The Saga of a Tooth

My recent experience with dental care in Panama, and how sometimes things are much more than they appear.

In early November I discovered a very small hole in a tooth, the first premolar according to the anatomy charts. It was on the outside, up near the gum, and painless. I figured I’d better go to the dentist though to get it checked out. It turned out to be a cavity, the tip of a rather large and deep cavity inside the tooth. The dentist was worried because it was deep and above the gum line, and she filled it with a large temporary filling ($30).

I was sent to another office for an X-ray ($7), which I brought with me to my next appointment.

The next step was to see the gum specialist for a procedure to raise the gum. I was confused until I did some research on google. Who knew that a cavity or filling below the gum line was a big problem! My research confirmed that my dentist, or now my dentists were proceeding correctly. I had the procedure which took maybe an hour ($125). The next week I returned to have the stitches removed. The whole thing was pretty much painless, only some minor irritation from the stitches after they were in for a while.

Stay with me. We aren’t even done yet. Next stop, the root canal specialist. I didn’t bring my X-ray so she took a couple more ($10). She projected them on the overhead TV, carefully explained what she saw, that darker line extending up the side of the root which was not a good thing. Even though I had no pain, she was afraid that it would flare up in the future and then we’d have to remove any restoration, have the procedure, and redo the restoration.

So, I scheduled the root canal for shortly after my USA trip. It took well over an hour but was painless. She put on the TV overhead to distract me, and took pictures periodically which I could see on the TV. After it was done I never had any pain. She also left me with a temporary restoration to get me by until I got back to the dentist. It was $265, $275 total with the X-rays.

Next, the crown. I had so little actual tooth left that this was the sensible option. Back to my first dentist, 2 1/2 hours and $350 later, I had my temporary crown. The permanent one should arrive from Panama City any day now. She explained that the best work was done there, so even though it takes a little longer they prefer the best they can find for their patients.

The grand total for all this work came to $787. This is with the 20% discount I get as a retired person, but even without the discounts I think it would have been around $940.  I felt very very well cared for. Every dentist was meticulous and exacting in her work and very concerned about my comfort and understanding of the treatment.

I started at Dr Spiegel’s office 775-2683.  It is just southwest of the ball stadium in David that has been undergoing the big makeover. He has been appointed ambassador to Singapore but has had other dentists covering. I have been seeing Dr Fatima Samudio as my main dentist. The gum specialist came to that office too but I forgot to write down her name. She and Dr Fatima consulted with each other throughout my treatment. The root canal specialist was Dr Mirna Escalona. 774-0128 ext 2142. Her office is in Hospital Chiriqui. She and the other dentists consulted by email before and after my root canal.  Dr Fatima only speaks a few words of English but the other two are fluent.

I am SO thankful to be here, and affordable health and dental care is one of the reasons. Throughout my life dental care has been by far my biggest health related expense. I don’t know what I would do if I had to pay US prices for all that work. I doubt I could have saved the tooth, but even a bridge isn’t cheap.

And, an aside, all my adult life I have had trouble with gum disease. I had cleanings every three months, gum surgery, lost one of my back teeth, and it was a daily battle to keep my mouth healthy. Shortly after getting here all that was gone, just gone! It definitely wasn’t low stress living the first six months. I started here alone setting up the house, and then lived in a very stressful family situation. Still though, my mouth problems disappeared within a month or two and I felt noticeably better overall. Maybe it’s cleaner air and food? I don’t know, but thank you Panama. Now I get cleanings every six months. My gums don’t bleed. I’m told my mouth looks fine and healthy.

I have so much to be thankful for! I don’t have a hole in my smile, or an intolerable one in my bank account. Thank you Panama.


About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
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20 Responses to The Saga of a Tooth

  1. Anonymous says:

    Kris. Great to hear your better; and great to hear the quality care you receive in Panama. Look fwd to getting down there next year. Gary


    • Yep, all fixed. My permanent crown just arrived so I’m going in the morning for the final step. It is so much peace of mind to know you can get the care you need if something happens.


  2. Kris, For me it is like holding my breath. At 65 i get free dental care in Canada, so I am living with temporary fillings much of the time, and feel I have a good dentist here also. So much cheaper than canada. Our province is rated the most expensive dental care in all of Canada. Plain and simple, they just over charge, because there is no government regulation on it. and they seem to think every albertan is a rich oil king with company dental plan! NOT!!!

    Secondly, my husband does not get blogging. I was reading to him, some of Connie’s blogs, and he said, “why does she write about that”?? lol. I am sure he would think the same of someone’s dental problems, lol. But it don’t matter, I get it!!!! lol. k

    Sent from my iPad



    • Ahh, so I take it you aren’t 65 yet. There are many advantages to getting older. Care costs a small fortune in the US too. I probably couldn’t get a crown for what all that care cost here.

      As for blogs, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I write about whatever I feel like. Sometimes something new happens like the tooth, something that might be useful for others so I write. Sometimes something interests and excites me, so I write. Sometimes I just have to get on a soap box about something. Sometimes I don’t feel like writing and there’s nothing for a while. I guess it’s kind of like a public diary for me, with the side effect of making connections with other people who find it interesting. Maybe I should write a post about why I write :D.


