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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

Dental work in Costa Rica

COSTA RICA | Friday, 9 October 2009 | Views [7081] | Comments [1]

Now this is something to write about! I travelled to San José, Costa Rica to have dental work done! Scary? Not quite! First off, I'll tell you about the first couple of days in San José. When I landed, customs was a breeze, unlike two years ago when I waited in line for two hours. When I got my passport stamp and all that, the taxi drivers pulled their usual excuse that "there are no buses". However, what they don't know is that I've been to Costa Rica before. A taxi would cost roughly $15 whereas the bus is about 80 cents. When I was dropped off about 20 minutes later I remembered my bad experience on my first night in San Josè two years ago. I wouldn't want a repeat of that! Immediately a couple of teenagers started saying "give me 100 colones" but I wasn't about to part with any money because I couldn't get more until I visited an ATM. Visiting an ATM at night in San José would be like walking around Baghdad without a bulletproof vest. There was a hostel I stayed at a couple of years ago called the Costa Rica Backpackers. I was reluctant to take a taxi because I was a bit short on funds. These two girls, presumably prostitutes, started chasing me. A taxi driver pulled a U-turn and a man at a café told me they're transvestites, and probably would have mugged me. I got into the taxi and then the guy from the café got in the car with me to make sure I was OK. I was a bit nervous because what happened two years ago is still fresh in my mind. However, I told myself I was going to be alright. A few minutes later, the taxi driver dropped me off in front of Costa Rica Backpackers and I was alright. Staying at the hostel is US$12 with a $4 key deposit. My consultation is in the morning and I must admit I'm extremely nervous. I might reschedule for the next day because I'm severely jetlagged. I went on the computer for a bit and ordered a papaya juice. Papaya is my favourite fruit! An interesting thing I've learned is that in Cuban Spanish "papaya" means "vagina" (the fruit is "frutabamba"). Therefore, I wouldn't want to walk into an agropecuario and say "I'd like some papaya" because I'd probably get a slap across the face. In chatting with a man from Minnesota, he said he's been to Cuba and that it's a real eye-opener. Homeless people are nonexistent and people are highly valued (contrary to popular American belief). A few years ago, a hurricane ravaged the island, destroying the homes of 500,000 people, yet only 3 people died! Fidel once declared "we can replace housing and material things, but we can't replace people". Their evacuation plan is top-notch when it comes to hurricanes. Anyways, I'm not in Cuba yet; back to Costa Rica. I left an email to reschedule my dental appointment for the following day. Tomorrow I might go to a few museums and visit the office of Cubana de Aviacion to see about plane tickets to Havana. I washed up an went to sleep.

Next day: I packed up everything, stored my bag, and went out exploring for a bit. I'd love to walk up Volcán Irazú and perhaps see both oceans from the summit (the only place in North America where this is possible). There are a couple of museums in San José which I'd love to visit; notably the Museum of Peace. Last time I was here I gave San José a miss but now it looks like I'm spending more time here. Capitalism has really gained a foothold here in Costa Rica: Quizno's, McDonald's, Payless Shoe Source, KFC, and even the Hallmark store...but I haven't seen a Starbucks. It will be interesting going to Havana and not seeing any of these places. I wonder if I'll see people on the streets selling fruit, pirated DVDs, T-shirts, shoes, and all the other stuff you see being sold here. Speaking of Havana, I stopped and inquired about a ticket today, but it would cost a whopping $700! Flying to Costa Rica only cost me $350. However I still might do it because the doors aren't going to be closed to Americans much longer.

