Native to Costa Rica, Dr. Jean Paul Schmidt is a practicing general dentist in Heredia, Costa Rica in the Naos Medical Plaza. He is also the teaching dentist for VIDA volunteer, a non profit organization which offers free dental, veterinary, and medical services in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. After graduating from colegio nuestra senora de sion , Dr.Jean Paul Schmidt obtained his DDS from Universidad Latina in 2007. He completed the one year social fellowship through the government, practicing dentistry in an under serve community,Perez-Zeledon.
When did you first decide to become a dentist? Why?
When I was 15, my parents asked me what I wanted to study. I told them that I wanted to be an actor and they were like what?! you will not live by being an actor in Costa Rica, and I thought yea… that’s true. So it was around when I was 18 – 19 years old. I have always loved the health field. It’s always been health, and I thought that being a doctor was too much of a sacrificed career. I started dentistry not 100% convinced, but once I kept going, I started loving it.
Tell us what it is like serving as a dentist in Costa Rica. What’s unique about the environment? What is it like to practice dentistry here?
For me, it’s an excellent thing to do because we all need dentists. I love what’s called bien social in Spanish, meaning social good, helping people with no money. Not all the people have the money to pay for the treatments. It’s really rewarding to see the expression of the patients, as the result of the treatments.
What surprised you the most about dental school?
How thankful a patient can be when you finish a treatment. There are a lot of people that have a lot of things in their mouth. Teeth is like the window of your face. A lot of people that don’t have good teeth they smile with their mouth closed or put their hands over and they’re shy. Having good teeth and smile gives a lot of confidence.
How did you get involved in international volunteering?
A friend of mine worked for VIDA volunteer. He was an interpreter and he worked at the office in Costa Rica. He told me about it, and I loved the idea. I sent my resume and the very next day, I got a phone call.
Has being a dentist met your expectations?
How come most of the dentists in Costa Rica are females?
Well, first of all I think that there was a time when they thought dentistry was a female career. There is a lot of tiny things and women are good at doing very detailed things. They thought that males should do the hard masculine work. That’s probably the reason why there were and are a lot of female dentists here.
What are some common dental problems you have faced?
In the private practice, there are a lot of patients that come in for aesthetics especially. When I volunteer, it’s more like a broken tooth or a lot of calculus. People who come to private practice are from different status so they have money. In my VIDA volunteer trips, we see a lot of immigrants and poor people, and they don’t have social security. They can’t go to a private practice and need the basic care.
Where do you see dentistry in 10 years?
I think there will be a lot of things that will not hurt the patient as much. For example, the way of numbing the patient should be less painful or removing cavity should be noiseless. Actually, someone has invented a hand piece without a noise and the way they numb them is a different technique.
Describe a typical day at work.
Typical day in my practice is like.. I just come here and wait for the patient to come, but I have more appointments than walk-ins. I talk a little bit with the patient if it’s his/her first time, I make it more conversational. I wanna know where they are and what they expect from me. If there is an emergency, I do whatever I need to do.
In my volunteer work, I like to be more of a teacher and a friend to the volunteers where they can be comfortable about expressing their doubts or their questions. Also since there are a lot of patients we see per day, we can only do one procedure per patient, so I try to do the treatment with the highest priority. I really like to teach. I like to share my knowledge to them because normally, 90% of the time, the volunteers are pre-dental students. It’s like their first experience with patients. They get really excited when I get to teach them all the things during the trip. For the patients, the help. Sometimes, I do more than one procedure per patients. For example, if there is a filling, and if there is another small cavity, why wouldn’t I do it? It will not take that much time. I like this job, unfortunately it’s not a full time job, but I would love to be. Actually, I am the dentist of the VIDA staff. About a month ago, I check on them. I love my career.
What do you like most and least about what you are doing now?
The most… I would have to say the patient’s reactions.
What I don’t like the least.. is root canal treatments. That is like working blind. You don’t see exactly because you need to take x-rays, and it’s really tedious. As a dentist, I like to see what I am doing. Fortunately, I haven’t been a situation where I messed up.
In your position now, knowing what you do– what would you say to yourself ten years ago?
