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Last week we made our first visit to the dentist in Panama. I had been looking forward to it for a while now because I’m always intrigued just to see the differences from what I’m used to in the United States.
I was told that going to the dentist here is a lot like being waterboarded. Thankfully, I’d never experienced anything like that before but somehow that actually intrigued me more. Curiosity killed the cat though, right?
Even though we had talked to several folks beforehand on what to expect, it was still… different. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.
Now, although my daughter Faith and I both seem to hold this opinion, my wife, Lisa, definitely disagrees. She wasn’t thrilled in the least with how the visit to the dentist went here.
Let’s talk about what transpired and the differences. And of course, I’ll fill you in on the cost.
Booking our first visit to the dentist in Panama
One of the nice things about our small town in Boquete, Panama has to be Facebook groups. I hate Facebook (yeah, I said it), but those groups have become a fantastic outlet for expats to communicate here.
So when you’re looking to find out where to buy a dehumidifier, Facebook groups to the rescue! In fact, that’s how we ended up buying ours. We were initially planning to buy one from the store until a fellow expat chimed in and was selling hers… nice!
These groups are also a fine way to find recommendations on everything from restaurants to housekeepers. In case you haven’t figured it out, it’s also a great resource to find a dentist.
Without a doubt, it seems like all the expats in Boquete seemed to recommend the same dentist… Dra. Mónica Sanjur. If you’re wondering, Spanish nouns have a gender. Because she’s a female doctor, the Spanish word is actually “doctora” or “Dra.” when abbreviated.
If most everyone seems to be recommending the same dentist here, that’s good enough for me! A nice bonus is that both Dra. Mónica and her assistant are bilingual with English as a second language.
Dra. Mónica’s office is right around the corner from Faith’s Spanish tutor’s house. So one day after Faith got done with the tutor, we stopped at the dentist’s office to make an appointment.
The receptionist was more than friendly and we made an appointment for all three of us to get our teeth cleaned and regular checkups. She apologized that the soonest she could get us in altogether was in about 3 weeks. Um, ok – that seems overly reasonable to me!
She said to just show up at 1 pm on the day scheduled and that was it. Pretty anticlimactic, right? Sometimes boring is good!
The morning of our appointment…
On the day of our appointment, we already had gotten through a pretty busy morning. First, we attended a Tuesday Talk from a couple of U.S. Embassy liaisons discussing some good details on what we should know as expats living in Panama.
Then, since it was also the Tuesday Market here in Boquete, we picked up a couple of frozen prepared foods from Eric and Chandler of 2 Guys & a Cooler. Their Deluxe and Creamy Mac & Cheese is the bomb and feeds us all for a meal or two for $8. It’s perfect for days when no one wants to cook (I never want to cook!).
We knew we’d be out and about though and wouldn’t have much time to get back to our condo to drop off our food before our exciting first visit to the dentist. Don’t forget that we don’t have a car here.
So… we had brought along our famous cart that I rigged up to be a portable cooler for today. I’m like a regular MacGyver! Yeah, I know – not very impressive. But it still worked well for us. I had frozen a bunch of water bottles the night before that I threw in there to keep everything cold.
That came in handy because we also went to visit Miguel the fishmonger for the first time. People rave about him and he sells fresh seafood to most of the high-end restaurants in town.
We scored a pound of langostinos (prawns) and 1½ pounds of tuna for $20! Not too shabby!
After that, we continued to pull our cart through town to the dollar store here (Todo a Dollar) for a couple of items. Then we stopped at a wonderful place called Sugar & Spice for breakfast.
Finally, we made our way to the Boquete Library. It’s extremely nice – very new with some books in English and some in Spanish, along with a lot of other modern resources. I was told that the library was funded by expats as a kind of thank-you to the Panamanians.
We stopped in there so Faith could get a couple of children’s books in Spanish to help her learn the language. This was a good homework assignment from her Spanish tutor.
