Costa Rica’s own Dr. Alberto Meza, one of the world’s leaders in dental tourism, and his team have taken their passion for high-quality dental care to a global scale with the opening of their first office in Cancún, Mexico.
Coming from a family of dentists, it might have seemed like destiny for Dr. Meza to become a leader in the industry, but the story of Meza Dental is much more than just a continuation of a family business. Instead, it is a story of perseverance, passion, and an unflinching smile.
And even now as he takes the first step towards international expansion in the face of the most challenging odds he’s ever faced, he’s still a man who gives credit to his team and remains humble.
In this article, we’ll explore the story of Dr. Alberto Meza and Meza Dental Care, explore the values that have guided them this far, and what the future holds for Meza Dental.
Facing Life with a Smile | The Story So Far
Sometimes It Seems Like Destiny
Alberto Meza grew up in a family of dentists tracing back four generations (with Alberto as the 5th generation). But even though he heard about dentistry quite a bit when he was a child, he never felt any undue pressure to join the family business.
But Alberto loved working with his father in the summers, and when he finished high school he took a vocational test whose results (which revealed that he enjoyed helping people and caring for them) indicated he’d be a good physician, it just made sense to go into the family business.
So even as he went abroad to learn English, including an exchange year in Pittsburgh during the 1987/88 school year, his eyes were on a career in dentistry.
An Unshakeable Drive
Alberto returned to the Universidad de Costa Rica to study dentistry on a full scholarship, as he was unable to afford dental school in the US, but throughout his career, Meza did not let financial strain stop him.
At university, he met his beautiful wife and started a family, and supported them and his own expenses through years of school working on odd jobs and as a tour guide for busses, visiting cruise ships, and excursions/day trips for anyone who was looking for a friendly guide.
To this day, Alberto Meza credits these years as a time of incredible learning, including one discovery that would be vital to his career. When encountering older individuals with dental problems, Meza thought — Is it too expensive in the US or Europe? And if so, why can’t we help them here in Costa Rica?
At that point, medical tourism didn’t really exist, and those observations along with Meza’s fluent English and understanding of the tourist industry would be invaluable in the years to come.
In 1996, Meza graduated and worked for the Costa Rican social security (CCSS) in Orosi for two years, where he continued to support his wife and two children and save money by taking extra work at the clinic, painting houses, washing cars, and still working as a tour guide.
Meza’s hard work paid off when he had saved enough money to open his first clinic, a small-town facility helping with small-scale work, like the creation of dentures and tooth extractions.
He was still serving a local clientele, but even as he left his touring work behind, he saw the opportunity in Costa Rica. Not only was the destination beautiful, but Meza saw other young, talented Costa Rican dentists that were skilled and could do work quickly and efficiently. It was an opportunity Meza was quick to seize on, and began reaching out to potential clients around the world.
The Foundations of Something More
Crucial to this ambition of sharing Costa Rica with the world was Meza’s brother, a software engineer who suggested making a webpage for the dental business. This was still in the days of dial-up connections, but soon enough Meza Dental Care and their very first logo — a simple tooth — were live on the world wide web.
Alberto had faith in the internet. The possibility of connecting to millions of people was powerful! But it took almost a year before others began to discover Meza on the internet, and another few months before he had his first client — someone requesting fillings, crowns, and a cleaning.
But that first digital customer was just the start. Soon others began to follow, opening Meza’s mind to all the people he could serve worldwide. Month by month, more clients began to visit from around the world, eventually leading to a fateful encounter with a patient from the US.
The dedication, care, and quality that Meza and his small practice had put into even a routine process of getting a crown had resonated with that patient, who offered Meza financing to open up a more robust practice that could truly take his business to the next level.
It was a fantastic offer, and while Meza struggled with the risks of a venture of this size, he eventually accepted and began to build a beautiful space that was robust and professional, but still welcoming and cozy.
“It’s hard. I’d put every dime into my business, and when you take on a commitment like that, you feel like you are risking everything. But I believed in my vision, my team, and my family, and that’s made all the difference.”
Expanding to a new space allowed Meza to treat more intensive dental challenges like full-mouth restoration, which in turn allowed him to both save his international clients more money and begin expanding his own team at a rapid rate.
Dr. Meza remembers one particular client — his first full mouth restoration client — who wired a transfer for $15,000 to him. He jokes that all of his friends thought he had turned to money laundering and that he needed to open up a new bank account just to handle the new transfers.
