Greensboro, NC -- When WFMY News 2's Julie Luck first met David Stone of Asheboro, he was anxious to get on an airplane.
"I'm ready to go. Wish I could leave tonight," said Stone.
He planned his trip to Costa Rica for months even though his daughter was against it.
"I tried to talk him out of it. I've been saying no this whole time," said Leslie Stone.
David Stone is one of the millions of Americans who've traveled abroad for healthcare at a fraction of the cost. Traveling to another country for medical care is called medical tourism.
He got to see the sights, eat the food and experience the culture.
He returned home without any work performed on his teeth. "I spend five days in Costa Rica and didn't get the dental work done," explained Stone.
Stone was supposed to get dental implants for all of his upper teeth. He was quoted $30-thousand dollars in the U.S. In Costa Rica, the cost was $12,500.
Stone says he was the victim of a bait and switch. After he arrived in Costa Rica, he was told the procedure would cost thousands more. He was also uneasy about being pressured to pay first.
"They mentioned payment the first hour I was there 5 times.... All they talked about was payment, payment, payment," said David Stone.
Bunny Fontrier of Winston-Salem had the opposite experience during her medical tourism trip to Costa Rica. She was never asked to pay upfront. Unlike David Stone, she's all smiles, after getting her top six front teeth redone with a crown and five veneers.
Just like Stone, she wanted to save money. Her savings was nearly $7,000.
"When you can save thousands of dollars going and having the dentistry done elsewhere. That's why I did it. It's bottom line economy," said Fontrier.
Fontrier visited DentaVac Dental Clinic, late last year. She was referred by NC Medical Travel, a medical tourism facilitator based in Forsyth County. NC Medical Travel says it will only recommend clinics that have the same equipment, sanitation, accreditation and professional memberships as the U.S. It also offers optional complications insurance.
Fontrier was impressed with the Costa Rican doctors, the facility, and the equipment.
"I got to see some new things I haven't seen in dentistry in the U.S."
Another travel perk: exploring the natural beauty of Costa Rica, while beautifying her teeth.
"I would recommend this to anyone," exclaimed Fontrier. "No pain at all!"
But pain is what one medical tourism patient felt during an emergency visit at Dr. Lane and Associates Family Dentistry in Greensboro. The patient arrived with a failed bridge in his hand, and no teeth on the top of his mouth.
"He was bleeding because of the holes left from the implants that came out," explained Dr. John Flynn.
The dentist said that was an extreme case he has seen dozens of patients who've traveled overseas for dental work. Dr. Flynn says overall, the quality of the procedures has been good but some of the materials were outdated.
"Some of the materials I've seen were things we would've used in dentistry 20 years ago," said Flynn.
His main concern is recourse if problems arise after a patient returns home.
"You're putting your money at risk but you're putting your health at risk too if something goes wrong," said Flynn.
The Center for Disease Control also warns about the risks of medical tourism, including a possible language barrier, poor quality medications, and the increased threat of blood clots while flying.
Dr. Flynn isn't against medical tourism. He won't recommend it unless patients know exactly which doctor and practice they're going to see. He stresses the importance of researching, getting multiple testimonies, talking to patients, reading reviews and understanding the risks.
"I feel bad for the people. I can understand the motivation of trying to save that much money but is it worth the risk? Not unless you know where you're going," said Dr. Flynn.
Bunny Fontrier did her homework. She also has friends who live in Costa Rica who vouched for DentaVac.
"You just have to research, you have to be smart," said Fontrier.
David Stone thought he did everything right but it turned out to be wrong.
"It wasn't pleasant. It was so disappointing."
Stone didn't share the name of the clinic he visited because he fears he could get sued. He admits he looked at all the 5 star reviews online but didn't hear testimonies from former patients.
If you are planning a medical tourism trip, click this CDC link which lists the risks, what you can do and guidance from other professional organizations.
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