Next day: I woke up nervously at about 5:30 AM and glanced at my Costa Rica book. Last time I was here I was only here for a week (well, 4 days here and 3 in Nicaragua) so I'm determined to make the most of it. Anyways, today I was scheduled to have my teeth ripped out. It sounds graphic, but I'm trying to sound creative and positive. Iris woke up shortly after I did because she had an online work appointment. I made a warm cuppa for breakfast. San José gets surprisingly chilly at night and in the early morning because it's up on a plateau. Iris really is a great girl, and I wish I could "surf" with her longer. However she has another CSer she's hosting tonight that she committed to before me. At 8:00 AM, Iris walked with me to the bus stop and then I was on my way. The bus came straight away, I hugged Iris goodbye and I was off to San José. When I was in San José I started walking toward Rohrmoser. First I stopped to get a banana and a coconut full of water. It was a nice yet nervous walk to Rohrmoser. Passing guys playing fútbol in the park, I was having a difficult time finding the dentist. A police officer found someone who spoke enough English to point me in the right direction. Finally I found it, and after checking in for my appointment, my fears went away. Dr. Telma Rubinstein is really nice and I could tell she is a great dentist. She received her first degree in the U.S. and her second in Switzerland. She was born in Costa Rica but her parents are from Poland. In talking, she told me she absolutely loves travelling and kept telling me about how beautiful New Zealand is. She took x-rays and then gave me an estimate: $11,000 in all! That includes a deep cleaning, fillings in all cavities, tooth extractions, implants, and a bone graft near each implant site. Once I was numb I just sat back and relaxed as they were working my mouth. The cleaning was so relaxing it was like a massage. When I told Dr. Rubinstein about my friend Rosalie who referred me to her, she immediately remembered her! When they were done cleaning my teeth, she put the fillings in. The assistant picked on me for biting my nails. Over the years, I've noticed that I seem to do just about everything possible to destroy my teeth: I used to drink 8 to 12 cans of Coca-Cola everyday, I still drink Red Bull, I chew ice, I bite my fingernails, and my parents didn't discipline me well enough to brush my teeth as a child. However, I don't smoke and I don't eat a lot of candy. This story probably sounds graphic to a lot of you, but the purpose of it is to help and educate you, not gross you out. Next up came the extractions, which believe it or not did not hurt at all! Dr. Rubinstein is a fabulous dentist, and I can tell in my first visit! The facility is extremely clean, and it's far better than the grungy dental office I visited in California. The view from the examination room is fantastic; a view to the outside world really takes a lot of the fear away. During the extraction process I was tasting my own blood and it wasn't pretty, but I wasn't feeling a thing. When this is all said and done, I'll have a new set of teeth. I could easily have spent $11,000 to visit Antarctica but I'll need a good set of teeth in order to keep travelling in the future. You wouldn't believe how many places I've been to and the food is filled with bones and the like; you need your teeth! When Dr. Rubinstein was finished I gave her a hug and thanked her. Tomorrow I have to come in for a root canal on one of my upper molars. She gave me a prescription for antibiotics and told me to take it easy. My plan was to walk back to San Jose but there was a bus right outside so I caught it. My next stop was the pharmacy (farmacia). It's kind of exotic getting dental work done and visiting a pharmacy in a foreign country. I'm excited and happy that I'll be getting new teeth in an exotic country. The same treatment in the U.S. would be anywhere from $40,000-$60,000. There is something that is unfair about having to travel all this way just to get cheap dental care. Why in the U.S. isn't health care free like it is in France, Norway, Canada, and even Cuba? In New Zealand I met a bicyclist who, when he was in Cuba, fell off his bike and broke his arm in two different places. He said the Cuban hospital took excellent care of him and didn't charge him a dime! If the same thing happened in the U.S., chances are you'd be putting your house up for bond. Tonight I had a faceful of Novocaine, and when I tried to call my girlfriend at the internet cafe, every microphone didn't work and nobody could understand me. I can speak Spanish far better now than I used to but I'm still a long way from being fluent. Tonight I called a CouchSurfer named Jonathan but he had a concert he was doing to, so I opted to stay at Costa Rica Backpackers tonight and stay at his house tomorrow. I wanted to take it easy. When I made it to the hostel the first thing I did was order a papaya juice. It tastes great after having all those teeth taking out. My mouth is still a bit bloody but it will stop by tomorrow most likely. Suddenly I wasn't feeling tired, and I ended up lying down at almost 2:30 AM. 21 hours, 7 teeth out today, yet very little pain. Soon....