But it wasn’t just a bigger space that allowed Dr. Meza to grow. As he explains, the early 2000s marked an explosion in the cosmetic dentistry industry, and he knew he needed to adapt to keep up.
So he started looking to learn about cosmetic dentistry and began to discover a young, growing industry, including the fledgling American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. One conference and a few life-changing lectures on cosmetic dentistry later, Meza returned as a post-grad to UCLA to study cosmetic dentistry.
Armed with his new skills, the next few years saw incredible growth, for Dr. Meza, who started to settle into a rhythm of welcoming new clients, creating beautiful smiles, and gaining trust in his community.
Before long, Meza became the second accredited AACD dentist in Latin America (where he is still only 1 of 3 in Latin America to complete the extensive accreditation process, and 1 of 350 worldwide).
“You never stop learning. Eventually, you realize after you graduate that you can’t handle every case that sits in your chair. And if you can’t, you need to study more. Simple as that! That’s the only way you can continue to improve and grow as a dentist.”
The Many Tests to Resilience
But as the work continued to grow through excellent word of mouth (and even media appearances who had discovered his work), Meza realized for the first time that even his determination and work ethic would eventually be outpaced by new clients.
So turning his focus to his family and his team, Meza began to invest in hiring young dentists, sponsoring them to study at UCLA, and training them in his unique skills.
After a lifetime of relying on himself and his own ability, it was a challenge to shift from being an excellent dentist to a leader and mentor, but Meza chose his people well, based on a series of values that we’ll explore below.
But that wasn’t the only challenge ahead for this growing business. The financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 slowed business, but once again Alberto adapted, seeing it as a sign to learn more and seek out new opportunities.
First, he once again returned to UCLA to stay up to date on the most cutting-edge techniques for combining dental implants and cosmetic dentistry. Then he focused on his team, investing in training his dental team and his office staff to make sure that the team would thrive when fortunes turned around.
The global financial crisis also turned Meza’s sight once again to international expansion, but even though he met with investors from London and Dubai, he decided that it wasn’t the right time to go global just yet. Instead, his focus was on ensuring that the same values he lived by were instilled throughout his team from top to bottom.
Strong Foundations, Strong Values, and Strong Smiles | The Meza Values
From his early years, Alberto Meza cared about the experience of his clients, reasoning that anything that bore his family’s name reflected back not only on him but his entire family.
That attentiveness was refined when Alberto was a member of the tourist industry (and often a tourist himself) and carried into how Alberto shaped his corner of the dental tourism industry.
“No one wants to suffer on vacation, especially me! So I wanted to make sure that from the moment people arrived in Costa Rica, they felt that things are comfortable, clear, and safe.”
With each new client, Meza listened and adapted. At first, patients didn’t feel comfortable leaving their hotels — there were no apps like uber, and transportation wasn’t efficient — so Dr. Meza hired a driver to pick people up and guide them from the airport, a former flight attendant who fit naturally welcoming people to the country (and would eventually become their customer service director).
An avid traveler himself, Meza started to learn from the hospitality industry anywhere he could, taking notes on how they treated him, what they were offering, and how their systems worked. And with each new learning, the Meza Dental team grew more skilled and more confident in accommodating clients.
“Our goal was to provide a wonderful customer experience, so we went through the entire experience a client might have from the ground up, to see how every process worked, and how we could improve it. We treat patients how we want to be treated, and we’re always trying to improve, which are two big values of our company.”
Perseverance, Passion, Kindness, and Purpose
The seeds of those values were planted at a young age. As a child, Alberto wasn’t very confident but realized that the more he learned and the harder he worked, the more comfortable he became, and with each challenge he overcame, he learned to trust that drive to never give up.
And as Meza tells it, when you have the love of your life and two sons counting on you from a young age, it’s easy to find the strength to continue. Alberto describes his family as the most inspiring thing in his life and was motivated throughout the years to keep growing and to find a way to create success.
“No one ever told me what to do in life to be successful, it was just a desire to continue growing, and continue adapting, to always stay learning.”
Dr. Meza also speaks from a point of personal and family pride.
“When I saw the Meza name online, I realized I have given myself to something. Most first-world countries look down on Central America. Many think it is all just crime, chicken on the busses, drug cartels, dirt roads, poverty, with a few nice beaches and resorts. When I make the commitment to that name, and to my home country, to something powerful, I know I have to live up to it.”
But today, Meza takes pride in the fact that he can deliver world-class dentistry in a place overlooked by some.
“We have good patients, supporting coworkers… this is a dream-maker machine! My dreams are coming true, I can help fulfill the dreams of my clients, and I can help other young ambitious people to excel by believing in them, and giving them opportunities.”
