Last updateFri, 27 Mar 2015 10pm

Dental tourist’s sojourn lands him happily in Ajijic

When Len Laviolette was a mere eight years old, he and his brother were the objects of a saliva study at a university dental school. 

“Everyone wanted to see why we had five or six cavities every few months,” says the current resident of Portland, Oregon, who wryly adds that, at 60 years old, “all the natural enamel in my mouth is more or less absent.”

Over the years, Laviolette’s dental adventures have taken him to a handful of cities and countries where “I’ve had practically every conceivable procedure except TMJ disorder treatment,” though he once feared he would need that too.

As a result of his wide and not entirely welcome experiences in the chair, he has read a prodigious number of dental books, cultivated dentist friends and become so adept at slinging around dental terminology that “some dentists think I’ve gone to dental school, or I’m a spy,” he jokes.

After three trips over ten years as a “medical tourist” to Costa Rica’s capital San Jose, where on the last occasion, he underwent the first step for three implants — three titanium posts screwed into his jaw and awaiting crowns — Laviolette then took an unadvisable break. 

“I was supposed to go back in a few months, but I got lazy and distracted by things like my mother’s death,” Laviolette said. 

Months turned to years and alarming things started happening in his mouth, so getting back on track, Laviolette planned a trip to visit a friend in Guadalajara. He saw it as a stepping stone to a return visit to his Costa Rican doctor, Arnoldo Anglada (www.costaricaimplants.com) with whom he was well pleased.

But in Guadalajara he unexpectedly received recommendations and saw ads for local dentists who catered to English speakers. Online research turned up some in the Lake Chapala area. San Miguel de Allende, where he went off to visit another friend, also proved to have a slew of dentists treating foreign residents and a percolating atmosphere as well — “like a non-stop college party for geezers,” he quipped.

“Suddenly, Costa Rica started seeming like a less interesting place to hang around while I was getting my mouth worked on.”

By cross checking ads in the Guadalajara Reporter, the website Dental Departures and a Lakeside blog, Laviolette came up with a list of three Ajijic dentists who seemed promising. He took a bus there for initial appointments.

“I couldn’t find one of them, so I stopped at the office of one dentist I happened to see. She didn’t seem as skilled as I wanted. Then I kept my appointment with Dr. Edgard [Macias Solano] and I was so pleased, I cancelled the other appointments.”

Macias, who calls his five-year-old office Dental Express, was happy to talk to Laviolette at length and seemed to welcome his expertise. 

“Some dentists don’t like talking to me. They feel threatened that I’m so familiar with their profession,” said Laviolette. “But Edgard’s a good, open communicator — a good listener. He’s responsive, courteous. And most everyone in his office is bilingual.”

“I was quite surprised how much he knows about the trade,” Macias responded, “keeping in mind that his business is not even close to the dentistry field. I definitely appreciate a well informed patient.”

Soon the good vibes turned into a rave, as Laviolette started telling friends he had found the favorite dentist of his life. “And I’ve seen a lot of dentists.” 

On top of Macias’s sterling personal qualities, Laviolette noted that his prices were the lowest he had found anywhere. 

“He was the lowball in every case. His website [dentalexpressajijic.com.mx] lists them all. He’s not trying to get rich overnight,” said Laviolette. 

The cost, he calculates, was a quarter of what he would have paid at home and half that in Costa Rica.

“I paid Dental Express about 1,500 dollars for all my work. You could pay 5,500 dollars for it in Portland, and 7,000 in New York. A dentist I talked to in Guadalajara was charging about the same as what I paid in Costa Rica.”

While Laviolette was in Ajijic, he “had to contact my implantologist in Costa Rica for some technical information. He was extremely cooperative, even though he was losing my business. I like him, but now he seems really expensive.”

In addition to low prices, Macias had multiple abilities, meaning he could personally do bone grafts, implantation of posts and, of course, crowns. 

“He has about five trainees or assistants. He does a lot of advertising and keeps a lot of chairs going. But only my first surgical appointment, for gluing on a crown that had broken off, was done by an assistant. I had Edgard for all the rest. His skill level is such that he doesn’t need to send you to outside specialists. That’s rare,” reported the dental tourist.

“I’ve been blessed with a great faculty back in college” including at the University of Texas in Houston, Macias explained, “and the possibility for wide exposure to different methods and procedures, as well as the opportunity to attend various courses of continuing education.”

Healing between procedures or awaiting parts meant some days relaxing in Ajijic and even a short vacation to Puerto Vallarta, where the dental tourist looked for restaurants serving smoothies and hoped the gap in his front teeth wasn’t too noticeable.

There were minor snafus — a wrong part was shipped to the dentist and had to be returned — plus the dentist was so busy that it was a bit difficult for Laviolette to see him on an accelerated schedule that fit his vacation plans. But his enthusiasm for Macias never wavered and he plans follow-up visits during the summer.

Back at home in Portland, Laviolette reflected on his four-week dental adventure. “I came home with a partially new mouth that hadn’t settled in and my teeth were still sore. It takes four to six months for bone grafts to heal. So I can’t know yet if Dr. Edgard’s quality was B- or A+.”

Implantologists’ ads often focus on materials and their country of origin and Dr. Macias describes his philosophy in this regard as “Efficiency and reasonable prices with the best available technology.” 

“I was confident about his marriage of cost and quality,” the dental adventurer said. Checking the appliance boxes he brought back from Ajijic, he noticed they originated in Israel.

Having so much surgery while traveling “wore a little thin,” Laviolette reported, yet he felt sustained by Macias’s manner. 

“Latin people are always more courteous and friendly,” the dental tourist mused, “and dentists can pretend they like their patients. But he likes me. We got along extremely well professionally.”