Low-Cost Dental Care Lures Patients to Mexico

The fact that some Americans head to Mexico for low-cost dental restorations isn’t news. However, as the recession leaves people with less money to spend, it seems likely that more will choose dental tourism.

In fact, the Chicago Tribune recently ran a story entitled Mexico: the new dental destination.

Medical tourism in general is a growing industry. Some Americans head to Canada or Mexico for discounts on prescription drugs. Thailand has a booming business in gender reassignment surgery. Facelifts and other cosmetic surgery can be found the world over.

One of Mexico’s top destinations for dental tourists is Los Algodones. Just over the border from Yuma, Arizona, the town of 4,000 boasts some 350 dentists. (Twenty years ago there were a dozen dentists in town.)

The town itself has an English website that centers on dental tourism. “A dental vacation in Los Algodones, Baja California, Mexico will provide you with the best of both worlds – the comfort of familiar American surroundings and the famous Mexican dental prices,” it reads.

And let’s be honest: a Mexican dentist can offer prices far lower than any American dentist. Can you offer a dental crown for $150? How about gum surgery for $360? Or veneers for $350 each? (See what patients say.)

Of course those prices will grab the attention of a price-conscious consumer. Even with travel and accommodations, a lot of patients reason they can save money on dental care.

What those patients are not accounting for is risk. The less you pay, the higher your risk of getting an inferior restoration. (Remember how low-cost dental crowns from Chinese dental labs were found to contain lead?) There are obviously exceptions, but in general, you get what you pay for.

And what if you’re not satisfied? Few Americans actually file complaints with the Mexican authorities, but anecdotal reports abound of patients who spend thousands to repair damage from hack dentists charging rock-bottom prices.

How This Affects American Dentists

The patient you’re most likely to lose to a Mexican dentist is the thrifty one who has “sticker shock” when you drop the bomb about how much major restorative dentistry costs.

But all you will see will be the glazed look in their eyes. They will not say to you, “Well, Doctor, what do you think about me just going to Mexico to get it done?” They will be polite, or embarrassed, and they will end up making their decision without consulting you.


About Julie Frey

+Julie Frey is the Editor of TheWealthyDentist.com blog. She has dedicated her career to Internet marketing and communications, working side-by-side with dental marketing guru Jim Du Molin since 2006. She has a degree in Linguistics from Stanford University, has a passion for language and writing, and lives in San Francisco.

  • Dennis Nagel DDS

    I’m in Michigan and have seen two patients that have had Mexican dentistry. One had roundhouse root canals and crowns. Every tooth. The root canals by x-ray were substandard, and the crowns were overcontoured, opaquey and were so bulky at the gingival margins that there was full mouth gingival inflammation that was unmanageable without redoing all of the crowns. The bulkiness and ill fit at the gum line was off the scale of any bad dentistry I’ve seen from the US.

    The second patient was a long term patient who went south for the winter in his retirement and stepped over to get a couple of molar crowns. Same result. We told him we’d do the best we could in his cleanings, but we could not hold any responsibility for the future of those teeth. He declined to have them redone. The teeth are still there, but there is no way to control the inflammation and bacteria load. This is a problem in today’s world where the conection between oral and systemic health is becoming more and more obvious.

  • http://www.ashlandsmiles.com Jared Anderson

    I had one patient go to Mexico for a root canal, believe it or not. I retreated it a year later. He actually did ask me what I thought about getting dentistry in Mexico, but made it sound like he was going to have me treat him anyway. I basically told him I don’t know, but you usually get what you pay for.

    An interesting thing is that this patient bounces around my community, getting second opinions left and right, taking advantage of ‘get aquainted’ offers that dentists make…usually ending up back in my chair. So the long and short of it is: he’s the type of patient that I don’t miss when he leaves. I’d be more concerned if I had an office in, say, Tucson. From here (Oregon), I don’t think Mexican dentistry is a factor to our bottom line…..