  3. In Chitre, we get an exam and a thorough cleaning, by the dentist, every six months for less than $40. This is less than the copay we paid with dental insurance in the U.S.


  4. I LOVE LOVE LOVE these kind of stories! It makes me all the more excited to retire to Panama soon. Thank you again, Kris! I’m SO GLAD I found your blog all those years ago. You do such a good service to everyone considering moving to Panama. There’s nothing better than hearing the real story from someone already living there. 🙂


  5. Donald Mack says:

    kriss ami allowed to bring my medication as long as its in the bottle from the pharmacy and has the label of the prescription and my name because I do take a lot of medication from a bad heart bi polar meds and for dementia I don’t want to have any problems when I come in march I cant get any info from the embassy please let me know


    • Yes you can bring your own meds for your own use. If you are living here, how are you going to get your meds then? If you don’t have arrangements to get them from the US you might have a consultation with a doctor here to find out what is available here. It’s also a good idea to have a relationship with a doctor for when you need something. I’d start at Chiriqui Hospital. A lot of doctors have offices there, and there are others at Mae Lewis also.


      • Donald Mack says:

        thank you so very much I do plan on returning every 3 months tell I can get my medication in Panama because I can bring my meds in 3 month supply and when I have family come to visit my meds will be brought by family I am looking so forward to my leave from the US it has been along time since I have been able to have a vacation and will be looking for a house to rent so I can return to Panama thanks again and looking forward to seeing the band while I am there keep rocking that bass


  6. oldsalt1942 says:

    When I was contemplating retiring to Panama people would say, “What if you get sick down there?”
    My answer was, “Well, you get better or you die.”

    Well, that’s sorta true everywhere isn’t it? But in the eight years I lived down there I found the health care to be excellent. The doctors and dentists as good as you’d find here in the states and many of them received their educations in the Great White North before returning to their homeland.

    I repatriated, as you know, because of my COPD and the fact that Medicare doesn’t pay when you step outside the country. (They may not pay INSIDE the country much longer if those so-called “Christians” in Congress have their way. If that happens I’ll return to Panama and take my chances. After all, it says “Residente Permanente” on my cedula)


    • You get better or you die, or the worst you don’t get better but continue to sort of live. But you are right, this is the case wherever you are.
      If Medicare would pay outside the country, it would be so much cheaper and the money would go a lot further in many places. But Medicare isn’t known for making sense a lot of the time. At least in your case you get an adventure also.


      • Donald Mack says:

        your lucky if Medicare pays for a doctor in the US, its been my experience that I was lucky enough that my heart doctor took Medicare but after Obama care came in my heart doctor was booked so full that it took 3 months to get an appointment and after 3 years she said it got so busy from everyone wanting to see a cardiac doctor she retired from the heart specialist and took up with a private office of her own, then don’t get me started about getting a medication filled at the pharmacy that doesn’t need to pre authorized for them to fill it, and that takes a couple weeks if you even get what the doctor ordered and they give you something different from what the doctor ordered but they say it will work I too have COPD but the one inhaler that the doctor ordered is not covered my Medicare so they try to give you something else but when you use it, it makes you feel like your heart is about to pop, thanks MEDICARE


        • I was a home health nurse and worked mainly with a Medicare patients. Believe me, I know what you are talking about. It’s very frustrating for providers also. I was very glad to leave all that behind!


        • oldsalt1942 says:

          Damn that Obamacare! People who don’t have the resources to pay through the nose up front have NO RIGHT to proper medical attention. They should just crawl off in a corner somewhere and die while keeping their mouths shut, otherwise you have, you know, SOCIALISM!!!

          (Now I have to put in a sarcasm disclaimer because in this world there are two kinds of people…those that recognize and appreciate sarcasm and effin’ idiots!)


          • If they had taken care of themselves they wouldnt be sick! But no, they get sick and then expect us to pay for them. Sheesh.
            I don’t get it though. We all pay for school and kids are required to go. We are all required to have insurance on our cars, our homes if we have a mortgage, but people scream about required health insurance. And even with insurance, health care costs are the leading cause of bankruptcy. Yeah it’s a mess, the whole system. It seems basic health care should be a right. But I’m one of those tree hugging hippies who is happy to chip in some money so my neighbors don’t suffer from lack of care.

            Liked by 1 person

  7. jim and nena says:

    Hola Kris,
    Very good that you got all that fixed. Tooth problems have a way of causing pain at precisely the wrong time, on a flight, for example. Something about the pressure changes during flying causes it, I think. Bad experiences as a kid made me not like trips to the dentist. I get cleanings 3 times a year because I don’t want to go to the dentist. Same hygienist for nearly 30 years! Started with her just as she finished dental training.

    Panama is the same as anywhere, good dentists and not so good dentists. Some dentists there have materials that are past shelf-life and won’t last.
    When you find a good one, stick with them.


    • I hear you. I never had novicaine for my many fillings until I was in college. I think my mother told the dentist not to use it, thinking I would brush better to avoid cavities (had nothing to do with the tons of sweets she’s gave us. Ha)
      I have been very happy with the work done in this office. They did a couple other crowns, another filling, a bridge for my husband, all with meticulous attention to detail. Yes, I’m sticking with them.


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