16 February 2013

Triple Crown Cartagena

This post is in appreciation of Colombian dentistry and "medical tourism" in general and Dr. Felipe Frieri in particular, who happens to be the BEST DENTIST EVER. He speaks super English and he has a great sense of humor and he has all the latest and greatest equipment that your "home" dentist hasn't yet bought.

Crown clip art - vector clip art online, royalty free & public domainI had been warned, by my dentist back in Milwaukee, that a few of my huge and ancient fillings were ready to go - the fillings themselves were going to crack, or the bits of tooth around them were going to get sheared off: decay would follow. I was told that all manner of bad things, including root canals, could be prevented by crowns. But crowns cost more than $1200 each, I needed three, and I didn't even want ONE. So in those last busy buy-a-boat-and-move-aboard months, it's no great surprise that "spend almost $4000 to undergo nasty dentistry to fix a theoretical problem not causing immediate pain or even mild discomfort" sort of fell off the list.

Fast forward a year and a half, and one of the three offending teeth had gone past "mild discomfort" to become "the side that I don't chew on anymore." Also, I noticed that when snorkeling, I can't dive past about 15 feet before my mouth starts feeling like it's going to explode. So when Dr. Felipe pointed out the two teeth that Absolutely Must Be Crowned Right Now, I was not shocked. And the third - yep, I already knew about that one, too. Make it happen, Dr. Felipe. Let's go for triple crowns.

These being my first crowns, I can't compare my experience with what might have happened in the US. I can tell you I paid 720,000 pesos for each crown, which sounds pretty scary until you divide by 1800 to get US$. I can tell you he numbed me up good, the first miserable appointment took two solid hours, and I walked out with three temporary crowns. I was sore and crabby and feeling old for a few days after, during which time I re-read all seven Harry Potter books in an attempt to recapture my youth and escape from my current middle-aged maladies. My youth, of course had been long-spent before Harry Potter was a glimmer in J. K. Rowling's eye, but that's beside the point.... Ean, with a well-developed sense of self-preservation, stayed well clear. Alcohol was administered orally for medicinal purposes.

But really, it wasn't that bad. All together, the process took a week and three appointments. One of the temporary crowns got loose, but I managed it. Felipe sent two of the permanent crowns back to the lab because the fit wasn't exactly right. I had some headaches (maybe they were caused by the Harry Potter reading marathon). I'm still getting used to the relatively smooth feel of the crowns; having not realized, until now, just how snaggled and jagged those back molars had become.

And honestly, meeting Felipe was a pleasure. He is kind and funny and tells it like it is. He does most of his work in a home office in his sunny apartment on the eighth floor, a block off the beach in Boca Grande. It is a serious, fully equipped dentist's office, tucked to the side a beautifully appointed living room. During my appointments, Ean waited, sprawled out on the leather couch, watching the big flat-screen TV and taking advantage of Felipe's wireless internet. We had the chance to meet Felipe's sweet young daughter, Sabrina; his older boy was handsome and polite and practiced his English on us.

Now it's been a few weeks, and the crowns (in concert with the teeth that remain) seem to be doing the job. No more discomfort, mild or otherwise. I can't be sure, yet, that the snorkeling problem has been resolved - I did a bit of swimming off Isla Tintipan on our last day in Colombia, but we were anchored in shallow water - less than 10 feet. I'll need to do diving "experiments" when we get further north, into the clear deep waters of the offshore Kuna Yala islands.

Shallow water snorkeling off Isla Tintipan, Colombia
This recommendation is not only for cruisers who might need their teeth cleaned when they stop in Cartagena, but for anyone back in the US who has a need for several thousand dollars of dentistry. Instead of going to your local dentist, come here! It's called medical tourism. Consider the possibilities: you can spend most of your money on an awesome vacation in Cartagena, and the rest with Dr. Felipe. Be sure to say I sent you - maybe he'll give me a break when I fly back for my next couple of crowns (Dr. Felipe Frieri Martínez  - I made my first appointment via email to his yahoo[dot]com address: ffodontologo).

[posted from Lemon Cays, Kuna Yala - update: I dove deeper in the Holandes Cays - maybe 30 feet - with no mouth explosions]

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