All of this was done before our 1 pm appointment… who said this retirement stuff is easy?!
Our first visit to the dentist in Panama!
Wow, did I get off track! Let’s get back to our first visit to the dentist here!
We dragged our little cart-cooler over to the dentist’s office and got there around 12:50 pm. We checked in and sat in the waiting room… so far so normal!
Faith decided she wanted to go first (she’s tough like that!) and got in there just after 1:00. I love when things start on time!
I went with her because she was a little nervous, so I could take some photos, AND so I could know what I was in for. Somehow, it’s always about me!
The first thing that was a little different was that the dentist handled the actual cleaning. She had an assistant, but the assistant was there not as the hygienist, but to assist the dentist.
I like that. I’m used to seeing the dentist for about 3 minutes after the hygienist does all the work. He comes in, looks at my teeth for 14 seconds, and then tells me everything looks fine.
Um, I’ll take the way it’s done here any day.
The next unusual thing was that she used a dental drill of some kind for the cleaning. This was something I’m not familiar with from the dentists’ offices in the U.S. We’re used to the hygienist using a metal scraper. Is the dental drill something you recognize for teeth cleanings?
After that, she moved on to polishing her teeth. I believe in the dental world they call the tool used a prophy cup. That’s the same thing that I’ve always been used to and it went just fine. Everything was done with Faith in probably 15-20 minutes.
Overall, this seemed fairly straightforward and not too much different than I was accustomed to in the States.
What the heck were people talking about with this “waterboarding” stuff?
Dra. Mónica told me that everything looked good… but she wanted to do a panoramic dental x-ray of Faith’s teeth. She wanted to see how things looked and she was a little concerned about one of Faith’s teeth that hadn’t come in yet.
Cool, no problem. We did the x-ray (very modern equipment!) and then I walked Faith to the waiting room.
Once we sat down, I figured I’d check my email to see if anything good was going on. After all, my latest post had just come out for the day!
So how’s this for different – I had already received a copy of Faith’s x-ray in my inbox. What?! We hadn’t even left yet and I was already 100% in the loop! Nice!
Time for MY visit to the dentist
By the time Faith and I got back in the waiting room, Dra. Mónica was already working with Lisa in an exam room.
Within about 5 minutes, they asked me to come back to a different room to be ready for my cleaning. Sorry, I don’t have any pictures but you don’t want to see me in the hot seat anyway.
Looking back at everything, here’s something valuable that I can pass along… kids don’t get the full treatment from the dentist.
Let’s talk about what happened for me (and for Lisa):
1) First, I got the dental drill for cleaning and plaque removal. That is a really weird feeling on your teeth. It’s got a loud, high-pitched sound and doesn’t feel good on your teeth much less when it touches your gums. Not very enjoyable, but hey, if Faith can do it, so can I!
2) Onto the waterboarding. Yeah, remember that craziness I talked about earlier? Well apparently, they must skip that for the kids. Dra. Mónica used a high-pressure water spray on my teeth that reminded me of the insane power you get from a pressure washer that you might use to clean your house or deck.
You know how that water from a pressure washer could hurt you because of how fast it’s coming out? Hmm. Yeah, this was pretty similar. In fact, it hit my lip once and that stung quite a bit.
As this procedure goes on, it’s hard to keep your eyes open because water is spraying out. In Boquete, we’re in the dry season where you experience a fine mist outside throughout several days called the bajareque. Uh, I think that’s exactly what this was like. I was expecting to see a rainbow with a pot of gold at the end but I had no such luck.
3) Time for the polishing. Easy peasy. Been there, done that many times. The difference was that this had a nice, cheap bubblegum smell to it – like Bazooka gum we seemed to always have our hands on as kids.
Great, well, that was different but altogether not too bad.
Wait, what the @#$%?! What are you doing?! Starting over?
Yup. Another round of each process once or twice more.