  • Dr. Ehab Heikal

    This is not an American problem. It exists elswhere, even in the Middle East Area,citizens of the rich gulf states spend their summer vaccation in countries like Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. They make use of that and have their teeth done during that vaccation. Sometimes travelling to those countries just for dental treatment covers their ticket and accomodation in comparison to what they would pay back home if they go to dental centers operated even by Egyptians, or Syrians.

    Need more? I know a dentist in Cairo who has German families visiting him every year, they spend one week in Cairo for treatment and for fun, and get an invoice from the dentist that nearly covers the treatment costs and all their related expenses, and they charge their insurance company in Germany. That way they spend a week of lieasure at the expense of the insurance company!! Ofcourse this is not the case here in the States, yet the similarity is in how customers seek the lowest price if quality is “adequate”.

    So, don’t be pesimestic, its a global issue

  • http://www.mexicandentalvacation.com Terry

    I went to see Mexican Dental Vacation in Mazatlan for not just dental work, but dental implants. I know that the dentists here really don’t want us patients to go to Mexico for dental work, but it has been 4 years, and ALL of the dental work they did is still doing great, and my dentist here in Canada said the work was done very well.

    Since they are in the resort city of Mazatlan, I got a beachfront vacation at the same time.

    I would never go to a border town like Los Algodones or Tijuana, the drug war there scares me. i don’t want to be the innocent bystander that takes a bullet.

  • Martin C Courtney

    I am in the Los Angeles area. 3 patients come to mind as dental tourists. One spends 80% of her time in Mexico has had 4 broken teeth for years (?5+)and says she would have me take care of her dental needs if her mother would pay. BTW she is 47 years old. Second heard what a good deal she could get and cruise to Brazil for the cost of the dental care she needed. Seems that money is not the issue but how she wants to spend the money.
    Third one is scary: spend 10 days in Brazil “get 10 implants and 14 crowns and bridges” for $2,000. Immediate load and teeth in an hour can be done but the surgical guides take longer than 1 week to fabricate. Said her friend had it done. I offered to have her friend come in for a free exam and pano xray just to see what this looked like. Never took me up on the offer. I told her just to check if the dentist’s malpractice insurance would cover her back in the United States.
    All three patients were high maintaince,low trust challenges I would not put a lot of effort to retain.

  • http://www.dental-holidays.com George McKee DDS

    I am a California licensed dentist and work in a high quality clinic in Portugal. We market our services to England and other EU countries and are one of “those” clinics your patients come to for less expensive work. As is true in any market, there is the typical range of good and bad operators. I can tell you that dental supplies are no cheaper here or anywhere else and unless you ship to China or similar, the lab bills are the same cost for us as well. We got tired of the substandard quality from our local labs and hired the best and brightest away from them and started our own lab. We can beat the more developed countries in price by about one third for only two real reasons, and that’s employee expense and lower cost of living. My cost for 4 well qualified assistants is slightly less than one RDA in California. These employeees are getting a good salary for Portugal, and their lifestyle is just as good. Our cost of living is much less and I personally can earn about a third of what I used to in the states for the same lifestyle. Add to that the fact that I legally pay no US income tax on my earnings as between my wife and I, we don’t exceed the overseas earned income exclusion, so I keep everything I earn. Cheaper outside of the USA is not necessarily poorer quality.

    We get around the issue of post treatment problems and “guarantees” by actually guaranteeing our work. Fortunately, our area of Europe is a popular tourist destination, many of our patients come here once or twice a year anyway for vacation, so we can deal with any issues when they return. In addition, Europe is a small place and comeing here from, say France, is not a big deal. If push comes to shove, and we have had to do this a time or two, we will pay the patients expenses to return here to sort out any problems with our work. But as we have high standards, and won’t tackle everything that comes through our door on a medical tourism basis, we keep those kinds of expenses to a minimum.

    We have extensive conversations with our potential patients via email and get a good idea of what they need before asking them to come over. As is true in anything, customer service, good comunications and high technical standards will set you apart from the competition.

