Medical Treatment Abroad

Yesterday I received a little bit of a surprise. I’d had a toothache since Sunday and it hadn’t gotten better, so I made a dentist appointment. The people were very friendly when I arrived, but let it be known that I am most definitely not a fan of the dentist. That coupled with my fear of being in a different country (and throw in a decent amount of pain) made for a lot of nervous anticipation. A big shoutout to Laura and Gabbi for going with me because without them I probably would’ve left before I even started.

After I paid, they took me to a room and proceeded to do X-rays. This is where I got my surprise: an infection in two roots meaning…a double root canal!  (Like the picture, except for times two).  First of all, I’ve never had to have a root canal. Secondly, I am used to making appointments rather than having the procedure done that day. When the nurse turned to me and explained everything in Spanish, I immediately started crying. I couldn’t calm down. Anyway, all went well and I’m not in nearly the same amount of pain as I was before. I still have two more dental appointments to finish the process but I’m not nearly as nervous to go back.

When I finally calmed down and took a step back to look at what occurred yesterday, I realized how lucky I was to have had this done in Bolivia. The care was outstanding. The dentists were so friendly and patient with me (thank god) even when I could not calm down long enough to let the anesthesia kick in. Also, they gave me this awesome neck pillow that we should definitely mandate in the US because it made it much more comfortable. And finally, the appointment was $53 USD. Now today when I went back it was much more expensive, but it was still about half the cost that a double root canal would be in the US. I’m not dissing the US dental system, but I definitely have a huge appreciation for the Bolivian one. This experience definitely made me pause and think about all the things I consider to be superior in the US, because it proved that a developing country does things just as well.


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  1. I’m really impressed with how well you have handled this unexpected setback. And you’ve made some interesting observations about the Bolivian health care system. It’s amazing to think that the cost you are being given is the TOTAL cost, which your insurance will pay. When you get home, compare that to the TOTAL cost of similar treatment/care in the US. Why is that? What policies/structures make health care costs so high in the US? For example, I’ve had a crown put on a tooth that I cracked in the US. I think just my deductible was more than $50.

    But it’s also interesting that despite being quite affordable (to us), your procedure was probably well outside the means of most Bolivians. For comparison, the average salary in La Paz is a little over $400 per month. That raises a whole series of other questions about health care in Bolivia.


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