Chapter 1 Page 6 | Dear Dr. Rubinstein …
When I contemplated traveling abroad for dental work, it took me a month of research on the Internet before I was finally ready to make a direct inquiry. A month — and that was just to feel confident about choosing a country from which I would select a dentist! I picked Costa Rica over Thailand because proximity to the United States played a big role in my thinking. “I don’t want to go too far if I don’t have to.” This, from someone who had thought nothing of taking off for Africa for a year, at age 20. (Which is a whole ‘nuther story.)
There was a wealth of information available on dentists and dentistry in Costa Rica at the time, more so than anyplace else (except for the United States, of course). I wrote to the aforementioned Telma Rubinstein, D.D.S., of Prisma Dental in San Jose, Costa Rica, on February 16, 2004. Prisma had a Web site. I confess I chose them as first contact because they had a female dentist. I felt sure I would have a lot of questions, and my instinct was that a woman would be more likely to be patient with me.
Dear Dr. Rubinstein,
I am writing to inquire about having cosmetic dental work done at your practice in Costa Rica.
My dentist here in Connecticut, two years ago, had taken a mold of my bite and recommended, as I recall, eight or 12 porcelain crowns. I must say I concur with his opinion. My teeth are quite worn and small, at 47 years of age. I also have a badly chipped front tooth. I could send you digital photographs, if you’d prefer to see that way.
My dental insurance at the time would not cover any of the considerable fee, however. I now find myself without dental insurance at all, but I recently heard that practices such as yours could do a fine job on the work I require at a significant savings. What can you tell me beyond what I have read on the Internet? How would we proceed?
Thank you for your time,
I never had to write to another dentist in Costa Rica or elsewhere. During the next 6 weeks, I peppered Telma, as she asked me to call her, with more than 20 e-mails filled with questions about her credentials and experience, my teeth, prices, travel and accommodations, and Costa Rica in general, and she patiently answered every one.
Still, I didn’t really make up my mind until after I asked her if she had any problems with my writing a magazine article about my experience. She had no qualms at all, and I took that as a sign of her complete confidence in her ability. I realized that I already knew more about Telma Rubinstein than I had ever bothered finding out about any doctor or dentist who had treated me in the United States. Later, I felt kind of bad about having been so difficult. “I put you through the wringer,” I told her when we finally met. She laughed. I had been easy, she said, compared to many of her other prospective patients from the United States: “Some of them, Jeff, they ask me so many questions that I feel I have been stripped naked!” Since then, I have heard similar stories from doctors, dentists, and surgeons around the world who treat patients from the United States.
As I’ve already stated, I believe that the United States has the highest quality of medical care in the world, the most and the best medical facilities, the highest level of technology, and the most stringent regulations and standards. Does that mean that all doctors and dentists and surgeons in the United States are better than all of their peers abroad, or even that most of them are? I do not think even the most xenophobic member of the American Medical Association (AMA) would dare make such an assertion in intelligent company. Even the most vociferous critics of medical tourism acknowledge that there are many fine doctors, surgeons, and dentists around the world working in facilities that are as modern as anything in the United States.
But the official party line of the medical establishment in the United States is: Traveling abroad for surgery is generally far more risky than having surgery in the United States. Bad things are far more likely to happen. You shouldn’t do it.
The recent history of medical tourism in the United States suggests that more and more prospective patients for elective surgery, particularly candidates for cosmetic and plastic surgery, are rejecting the medical establishment’s No. 1 considered wisdom in this matter. By far, the No. 1 reason they are doing so is cost. Aesthetic and cosmetic surgeries are elective services, paid for out-of-pocket by patients. Wealthy patients are not so price-sensitive, but procedures are no longer for just the well-to-do.
The demand for aesthetic and plastic surgery has skyrocketed in the United States and around the world. U.S. surgeons performed three times more face-lifts in 2004 than in 1992; nearly eight times as many people had liposuction. (5) A whole new business in so-called minimally invasive procedures (like Botox and injectible fillers) was born in the space of a few years. In 2004, U.S. cosmetic plastic surgeons performed more than 9.2 million separate procedures. The most visible sign of the broad acceptance of aesthetic and cosmetic surgery in mainstream society was the emergence of several popular (and controversial) reality television shows such as Dr. 90210, The Swan, and Extreme Makeover. The Swan and Extreme Makeover were short-lived, but that they made it to television at all was a sure sign that plastic surgery is no longer seen as just for the affluent. Americans of more modest means also want to look good — but price matters.
(5) American Society of Plastic Surgeons Statistics. at www.plasticsurgery.org.