much smaller salaries than dentists in the US.
You’ll find that many clinics are equipped with the same cutting-edge technology and equipment used by US dentists.
In fact one dental hygienist says the clinic her husband visited in San Jose was “nicer than any office I have ever worked for in the US and that’s saying a lot”. You can read her full account of getting dental implants in San Jose here.
The best locations for dental implants in Costa Rica
You’ll find the widest choice of dentists in San Jose, Costa Rica. This is the country’s capital so it’s easy to fly to from all over the world. Because clinics cater to locals as well as tourists, and because it’s not such a popular tourist destination, you may find prices are slightly cheaper in San Jose than in some of the popular beach resorts.
On the downside, San Jose probably wouldn’t be your first choice for a vacation. If you do want to spend some time by the beach either before or after visiting the dentist, it’s easy enough to get around by air or over land since Costa Rica is a fairly small country.
Driving in San Jose can be quite stressful so you may want to ditch any plans to hire a car. Instead, find out whether your clinic offers free transport – many will pick you up from the airport and transport you to and from your hotel at no extra cost.
If you’d rather feel like you’re on vacation for your entire trip, head to Guanacaste Province in the northwest of the country. The small city of Liberia has a cluster of clinics that cater to foreigners and is just a few miles from the beach.
Alternatively, you could stay in one of the nearby resort towns of Playas del Coco or Tamarindo and get your teeth done just a few steps from the ocean.
Dentists here are accustomed to treating tourists so usually speak excellent English. However, you may also find their prices are slightly higher than in San Jose. It’s a good idea to shop around and consider your options to work out the best solution for you.
Choosing a dentist
Finding the best dentist in Costa Rica for your needs is a big decision. Especially if it’s your first time getting dental work overseas, it’s natural to have some reservations. The best advice we can give is to do as much research as possible into the dentist, clinic and treatment you’re considering.
To get a rounded view of the clinic’s services, search online for reviews and testimonials from past patients. When you’re thousands of miles away, word of mouth can be one of the most reliable ways to judge a place. Have you seen our article dedicated to Costa Rica dental reviews?
Questions to ask
Costa Rica dental clinics are used to answering questions from prospective patients, so don’t be shy to request all the information you want. Communicating with the clinic and dentist ahead of your visit should help put you at ease. If you feel uncomfortable for any reason, don’t feel like you have any obligation to go ahead with treatment.
If possible, speak directly to the dentist who will be treating you so you can get an idea of his or her English level. It’s good to have the reassurance that you’ll be able to communicate clearly before, during, and after your procedure.
Here are some questions to ask as you do your research:
- What training does the dentist have (including continuing education) and can you see evidence of this?
- How many times have they carried out this procedure?
- What materials will be used?
- Can you see some before and after photos and speak to a former patient?
- Is the dentist or clinic accredited nationally or internationally?
- How long is the work guaranteed for?
- What insurance does the clinic provide for international visitors?
Our complete guide to dental tourism has more detailed information about precautions and considerations when visiting a dentist abroad.
As mentioned earlier, complications can arise regardless of the quality and expertise of the work carried out. For example, dental implant problems may include:
- Infection following surgery
- Damage to nerves or sinuses
- Poor placement of implant
- Insufficient time for implant to fuse with bone before placement of crown
- Lack of bone
- Loosening of implant
Fortunately these are relatively rare, but it’s still worth being aware of how the clinic would handle any complications (whatever procedure you have). Some problems are apparent almost immediately after the implant has been placed but others can take months or years to show. Therefore, it’s important to know how long your work is guaranteed for.
Also think about any extra costs you might occur. If you had to stay a few extra nights for additional work and had to pay to reschedule your flights, who would cover these expenses? Your travel insurance company? Probably not, as they rarely cover costs associated with medical work you have elected to have (only emergency treatment). What about your clinic? Maybe – ask them about this. Often they will offer to remedy the problem free of charge, but any extra travel costs will be your responsibility – even if you have already returned home.
Again, these kinds of problem are uncommon but they can happen, so it’s best to be aware of the provisions in place.
Keep in mind that even minor dental work can leave you feeling under the weather for a day or two. If you’re having an intensive course of treatment, you likely won’t feel like doing much in your free time.
It can help to book a hotel close to your dental clinic to minimize any travel time. Alternatively, opt for a clinic that provides accommodation on-site. This can be particularly beneficial if you are having oral surgery and your condition needs to be monitored.
Consider bringing a friend with you on your trip to take care of you while you recover. Even catching a taxi can be hard when your mouth is still numb. Your travel buddy can also step in to help if you do experience any problems with your treatment.
Finally, even if you’re not planning to turn your trip into a major vacation, it can be worth giving yourself a couple of days extra after your planned treatment is finished. This allows for minor delays, recovery time, and a bit of sightseeing if you feel up to it.
Other dental tourism destinations
If you decide Costa Rica isn’t right for you, there are still other places offering dental work much cheaper than in the US.
Mexico might be the obvious choice since it is so close by, and indeed it’s the number one destination for Americans getting dental treatment abroad. Many patients have been visiting a dentist in Mexico for years because of the high standards, short wait times, and low prices.
There are several well-known dental towns and cities right on the border which are especially convenient if you live in the southern states. If you’re flying there you could also consider Cancun, Puerto Vallarta or Mexico City – depending on whether you’re going for just dental work or you want to enjoy a vacation as well. Read more about getting dental work in Mexico.
You might also consider visiting a dentist in Thailand, particularly if you want an excuse for a more exotic vacation. There are hundreds of dental clinics in Bangkok alone, although many people head to the island of Phuket for their dental work. Cosmetic dentistry like implants, veneers and whitening are particularly popular there, but you can save money on pretty much every dental procedure.
Similarly, the Philippines offers the chance to save money on dental care while enjoying an exotic vacation. The capital, Manila, has arguably the best choice of clinics but there are many other cities and islands to explore. Whether you’re into hiking, diving, beaches or pools, your dental savings could go a long way towards paying for your trip.
There is certainly a good case for traveling abroad to save thousands of dollars, but the experience isn’t for everyone. We hope all this information helps you make the right decision about where to get your dental treatment.