My Experience of a Dentist in Another Country

Updated April 12, 2020

In the area of an upscale residential neighborhood in Costa Rica, there was this dentist who is located on a nearby busy and noisy commercial street, which had restaurants, bakeries, pharmacies, medical clinics, and car repair shops; some cars pulled up on the sidewalks and thus blocked the path of the pedestrian sidewalk path.

While walking on the sidewalk of this busy street, I saw some tall temporary vinyl floor sign–something one would obtain for an exhibit at a convention. Upon closer inspection, the sign was an advertisement for dental services. I walked up close, up to a locked gate, and stood there for a moment. Something buzzed. The gate clicked. I opened the gate, and I walked into a small and cramped, low ceiling reception, and retail area, which in size was no bigger than a regular bedroom of a pharmacy. The bare-bones and minimal retail area and tiny waiting area had about four seats in the waiting area.

While I was still standing, someone behind the counter greeted me.

I said in Spanish, “I want an appointment with the dentist for a cleaning and other things.” Right after, the person I spoke to walked into a hallway.
I sat down in the waiting area, and there seemed to be a continuous sound of clicks as people were coming in and out of the pharmacy as a stream of customers were asking for their medicines. As I was sitting, I saw in front of me, on display behind a glass case, some action figurines for children.

A few minutes later, a man in a white coat walked out from a hallway and greeted me from behind the counter.

I stood up and said to him in Spanish, “I want an appointment with the dentist for a cleaning and other things.”

“Anything else?” he asked in Spanish.

I said, “I don’t know.”

The man in the white coat asked, “When?”

I took out my calendar. “Tomorrow at 11:30?”

The man in the white coat asked me for contact information.

The next day, I arrived promptly for my appointment. The same man greeted me from behind the counter and led me into a nice air-conditioned room where no music was played. He told me to take a seat in the dental chair. I sat down. In his late 20s or early 30s, the same man in the white coat who was the receptionist started to talk to me.

“Spanish or English?” Then, at this moment, it dawned on me that this man probably functions as the receptionist, secretary, dental hygienist, and dentist.

He appeared to be able to speak English, but since I am learning Spanish, I opted for him to talk to me in Spanish, so I said “Spanish,” but it wouldn’t have mattered what option I took because his English wasn’t that good. Or, my Spanish was better than this English at the time. And because my medical Spanish was almost non-existent, I wasn’t able to communicate to him much in addition to my reclined state and the discomfort I was already having with my teeth cleaning.

At this point, I was shocked he was cleaning my teeth because I was expecting someone else to clean my teeth. Regardless, during the cleaning, I sat reclined in the dental chair, and I saw a large screen television, something one would see in a suburban American living room, right up in the ceiling.

He used this instrument, which spits out water at high speed, like a power washing tool, but it was for teeth, whose sound and feel of the cleaning were similar to the drilling of the teeth. He sprayed water on my teeth at three places, and my teeth became sensitive and sore, and I said, “Ow!” three times.

He took no X-rays and appeared to polish my teeth. I don’t think he had gloves on at this part of the procedure. He did not floss my teeth but did seem to give me a fluoride treatment. The cost to clean my teeth was 20,000 Colones or roughly 40 US dollars.

I then took another appointment for the next day for a filling.

A few days later, I saw his business card. He is an endodontist whose office is out of a pharmacy. He doesn’t have a dedicated waiting area, but he has his own air-conditioned dental office with a big-screen television!

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