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Dentistry in Mexico—A Real Revelation

Dentistry in Mexico—A Real Revelation


You’ve heard there is inexpensive, high quality dentistry available in Mexico, and see the news reports of thousands of people crossing the border to get their teeth fixed.   Can it be true?  Here’s the scoop.  Pack your bags.

A devilish dentist.  From a wall painting in front of a dentist's office.

A devilish dentist. From a wall painting in front of a dentist's office.

May 25, 2007

OK, let’s get this straight.  I am not a dentist, nor a dental hygienist, nor do I play one on TV.  I’m no sort of expert when it comes to teeth.  But I have had experience with Mexican dentists—three or four, anyway, and since I know there is a lot of interest in coming to Mexico to get your teeth done, I thought I’d report.

It’s all good news.

Years ago, back in New York, I thought it was a smart idea to go to the dentist before traveling in the steaming, pygmy headhunter-infested  jungles of Mexico and Central America.  What if I got a toothache—have they even HEARD of Novocain south of the border?

I spent $2000 I dearly wish I had now on something dental, I forget what.  A cleaning and fluoride treatment, maybe.

Of course, as soon as I moved to Guadalajara I bit into a hard roll and broke a tooth in half.

Now, I’m no sissy about going to the dentist.   Pain’s no big deal.  What scares me to the core is opening my wallet and spending huge and ridiculous sums on tooth repair.  I’ve often gone for years with a missing filling (a nation of dentists blanche).  In the states, without dental insurance, sometimes other things take priority, like food and shelter.

But this new tooth fracture was different.  The entire tooth broke off at the roots, so there was nothing above my gum line—and it hurt too much to ignore, especially on the occasions I ate, which was pretty much daily.

I had no plans to return to New York right away, so I started shopping for dentists.

The first, right across from my apartment, was too expensive.  Maybe he saw me coming.

The next, with a sign outside his house (Extractions, $5), operated on an old green couch in his living room.  Ah, no.

The third was the charm.  In the tall office building just off the Plaza de Armas I met a really wonderful, caring dentist.  She didn’t speak any English and my Spanish at the time didn’t include endodoncia.  But we hit it off famously, and started right away.

She said I would need a root canal (OMG—I have a high threshold for pain, but a ROOT CANAL?  In MEXICO?), and then she would put a post into the jawbone and attach a crown to that.

A lot of work, and 4 or 5 visits, once the new tooth is made and glued on the posts.

What would this procedure cost in the US?  I shudder to think.  Our yearly salary, about.

She charged $40 for the root canal, and $100 for the post and crown.  $140 total.

I laid back in the chair, and she gave me Novocain.  That was a relief—all the modern advances.  Then she lightly flitted around my broken tooth for about a minute, drew out a hooked instrument, and showed me.

Wrapped around the gleaming metal hook was a bright red wriggly worm, about a foot long or at least a half-inch.

I thought I’d die.  I KNEW I shouldn’t have eaten those tacos.  Great–now I have some weird kind of red worm mouth parasite.  THAT should really put a bang in my love life.

“What is THAT?” I shrieked like a manly man.

“It’s your nerve.”

“You did the root canal?”

“Si.”

“But I didn’t feel anything…”

“Good, no?”

“Good, si.”

The rest of the process, though a little drawn out (Mexican dentists like to keep you coming back, for some reason), went just as smoothly, and my new tooth looked and worked great for 12 years.

It would still be working great today except that the crown fell off one night and I swallowed it.  (No, I didn’t look for it next morning).  But that was a problem with the glue, which lasted for 12 years after all.  If I had had regular check-ups, the dentist would have re-glued it.

So now for two years I’ve walked around with the post sticking out of my upper jaw, like a vampire fang.  I tell you this to make dentists in the audience squirm.

Why don’t I go for a new tooth?  Life.  Everything is relative, and right now even inexpensive dentistry is a luxury, with our new house (we’d like furniture first, for example).  Plus the post makes me look dangerous.  (Like a rabid Winnie the Pooh).

A filling fell out a couple of years later, and I went to a new dentist, cousin to the guy that ran the gym.  My first dentist had moved.  This new gal was nice too (but talked a lot and kept me coming back about 12 times—I think she liked me).  Another crown, with comparable prices.  She didn’t have an x-ray machine (her office was very basic) so she sent me to a guy dentist who was just wonderful—in fancier digs than I was used to, and about $60 for the pictures and another root canal—also painless.  He’s the one I would take Mom to if she ever comes to Mexico for her teeth.  Very impressive.

Of course, you need to shop around.  A rich friend recommended a guy with a gorgeous office suite and music and assistants.  He found 87 oral things that would have to be corrected immediately, at very high prices.

My favorite was a new one to me—the cord under my tongue was too short, it restricted my tongulation (I made that word up) and would have to be cut.

By this time I had lived 40 some years and had never had any tongue trouble, and mentioned that to Dr. Farb.

“Oh, but if your tongue was looser, you could speak Spanish better!”

I wanted to teach him a few special words in English, but my tooth really hurt.

“Plus your tongue would be longer—the sexo, you know?”

I paused for two beats.  Now the guy was talking.  I get plenty of enlargement ads in my email but none of them are for tongues.

I decided to pass, reluctantly.

I’ve seen news reports about people from the United States and Canada crossing into Mexico to visit whole boarder towns devoted to affordable dentistry.  It is a crime it is so difficult to afford dental care in the US, but we won’t go there right now.  The fact is, you can get wonderful, compassionate dentistry here in Mexico for a fraction of the price.

Mom often says that she could fly to Mexico, have a two week vacation while she is getting a couple of root canals, a filling, and a cleaning, and still spend less that on just the dental work alone in the States.

So what’s the catch?  Like I say, I’m no expert.  All I can tell you is that if I ever moved back to the states and needed dental work, I’d rush to Guadalajara to have it done, without any doubt.  Like I say, most dentist’s offices here are more basic—there may not even be a waiting room, and the chair might be that really ugly snot green color.  There may not be mood music or white sound machines.  But all the essentials are there—in my experience and that of many, many of my friends, dentistry here is safe, friendly, well informed and educated, and of high quality.

The one thing I’m not sure of is insurance—I doubt you can use your dental insurance to pay, and I double doubt the dentist is insured.  But while that may send up red flags in Chicago, here it is the norm.  So you have to weigh your risks.  But the way prices are North of the border, and the quality of work done here, I’m sure we will be seeing lots more folks combining a visit to the dentist with their vacation plans.

I haven’t been to the dentist now for about 7 years, so the prices quoted above have undoubtedly gone up, like everything else.  They are still an amazing bargain.

Don’t speak Spanish?  Have no idea how to find a dentist in Mexico?  Scared stiff by the whole process?  Write us at mexicanmemorabilia@yahoo.com.  We can set up an appointment and come with you right into the dentist’s office to translate, if you want—and in the afternoon you can be looking for orchids in the Primavera Forest or shopping for Mexican handicrafts in Tlaquepaque or Tonala!  We recommend combining your dentist visit with lots of fun adventures (and we’re the experts).  Questions?  Just write us!

Dan and Omar

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1 comment to Dentistry in Mexico—A Real Revelation

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A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.