Los Algodones, Mexico – Americans are heading south, south of the border, not just for vacation but also for medical care.
And here’s why they go, according to a dental association, about 70 million Americans don’t have dental insurance. So they pay out of pocket. But when you age, need extensive work and you’re on a fixed income, you can be priced out of care here at home.
In Mexico, the price is right. But is a better deal worth the potential risks? We take the trip to check it out.
On a random Tuesday morning, the parking lot on the US-Mexico border fills up fast.
Many are senior citizens who walk to the other side. These are Americans and Canadians headed to the border town of Los Algodones, Mexico – most of them for healthcare.
A man, known as a hawker, barks, “Any chance you need a dentist?”
Ironically, Americans known for their beautiful teeth, do. There are so many dentists here in this small town it’s nicknamed Molar City. And people come here from everywhere. North Dakota. Maryland. Alaska. Some are snowbirds. Some are on vacation, and some travel here solely to see a dentist.
They cross the border near Yuma, Arizona. Unfamiliar? Well, it’s about a three-hour drive southwest of Phoenix. There’s an airport. Parking at the border is six bucks. Or, you can get a hotel shuttle here. Some stay the night in town.
The streets fill up fast. If you look up, there are signs everywhere advertising inexpensive dental care.
Once you make it through all of that, you do have to decide where you’re going to go. And that’s why I’m here, to help you sort out cost and quality of care.
Sani Dental looks like many US dental offices. Check-in. A waiting area. And intake.
The receptionist told us, “We do X-ray consultation. We manage insurance forms.”
Yes, they get you set up for insurance reimbursement. And with an aging population, health histories are vital.
“If they had surgeries in the past years, that we have to get OK from their home doctor,” Sani Dental officer manager Miguel Sandoval said.
But it’s the low cost that drives Americans over the border.
Alaskan Mitch Sayegh has been here before.
“I’m seeing prices about 35-40 percent what you’d see in the US. And that’s significant when you’re talking implants or major dental work. Even minor stuff here. It’s $35 for a cleaning. It would cost me three or four times that in the States.”
Retired pharmacist Tony Paul moved from Illinois to Nevada, but comes to Mexico for extensive dental surgery.
“Price was a big factor. I’ve got a lot of fears, but I feel good.”
There are the obvious concerns like the water. Is it safe?
Dr. Everardo de la Toba, who goes by Dr. Ever, assured us, “Every chair has their own deposited filtered water which is sterile water, pretty much.”
He’s a third generation dentist to run Dr. Parra Implant Clinic. He went to dental school in Mexico, gets additional training in the US and Europe and lives in the States. He’s proud of his practice’s safety nets and its state-of-the art equipment. From consultation to crafting implants, he says it’s all done on-site.
“Molar City is a great place to go for dental work. But, when they see things or hear things about Molar City, their first question is, ‘OK how do I do this? Where do I go? Which dentist to I choose?” said Ron Vinluan.
Mr. Vinluan works with a US company, Dayo Dental, out of Phoenix. They represent Mexican dentists like Dr. Ever.
“We have strict qualifications,” he told us.
His job is to connect Americans with safe dental care in Mexico. Their website compares US prices to Mexico’s. They tell us they also do an in-house vetting of dentists and only take a handful as clients. And, they require them to guarantee their work for five years. Dayo Dental will also negotiate on your behalf if there’s a dispute.
Locals tell me they think it’s the positive feedback on social media that has caused the explosion of Americans crossing the border for dental treatment.
Another dentist, Dr. Diego Balencula, told us, “Maybe 80 percent of all of my patients is from the United States.”
Nearly everyone speaks English. You can pay in US dollars, use a credit card, even write a personal check. And don’t forget your passport.
It’s a tourist town, and they want you to leave with a big, beautiful smile.
We checked with the CDC and they don’t say ‘don’t do this.’ But they do add that when you pick another country be clear that English will be spoken; check for antibiotic resistance in the area where you are going; and finally, be careful flying too soon after surgery because this can put you at risk for blood clots. Also, the American company Dayo Dental says when hunting for a dentist be very specific about which dentist you want in a specific practice.
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