That’s a tough one. Ten years ago, I was 25. Normally when you are in your 20’s, you want things fast. It’s not about that. When I was 25, I took a 2 year course in acting and then I went to Mexico for the acting opportunities there. I went to see what I could do. I just grabbed my clothes, some dollars, and I saved half of my payments from work. When I had enough money, I traveled there. It was an excellent experience, and I did a lot of extra things and modeling I would tell myself to enjoy as much as you can, every single step. Enjoy the most you can cause when you get back to Costa Rica, you gotta work a lot.
Are you satisfied with your income?
No. It’s really easy to study dentistry. If you have the money, anyone can be a dentist. So there are a lot of dentists. Right across the hall is another dentist. You can find us anywhere. So people have a lot of options. In addition to a good clinical job as a dentist, I think customer service is the key. Even though you don’t see all the amount of money you want to see, your patient will stay with you forever. It’s like marrying your dentist. It’s really hard to make money these days. A filling is normally between 15,000 colones to 30,000 colones. (30 – 60 dollars). There are high season and low seasons. Right before Christmas, vacations or holidays are low seasons because people are buying presents and other stuff. It varies a lot. It’s really hard. I can tell you that last year was a very good year for me. This year, no. I have been struggling every single month. Right here in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, it’s hard. People will think that we are wealthy because of our profession. It’s not true.
Have you ever thought about specializing?
Yes, I like orthodontics. The thing is that right now I need to stop working for me to get into the specialty. I am saving money for that. I need two years to become an orthodontist. It’s really expensive and you need time. You have to leave your practice or see patients at night. But imagine, you will be exhausted. That’s why I haven’t gotten into the specialty yet. Eventually, I will do it.
What do you do for relaxation? Hobbies?
I like to travel a lot, inside and outside the country. Of course I need money, but I love traveling.
If you took out an educational loan, is/was paying them back a financial strain?
Thankfully, I didn’t have to take out a loan cause my parents helped 80% of the finances, and I worked the rest. Here in Costa Rica, there is a one year of social fellowship after you graduate, called servicio social, we go wherever we are sent. It’s paid very nicely. When I did it, there were 11 spots for the whole country. There were 60 applicants, but only 11 got admitted. I was lucky to get one, and so when I graduated, I did that year. After that, I struggled a lot looking for a job.
What is the biggest problem in the world of dentistry?
That people are not preventative. Normally, people go to the dentist when they have issues. If people were preventative, then I think they will save a lot of money and painful moments. There are a lot things in the practice that hurt. If people were preventative and have the 6 month appointments, they will be fine.
How has dentistry changed ever since you started?
In the 1960-80’s, dentistry was curative. If you had a cavity, I would extract that tooth. My grandma once told me that on her mom’s 15th birthday, her mother (so my great-great-grandma) asked the dentist to extract all her teeth so that way she will not have cavities. Then the dentist made dentures. The lady was 15 years old and that was her birthday gift. It’s unbelievable, but it’s true. Normally you went for extractions. Now, you try to save the tooth. It has progressed a lot, Now these days is more of an aesthetic thing. People are willing to pay a lot of money to see their mouth really nice.
How do you balance your work and personal life?
I would say 60/40, 60 being work.
Do you have a favorite type of patients?
I really like children. They won’t hide things from you. They will tell you exactly what they are feeling. If they are spoiled kids, you know when it’s hurting them or not. Children are very special patients. If you get them to love you, they will love you forever. If they hate you, don’t see that kid ever. Go refer them to another doctor. Also, I like elderly patients. They come with a lot of stories. Half of the appointment is of stories. They just want to talk. Sometimes I feel like I am a psychologist. I had a patient once who just sat down and started talking about stuff in her mouth or whatever. That was it Then she said, thank you doctor so nice to talk to you and left.
If you had to do it again, would you still be a dentist?
Yes definitely. I love what I do. It’s a really rewarding job. You don’t get bored cause every single day in dentistry is completely different, even if you specialize. Some of them can open wide, some of them don’t. Some have big molars and some don’t. The anatomy is different in every single patient. You can see tooth that has normally one root having two roots. You can see tooth that normally has three roots having one root. There’s a lot of things. It’s really interesting.