  • http://seobycanz.com/ SEObyCanz

    We have all heard of the horror stories from dentists in Mexico, but to be fair I was at the dentist office the other day, and the one of the people waiting for his wife was telling me about how they paid top $$ at another dentist in San Diego, and the work he had done was substandard, and that’s why they were at the dentist now getting work redone. Sure there are ways to complain about American Dentist, but how many people actually go through the hassle, and instead opt for just getting whatever fixed somewhere else.

  • http://www.thevisibledentist.com/ The Visible Dentist

    When I was younger I visited a dentist in Monterey, Mexico for “cheap” dental care. The results were a nightmare; an extraction and implant left some bone matter in a sinus cavity which caused a horrible infection, excruciating pain and an abscess in my cheek the size of an orange.

    I nearly died from the experience — and it took me years to get over my fear of even seeing a dentist.

    Today I help dentists promote their practices — occasionally a project might require another programmer or graphic artist. However I would never consider spending my money outside of America. That’s a large part of our current economic problems right now; outsourcing everything overseas till the USA is practically totally dependent on foreign labor and products.

    When I see a dentist, buy food, shop for clothing and anything else I need, my money goes to an American citizen, to a dentist working in the United States — for products and services that originate in the USA by Americans.

    Cheap dentistry in Mexico might sound attractive at first, but considering the many kidnappings, murders and horror stories from patients who took the risk, I’m spending my money and betting my dental health on a dentist in the good ‘ole USA (or what’s left of it).

    my 2 cents

    John Barremore
    Houston, TX

  • http://www.prevident.net Sergio Hernandez Navarro

    PLEASE, SORRY ABOUT MY BAD SPELLING. BE PATIENT!

    This is my advice, when you think of geting less expensive dentistry in Mexico you have to choose a larger city in here.
    And i have to say that geting it done in a larger city is better because there are dentists who have more experience, better training, and great conferences with American teachers and with exelent hands on training courses also. (On my graduate program in Endodontics i had 3 teachers from the USA for example)
    Often, when you choose a border dentist to fix your problem, you get into an office where dentists working there are being bad paid by the owner, and they dont have money to get they continued education program, or hands on programs to learn the manipulation of new materials, and all because of the Money… or in many cases those border towns are so far away from the city where they can get continued education.
    I am so sorry about the experience that John Barremore from
    Houston, TX had in Monterrey, Mex. with his implant surgery. I can tell you that here in Monterrey we have one of the most important school of dentistry in Mexico in the university of Nuevo Leon (UANL)
    In the Endodontics graduate program for example, there are well prepared teachers who had studied in American schools. I am working with the latest tecnology in endodontics with good results with follow up apointments, etc. Working with new tecnology doesnt get my practice expensive, for example i can get you a root canal done for $145.00 us Dollars and that doesnt mean that because is cheap for you is bad done with bad materials, etc. Is because of the currency exchange rate, you can get a lot of pesos with 100 US Dollars, but you have to go and get it to places better prepared than in a little border city.

    This are my two devaluated pesos! ;)

    Sergio Hernandez Navarro.
    Dentist UANL 1993
    Endodontist UANL 1999

  • Gary Cook

    I just got back from Vietnam and I had 23 teeth crowned in Cercon Zirconia and for the first time in my life I have a great smile. My teeth were so crooked and I had a old metal crown on one of my front teeth and I had it for almost 40 years. I really dont look like the same person and I smile alot now and before NEVER. Zirconia is just awesome.. I know our dentist are at a huge disadvantage competing with clinic like the one I went to with all the regulation in America but I am so happy… I had four root canals, one post implant and 23 zirconia crowns and the cost was $3900.. I’ll take it

  • http://www.dentistrymexico.com/dentistry/index.php Medical Tourist

    The affordability of dental care abroad is what attracts most patients as well as the accompanying vacation. Dentistry in Mexico or other countries outside the US, Canada, or Europe are high in quality. But there are bad and good dentists all over the world even in the US, Canada or Europe. So whether you go abroad or stay in the US for your dental care, you should always be careful and make sure you go to an excellent dentist.

