We just finished getting a bunch of dental work done in Mexico. A big percentage of western RVers, people living near the western end of the Mexico border, and I suppose, Canadians will probably understand that without explanation. For the rest: there are border towns in Mexico that contain a lot of dentists and other specialists whose clientele is almost exclusively US and Canadian medical tourists. These organizations charge 25% to 35% of US costs. The dentists are generally well educated, are often US ADA certified, and come with a plethora of patient reviews on the traditional English language sites plus RV discussion forums.
Based on reviews and qualifications, we selected Bernal Dental Group, a three doctor outfit in Los Algodones with very high ratings in the places I checked. Their office manager responded rapidly, spoke and wrote in fluent English, and got us same time appointments for the day after our arrival. We found the office bright, very clean, and almost absurdly modern. There were still labels on some of the brand new gear in the actual exam and treatment rooms, and even all the fluorescent lighting had been replaced with LEDs. Both Drs Aldo and Carlos were professional and detailed, and also spoke excellent English, which came in quite handy when explaining the extensive treatment plans they proposed for both of us.
A little background: For years our regular dentists in Miami Beach were generally keeping an eye on some things that maybe should be done in the near term, but were not too worrisome with regular check ups. After we retired, lost dental insurance, and began full time RVing, our next dental visit was more than a year later on a discount “Groupon” deal for a cleaning and exam, where they not only upsold us on some immediate treatment, but also presented us with a $10,000 work proposal between the two of us. This seemed very sketchy at the time, and we took a pass, vowing to get a second opinion.
Flash forward one year to the present day. Here in Los Algodones we had X-rays, a dental exam, and a cleaning for $100 each. And then Drs Aldo and Carlos proposed that we receive roughly twice as much work as the Groupon dentist, though even then our bill would be about one third the cost of the US proposal. So what gives with these rapidly rising dental work proposals? Here is my loose hypothesis:
- Our long term dentists could afford to just keep an eye on things because we both had a solid track record of returning to his office every six months for a cleaning and exam. He didn’t feel the need to do fillings or redo crowns until they presented more obvious decay. I think Rosemarie’s doc might have expressed a bit more “sooner rather than later” urgency for her work, but there you have it.
- The Groupon dentist had none of these luxuries; we had never been to his office, he knew it had been a full year since our last cleaning and exam, and for all he knew we wouldn’t see him or any other dentists for years. Add to that more than a year’s worth of additional decay and you can more easily justify his proposal for four build up and crowns (replacements for existing ones) plus two fillings between us.
- The Mexican dentists had the same situation as the Groupon guy, but on top of that they seem to have a different philosophy with regard to dental work, particularly old (15 to 35 years in our case) metal fillings and crowns. That philosophy can best be summed up as “replace them all!” So on top of the four crown replacements and two fillings between the two of us, they proposed an additional four crowns and dozen fillings!
Now, I know this seems insanely exaggerated and unnecessary. I think those are the words I used when presented with just my proposed treatment. Discussing it in more detail with both dentists, we started to understand this key difference between our US dentists and the Mexican counterparts: they don’t trust old metal fillings, and really emphasize the aesthetics of tooth matching, white resin composite fillings and porcelain crowns. Whereas our Miami Beach dentists, and perhaps any regular treating dentist, would just keep an eye on any hinted flaw development, the Mexican dentist says why not just replace it with a new filling while the cavity is still so shallow, and make your smile better in the process? I want to emphasize that this is just my interpretation based on a very limited data set. But the work proposed was still way more than we were prepared to take on this visit, so with some prodding we got our docs to established a prioritization for our proposed plans. We wanted to do the most crucial stuff now, and hopefully return six months or more later, for another stage.
So two days after our exams I had my lower right crown replaced and a couple of new small cavities filled, and three old fillings replaced. Rosemarie had a root canal (her most urgent crown having deteriorated even further since the Groupon exam), two crown replacements, and a filling, all from one quadrant of her mouth. We had to wait over the weekend to give the lab techs time to construct and deliver the finished crowns made from the molds, so start to finish, exam to final stage, took seven days. With better planning it probably could have been done in three or four.
The entire cost of both our procedures: $1,710. We had already payed the $100 each for the exam, cleaning, and x-rays. Using the Groupon dentist’s pricing for crowns and fillings, and a bit of internet sleuthing for molar root canal rates, we estimate that this work would have cost us $6,880 in the US. This put us at the lower end of the rough estimate we had heard about tourist dental work in Los Algodones.
Today, a few hours after getting our final adjustments and crowns cemented in, we are quite happy with the entire process. We will reassess as time goes by, and suspect our next exam and cleaning will be six months down the road in the US, but we are already talking about coming back inside a year to do another stage of the proposed work. We hope the exam doesn’t again show a whole new set of things that need to be done.
During our stay in Yuma we parked at the Blue Sky RV Resort. They gave us the Passport America rate of $25.50 for half our stay and some sort of “other discounted rate” of $32 for the remaining days. The park is very modern with new amenities, and the camp hosts are very helpful and nice. We had a minor problem with the cable TV going out and a half day of pool closure, but we would endorse this place for your Yuma/Los Algondoles stay. Well maintained, clean and modern facilities, heck even the wifi worked find from our spot, though the seasonal emptiness of the park probably helped with that. If you want something even closer to the Andrade border crossing, there were a couple of cost competitive options over the California border that looked nice during our drive by, but our park in the Yuma foothills put us closer to the city amenities of Yuma and worked well for us.