TL;DR: Americans can save lots of money getting dental work done in Spain. Or save even more going to other countries.
For many years I associated medical tourism with women getting plastic surgery. This is probably because I first heard about this phenomenon in Costa Rica where they have resorts devoted to just this sort of thing. Women get some work done and then laze around the pool for a week or two until they are fully recovered, sometimes with medical staff on hand at the hotel in case of complications. The concept of saving money on elective plastic surgery didn’t really enter into my world.
But a few years ago while traveling in Spain I met a dentist in one of my Blablacar rides. I asked him how much it would cost to get a crown done in Spain. This is something that can run $1500 in the U.S. He estimated $200. This is when I started thinking seriously about medical tourism. I travel a ton, so why not take advantage of the lower cost (and often superior) medical system in one of my many international destinations to save a bunch of money?
I actually asked my very good but very pricey Amercian dentist about what she would think if I got a new crown or other work done in another country. She told me this was a fine idea and her only advice was to make sure I stayed put at least a few days after the work to get followup done in case there were complications. This particular American dentist doesn’t accept most insurance plans, but nonetheless she is booked 6 months in advance! I suspect that this incredible popularity makes it possible for her to be totally unthreatened by the idea of dental tourism.
After switching to a few really bad dentists in the U.S. to try to take advantage of the limited dental insurance I have I decided it was time to get serious about the prospect of dental work in another country. Conveniently I was headed back to Spain for an extended three week stay. The perfect opportunity to get my dental work done.
On my first day in Madrid, my GoCambio host took me on a tour of the local commercial center near her house, complete with grocery store, bakery, a few restaurants, and a dentist. She had used the dentist and liked them, but did tell me that they were probably more expensive than other Spanish dentists I could find.
First thing Monday morning I made an appointment to see a dentist. It was a bit of an adventure: my dental Spanish isn’t great. But the dentist who I saw was really nice and spent about 30 minutes looking at the X-rays I had brought along and explaining to me what he thought needed to be done and how he proposed to do it. That whole consultation was entirely free! We agreed on a plan and a price and set up the appointment for the following week.
I admit I was a little nervous. What if something went wrong? Americans are always talking about how great their health care system is compared to other countries, and while I know this is totally untrue, I admit I had a nagging concern that if something bad happened I would not be in an easy place to get followup care. After talking with a few friends who have had medical work done in other countries (mostly in Asia) I decided to go through with it.
Three and a half hours later I had a new crown, a cracked tooth repaired, and a minor cavity filled. I also walked away with an invitation to dinner at my dentist’s house, along with an invite to go see him and his wife play in a concert the next weekend. We had a lot of fun talking, mostly in Spanish but some in English, in between the various parts of the dental work. I got to know the dental hygienist as well, and both of them spent most of this time exclusively in my room. They showed me how the machine works for the visual 3-D modeling of my new crown, and took a bunch of pictures of my teeth after they got super excited about how good the work looked (“for my facebook page” said the dentist).
I have never had such a friendly dentist. And the work seems very solid. Interestingly they never took any information from me nor did they ask me to sign anything. They don’t even know my last name! Just before he injected me with numbing drugs the dentist paused and said “you’re not allergic to anything, are you?” Definitely a different experience from the litigious American system of paperwork and long legal releases.
In the end I paid about 1/3 of the price I was quoted by an American dentist. My insurance would have covered almost half the cost if I went to a covered dentist in the U.S. (if I could find one I liked), so this means I saved about $400. I also got to pay with a credit card with no extra fee for this service. That savings will just about cover all of my expenses from this month long trip in Europe, so I think that’s a pretty big win!
I may not be sad next time my dentist tells me I need something done, it’ll be an excuse to take another trip!
If anyone is looking for a good dentist in Madrid, my guy is happy to take referrals from more Americans looking to save some money. His English is ok but not great.