  • http://www.yucaipadentist.com/ inland empire dentist

    All around I was very impressed, and the experience surpassed any expectation I had,” Mr. Woods said. “I could have been in Zurich, Switzerland, but it was Mexico. I found the care to be top quality, what you would expect at a U.S. hospital and more.”

  • MARY BEAVERS

    HOW DO I CHECK OUT THE QUALITY OF WORK OF A DENTIST IN ANOTHER COUNTRY ? I AM LOOKING FOR AFFORDABLE DENTAL CARE. I NEED TO HAVE CROWNS ON 3 TEETH AND A BRIDGE MADE FOR MY TOP 4 FRONT TEETH. THE WORK HERE WOULD CODT ABOUT $14,000. I DON’T HAVE THAT KNID OF MONEY AND I DON’T HAVE DENTAL INSURANCE. IF ANYONE HAS A RECOMMENDATION, I WOULD GREATLY APPRECIATE THIS INFORMATION.

  • Bob

    Mary…email me at balancingchi@yahoo.com…I will tell you of my recent POSITIVE experience with a mexican dentist.

  • chabuka

    I would like to say I have had sub-standard and very expensive Dental work done right here in the good old U.S.A….there is incompetence, theft and greed on both side of the border…oh thats right in the U.S.A. you can “arbitrate”..forget suing..(we have “caps” on tort reform, to protect the Insurance companies profit, you know) you will get to “arbitrate” your grievances with arbitrators of the Dentist’s choosing..thats right the Dental Clinic/Dentist chooses the arbitrators…not the person (patient) who has filed the grievance against the Dentist…so good luck….

  • Shannon

    My mouth is a mix of various levels of incompetence of dentists. Whether or not they truly are incompetent is irrelevant. Dentists are generally, pompous, unaccountable and they know there is no oversight, so they do what they want. If they are inclined to do a good job – great news; if not, there goes $5000. Squandered. Taking a gamble on a dentist shouldn’t be like a haircut; our teeth don’t just grow back and the stakes are much higher to get in the game. This industry needs a strong hand in oversight. In my opinion dentists are more cavalier than lawyers. They gladhand you til they get your money then they do whatever they feel like doing. It is hard after to have any good faith when $12,000 + are down the drain the the patient is still at square one.

  • Pat

    I love Shannon’s comments! I’m a “senior” with an extensive dental history that includes one Mexican crown. Before I get out of this world my dental scene will still need more, very expensive work (implants, fixed bridge, etc.) and my frustration/disgust is extremely high with the US industry. US dentists have a current focus not on dental health but on $ and cosmetic dentistry. I may just explode if I hear one more time that a crown needs replacing – because it’s unsightly, not because my dental health is compromised or the crown is not functional! Finding an American dentist that doesn’t have a grocery “wish list” of what they want to do in my mouth has become almost impossible. Now, this is really quite true in other countries also but at least the price is reasonable.

  • helen

    i concur with shannon wholeheartedly. i wore a prosthetic on my uppers & lowers for 9 months, because my dentist was trying to sell me on $32K worth of work. in the meantime, my teeth underneath were ruined. when it was taken off, in places with mallet, some of my teeth literally crumbled; others cracked and 3 molars had to be extracted. needless to say, i did not have $32K now another 8K to spend on crowns and root canals.
    So I did my research and on a wing & a prayer, came to Costa Rica. I had 8 laser root canals last week in state-of-art hospital, 6 of them under general anesthesia. He also removed the metal posts in old root canals. I am completely metal free. I’ve had 11 zirconium posts placed in my teeth and today I am in temps. Awaiting my new, healthy teeth – came here expecting 100% zirconium – we’ll see. Will update in a week or so.
    Happy Holidays & Blessings to All!

  • http://juridicum.net/madelinegarcia/ Jai Garner

    After searching for this information, I will have to say most people agree with you on this topic.

  • Ramala

    I think that there are good and bad dentists everywhere. You can get unlucky in Canada or U.S too.
    I think it is very dangerous to generalize. I really don’t always trust dentist’s honesty.
    I would for sure consider going to a foreign country for dental work if it could save me thousands of dollars.
    I would not do it blindly and first make sure they are very good.