But even as Meza has shifted to more of a mentor, teacher, and leadership role, he stays true to his values, which is perhaps even more important now that he has the task of instilling them in the next generation.
To this day, Meza Dental hires an attitude and a mindset, rather than a specific set of skills, and trusts that one day his work will live on through the vision he has created and the people he has helped.
“I may not in my lifetime see the full extent of my work, but I believe in building something that can continue to do good and support people. If anything, that is the legacy that I want to create. A place for young practitioners to grow and learn, and a place for clients to be treated like they matter. Because regardless of your background and your challenges, you deserve to know that to your doctor, the challenges you face are as important as their own. That is how you change lives.”
Facing The Biggest Challenge Yet
The Meza Dental team faced its biggest challenge yet at the end of 2019. Both Meza’s sons were away in Germany and Shanghai respectively, learning new languages as they studied business administration and communications design.
The plan was to begin international expansion somewhere in South America sometime in the next few years, coming up with the necessary research, building a business plan, and seeking out investment.
But then the 2020 pandemic arrived, borders closed, and the team was stuck with 27 people on payroll and no clients.
As the months went on, and there was no clarity on when the pandemic would end, Meza and the team realized that they had to adapt. Meza rented a space in Cancún — still open to global travel — and began seeing the patients who could make it to the country.
It was an emergency measure both for Meza and his patients, many of whom badly needed dental service, and despite the challenges of an unfamiliar location, he and his team were able to adapt and survive the year, serving any client that could make it to Cancún.
More than a year later, the gradual reopening of international borders meant that patients were free to return in greater numbers, and business began to pick up again in Costa Rica and at the new Cancún office.
Realizing that once again, overcoming challenges had led to opportunity, Meza and his sons seized on the chance to turn his temporary office into a permanent one. Marcelo returned from China to become Meza’s manager and eventually it’s CEO, leading the charge as they found a cozy office in the most beautiful part of Cancún.
Today, the Cancún is on the cusp of its grand opening, the first step of an international expansion that had been almost a decade coming, and might one day include Los Cabos, and even the Dubai office. And it came to life the only way Meza knew how — through grit, determination, and passion for both his team and patients.
“We have lived, and we had plans, and then suddenly that struggle taught us things we weren’t thinking about. You could lose all of your work, you could lose all of these things right away. It encourages you to focus on every day you have, and it makes me want to share my ideas, help grow the business, and help my team grow as people to help so many more.”
What Makes It All Worthwhile
Looking back, Alberto explains that it feels good to see a job well done. When he first started, it was a remote thought to see this dream come true, and along the way, he discovered new dreams and destinations to chase.
He credits that mindset with bringing him here: never losing inspiration, never losing the willingness to adapt. He has gotten older and doesn’t work so many hours, but his mind is sharper and has become a teacher, a mentor.
“People think about retiring and getting out. But I love what I do, and I don’t think I’ll ever truly retire from it.”
And to understand just how much this means to Dr. Meza, we’ll share a story of a recent patient from Dr. Meza (with names changed).
“There was a client, Dan, who saved his money for a long time and trusted us with his implants and dentures. After the process, he told us ‘I’m going to bring my wife with me, she just had a brain stroke, she’s in a wheelchair, and she’s been using dentures, and I want to help her.
His wife, Leah, wasn’t able to speak. She had to communicate with her eyes, she could barely move her hands, and at first, she had trouble. She didn’t know what was going on and had difficulty keeping her mouth open for a long time. We took a series of photographs at the beginning, and you could see she was in pain, she wasn’t happy, she wasn’t even smiling, she felt the weight of the world, it had beat her down.
But I know that this is a way to help someone have a better life. 2 days later, we were able to give her a plastic prototype, not even the final product, and she was immediately beaming, smiling with pride and happiness that you could see in her eyes and her whole body.
There is a weight to that, even after decades, and I was moved to tears.”
In Dr. Alberto Meza, you will find a professional who still wakes up every morning and faces the challenges of a new day, with new patients, with the same passion as he did as a young man.
The only difference now is 20 years of skill and experience, and the team that he has built behind himself.
“The sky’s the limit, and whenever you help people, there is no better feeling in this world. Mine is a small story, and a little grain of sand in the scope of the world, but if I can inspire people and help people, it will be good that I have shared it.”
We thank Doctor Meza for a truly eye-opening conversation, and wish him the best both in his upcoming grand opening in Cancún and the many journeys to come!