My first trip to the dentist in Portugal was a pleasant surprise. I grew up with a dentist who I believe received his training from the Army in World War II and he made his living finding and filling cavities. Back then, I think they used mercury fillings. To this day I wonder how many of those “cavities” I had were just the dentist making money off my parents.
Dentistry was a lot more painful back then and let’s just say that he did not have a gentle hand. I distinctly remember one time when he kept hurting me and I kept telling him so, as best I could with a mouthful of tools and fingers. (But really, “OWWW! That hurts” in ever-increasing volume doesn’t need a UN interpreter.)
So I bit him. Hard. He jumped back.
“Owww! That hurts.”
No shit, Dick Tracy. (I have no regrets and I’m still a little chuffed, as they say.) Communication is key.
So, that being said, I have also had a wonderful dentist who promised “no pain” and delivered. I still smile when I think of him and I use him as an example from time to time on branding.
All this to say that while I don’t fear going to the dentist, I very much have a “let’s just wait and see” attitude.
Going to the dentist in Portugal is an easy process. I found a local dental clinic that took my insurance and I clicked to make an appointment online. Within an hour or so, I had a call from the office: They could fit me in within the week. (I’ve noticed this with my doctor, too.)
After doing a small amount of paperwork (okay, I did nothing but hand over my resident card and dental card; the receptionist did the work), I sat in a waiting room with books, two TVs, and recent magazines. A few minutes later, a tech called my name and I was ushered into a room for X-rays. For those of you who remember the sharp cardboard bite-wings required for X-rays, YOU’RE OLD! Me, too. 🙂 I stood at a machine and put my head into a little frame (much like the one at your eye doctor), bit down on a little thing to bite down on (which probably has a proper name), and stood patiently while the X-ray machine worked its way around me. After a second brief wait in the very nice waiting room, I was ushered back to the exam room.
The dentist spoke excellent English, did the initial exam, and let me know I needed a crown and a filling. (I knew about the crown from my US dentist.) He pointed out a couple of things on the X-rays and I nodded my head in the same knowing fashion I used when my car mechanic would show me the problem with the old part he was replacing. The dentist said the front desk would have an instruction sheet for me on the crown procedure and they would schedule my cleaning prior to that.
No one asked if I flossed. No one made me feel guilty or bad. There was no pain. Of course there was no pain, you say, it was just a check up. Oh no, I have had dentists inflict pain with that sharp little hook while doing the check up. Very gentle, this young man.
The whole appointment probably took half an hour and I never felt rushed. I have waited in dentists’ waiting rooms for much longer than the entire process took. Everything was done in its time. The dentist took the time to explain things to me. And it still didn’t take that long. Efficient.
If you have a company/group dental plan in the US, you’ve pretty much hit the benefits jackpot. Or you’re working for the US government, which is much the same thing.
If you’ve ever bought a standalone or add-on type of dental plan in the US, you know that they don’t cover jackshit. You might get one check up and cleaning a year, and any other care, even with the discounts and copays, will run into the hundreds and thousands. The base US plans run about $15 a month, so you figure it’s inexpensive enough that if you only get a check up and cleaning, it’s paid for itself. Let’s just say our expectations of dental insurance in the US are low.
Here I have an add-on dental plan (€10/month) that goes with my private health insurance (€130/month). According to the policy, it is a lot more robust than US dental plans. Today’s visit for check up and X-rays cost €14. (I giggled when the receptionist said the price.) Next week I go for a cleaning. With my insurance, it will be under €15.
I do need a crown and that will total around €460 over three visits. Still cheaper than my copay in the US. (And that’s IF I could find a dentist that actually took my dental insurance, which was not easy in Florida.)
Even without insurance, dental care is affordable here. As an example, I found this price chart for a private multi-office dental clinic that caters to medical tourists.
A lot of people move to Portugal expecting everything to be cheap. Some things are cheaper than in the US; some things are comparable. Gas is more expensive. Health care is definitely less expensive here. In fact, the difference between my US premium (over $1,000/month) and my Portugal premium ($150/month), is enough to pay my rent and electric. And water and gas, now that I do the math.
One very large benefit to living abroad is that health care is much more affordable in just about every other country in the world. Most countries have some sort of universal health care as well as a parallel private system that is affordable. If you’re hesitating to move abroad due to a chronic health issue, I see people ask about care for specific conditions in the expat groups. If that’s the only thing holding you back, join a group for the country you want to move to and ask. People are happy to give you their experiences. Most private plans exclude pre-existing conditions for the first year. But you may find paying the going rate is still cheaper than your co-pays in the US. It’s worth checking into, speaking with your doctors, and deciding what’s best for you.
As for dentistry? Even if you’re not thinking about moving here, it might be worthwhile to look into medical tourism. Portugal is a beautiful place to spend a month, take care of your teeth, and still save money. Now that’s something to smile about.