It probably took about 30 minutes from the time she started until the time she finished. She took her time to make sure everything was done well so no complaints about that on my end.
I can’t really say it hurt, but there was just a little more discomfort than we’re used to from the cleanings in the U.S. But my teeth felt cleaner than ever!
Now for the part a lot of you are curious about – how much did our visit to the dentist here cost?
We don’t have insurance and so you just pay on your way out – credit cards accepted.
I’ll preface this by saying that I was told that Dra. Mónica is a little pricier than some other dentists in the area. She’s supposedly the dentist you want here though. That said, the price seemed pretty darn good to me.
The total cost for our cleanings, checkups, and Faith’s panoramic dental x-ray was $170.
To give you a comparison, we had our last visit to the dentist in June in the U.S. just a little while before our move to Panama. We had decided not to get dental insurance after I left my job at the end of 2018. That left us with a six-month gamble and we knew we’d be paying for our last check-ups/cleanings out of pocket.
Our total cost in the U.S. was $365 for the three of us for cleanings and checkups. That’s right – the price of our dentist appointments here was less than half of the cost in the U.S. AND, our $170 cost here in Panama included Faith’s x-rays.
Yeah, let’s hear it for the lower cost of medical in other countries! This is exactly why some smart folks leave the U.S. to get operations done and why medical tourism continues to grow.
I don’t want to leave you hanging so I’ll tell you this. The x-ray showed that Faith has a crooked bottom tooth that might be blocking another tooth from coming in.
Dra. Mónica recommended that we have a specialist review the x-ray and give his recommendations. She’s thinking that Faith might need spacers to help with this. As a side note, that’s something our dentist in the U.S. was saying as well.
So we booked an appointment with the specialist in about a month. Although we’re generally used to free consultations in the U.S., it will cost us a whopping $25 for the appointment (again, this is without insurance).
And Lisa had a cavity (because she’s so sweet!) so she’ll be going back to get that filled in about a month as well. We didn’t ask the cost so that’s a real nail-biter! Ok, not really.
The walk home
To wrap things up, we got done with our first visit to the dentist a little before 3 pm. We took our cooler-cart and headed home!
That gave us some time to discuss the appointment. Here’s what we learned:
- I thought it went just fine and although it was a little different, I appreciated how much time she actually spent getting my teeth cleaned. I also like that it was the dentist handling my teeth, too, for whatever reason. And of course, the cost didn’t hurt my feelings either!
- Faith’s feelings were closer to mine and thought it went well, too. Don’t forget though that she didn’t get the interesting waterboard treatment that Lisa and I went through.
- And then my dear Lisa… she hated it. The sound of the dental drill was like nails on the chalkboard for her. And she said it hurt during that part of the cleaning, as well. I asked her what her thoughts were on the mist during the high-pressure spray and she said she didn’t notice because she had her eyes closed the whole time.
In a nutshell, Faith and I are just fine going back there every six months. Lisa, on the other hand, said she’ll be doing her future appointments in the U.S. when we’re there visiting. To each his/her own, right?!
The biggest downside to our visit to the dentist here in Panama… no free toothbrush. I guess we’ll have to go spend the 50 cents each for a few of them. That’s going to break the budget!
So yeah, that’s the story. Not good or bad, just… different. Wait till I tell you about my doctor’s appointment!
If Panama’s on your radar as a possible place to retire to, check out Retire in Panama Tours. It’s a first-rate way to see different parts of the country, learn about the pros and the cons of living here, meet other ex-pats living here, and gain a lot of the right resources to make the transition easier (immigration attorneys, for example).
Oscar, Rod, and Megan are great people, too. They have the knowledge to guide you through Panama, answer your questions, and ensure that Panama’s the right place for you. Check out Retire in Panama Tours for more info!
Are you ready to pay a visit to the dentist here in Panama with me and Faith or are you with Lisa on skipping this ordeal?
Thanks for reading!!