A few days later. I went in for my next appointment to have my crown fitted for the one tooth that I needed a root canal on. The other day when I was here the dentist performed the root canal in only about 20 minutes! At the dentist in the U.S. I was there over two hours on some occasions. Anyways, after they started working on the crown, Dr. Rubinstein asked if I'd like to have the two upper implants performed today, and I said sure. The remaining four will be completed within a week. There was a problem with my credit card because I'm spending a lot of money in a foreign country, so I had to wait on the line for like 10 minutes just to talk to them and explain that I'm having surgery in Costa Rica. With that matter resolved, I was all dressed up in a baby blue outfit, I was numbed, and Dr. Cordero started his work. There's an option to get sedated but I'd rather be awake during something like this just in case something happened while I was "completely under". Additionally, it costs $1,000 extra and I'm not fond of having an IV stuck in my arm. Dr. Cordero drilled through my upper jaw and performed a sinus lift, and at one point was actually hammering into my bone. Believe it or not, I felt really relaxed. One of my problems is that I've always had a hard time being still, and this is a perfect time to work on stillness. Within an hour, two of my implants were completed. Dr. Cordero said they couldn't do the remaining four today because my gums have to heal a little bit longer. I felt a bit "out of it" afterward, and the secretary recommended taking a taxi instead of a bus or walking, so that's what I did. I actually fell asleep in the taxi momentarily despite the fact that it was only a 10 minute ride to San Jose. In getting new teeth, I actually feel better than I have in years! My next mission was to relax for a bit at the internet cafe. When I called Teressa I was excited to tell her that I got my first two implants. It isn't anywhere near as scary as I thought it would be; instead it's actually quite interested. For those of you that might wonder, titanium doesn't set off metal detectors at the airport. I had been curious about that.

One week later...I was set for my next round of implants. When I was on the Prisma Dental website the other day I saw that when you get a sinus lift, the implants are placed eight months later, but Dr. Cordero put the implants in straight away because I got a mini sinus lift as opposed to a full one. That's good because had that been the case I would have had to make three trips to Costa Rica. Ok so, Dr. Rubinstein set the crown for the root canal I received, and then Dr. Cordero came in and asked me how I was. When I told him I was leaving for Cuba in a few days, he told me it was "sad". But, I'm going to see for myself in a few days. He filled me up with novacaine and then I was set to have four screws put into my lower jaw. Like a week ago, the procedure didn't hurt, only this time it hurt a bit after the novacaine wore off. Dr. Cordero drilled holes into my jawbone in each of the sites where my teeth had been extracted the week before. All that stuff wasn't bothering me, but what bothered me this time was the device that was used to hold my mouth open...it hurt a lil' bit. Laying there, I was thinking about how I'm going to have a full set of teeth very soon. When this whole thing was over, I was relieved, but my mouth was in quite a bit of pain. The secretary told me it's because Dr. Cordero drilled down into the extraction sites. Last week my mouth barely hurt at all. Altogether I coughed up over $5,000 today. There is a lot of credit card debt to pay, but it's worth it. Dr. Rubinstein asked me if I wanted to get my teeth laser-bleached, but I thought I'd come in after I get back from Cuba or when I come back in 8 months. What was on my mind now was a nice, relaxing massage. Since I was still with a bit of novacaine, I walked slowly and a bit staggeringly to the massage therapist up the street. Keep in mind that not every massage place in Costa Rica is a brothel. As I lay there in a bit of pain, I was getting a nice relaxing massage. The therapist gave me some painkillers to soothe the pain a bit. Feeling a bit relieved, I knew a shower would be even better. Running the hot water onto the side of my face helped out a bit. Ahhhh, did that feel good or what? It was dark by the time I was all done, and I caught the bus back to San Jose. My first stop there was the pharmacy because Dr. Cordero gave me a prescription for three days worth of antibiotics. Then my next stop was the bus stop; to get to Jonathan's house and rest. My mouth was hurting, and even painkillers only alleviated the pain a little bit. It seemed that I was taking a shower every hour or so to get the pain down.

However, the pain eventually subsided and the most painful part is over with. Stay tuned in eight months for the full scoop on getting the work finished.

Tags: adventures, medical




Thank you for sharing your journey. Both my wife and I are in need of dental work. Not quite sure how extensive but the last time I went to a dentist she said I need to see a periodontist.The last few weeks my cracked tooth is telling me I better do something or it will naturally do its thing. Today, I was thinking if there is a country that is close and some how I was thinking about Cuba. I could combine it with leisure but like you having to sit still on the dentist chair was good for you I could combine it with a bit of R and R that might be good as well. My father lives in Florida maybe I could combine the trip. Did you get over to Cuba? How was it? How are your new and restored teeth. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and experiences in Costa Rica.


  Bruce Jan 20, 2013 9:40 PM

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