  • http://azarmehr.com/ Chris

    This is a great posting. Thank you.
    Finding a dentist who has the experience and know how is important.
    I was listening to the news two nights ago and they were talking about retired people who moved to Mexico, people with medicare. It seems they come back across the border to see the dentist.
    Did anyone else hear that?

  • Houston TX

    I have a neighbor that was going to Mexico to get all her dental work done because she simply said it cost to much in the States. Well, I introduced her to a dental discount program offered on in the States and now she has stopped traveling to Mexico. She said that she saved a ton of money using this plan. The website is http://www.lowcostdentalandmore.com tell others about this plan me and my family and saved thousands in medial and dental cost.

  • Ernestine

    I would like to as Terry some questions about her dental work in Mazatlan.
    Can you send this on to her and maybe she will get back to me?
    Thanks

  • http://www.alkaliaesthetics.co.uk/ Saim

    It should be mentioned that amalgams are toxic waste, and the doctor must use caution in removing them. Patients need to be informed.They should all be removed

  • http://anniekapplermalatesta@yahoo.com Anne

    I went to a specialist in Solana Beach, Ca. gave her about 32,000 dollars for implants, bridge, all the porcelain came off in the back of the teeth and than started in the front of my teeth. she would not replace. The tooth that she put a crown on in the front of my mouth came off and turned into sand, right in front of her. The root is still in my gums. This has been a nightmare and she said that I owed her 18,000 more. I had to go into bankruptcy, one because some committed embezzlement and took me to my knees and I had to put the 18,000 into the bankruptcy.Now I am without teeth in the front of my mouth. I went to Los Algodones, Mex. I have a temporary until I save for a permanent one. I have lost everything including money and my smile. I feel she was not knowledgeable on implants and used a cheap lab to do her bridge work. She even used her mother as a chair side assistant to help her with a implant. This woman was recommended by a Dentist out of Vista. I would love to sue her for all the money she was paid and for terrible work. She even put two implants next to each other, The implant on my lower left only has one tooth and a space with no tooth. It should have been a bridge. She said that she lost it when they were doing construction on the office. She never replaced it. This was nothing but pure greed. This woman was educated at the University of Pittsburgh. When I went back to see if she would replace the bridge, she took another x ray for 125.00 and than said no. Also I notice on her wall that she graduated from some implant school in Michigan. The funny thing is, she told me she she was teaching their. I Never saw the diploma when I was going to her office.. Plus, she moved my sinus up without me knowing. I had to sign paper three weeks later after the fact. I never knew.I said when? and she said the last time I put a implant in. I had to go to hospital and doctors many, many times for sinus infections since. They had to put me on a IV with antibiotics. The post was missing out of the implant. She did replace that when I asked her to replace my bridge. I called the Dental Assoc. and she had to replace it. This is the worst dentistry I have ever had and I have no alternative but to go to Mexico. It’s all about greed. Plain and simple. I would like to hire an atty. and sue her, but I’m too depressed.

  • http://anniekapplermalatesta@yahoo.com Anne

    In reguards to the 32,000 She wanted 18,000 more and I still would have not been done.

  • Vick

    When a new patient arrives at our office with ill fitting crowns, implants placed in periodontally compromised areas, root tips left in their gums, even our assistants can immediately tell they had their work done in Mexico or abroad. My Hispanic staff discourage their families from getting work done in Mexico, instead they recommend us, and pay nearly full price for the work. I recently replace 3 very horribly done bridges done less than 2years ago on a staffs family member.

    Mexican dentists charge a lot less because they don’t have to deal with your overall care like dentists in America do. Once you get 23 crowns done, do you return to mexico for checkups? Cleanings? What if something goes wrong? If a patient of mine breaks a crown we did chewing on corn kernel by accident, we usually replace it free or for a minimal fee because we want to retain them and build referrals. You plan to book a flight out to Thailand when your crown breaks or falls apart? Because dentists here won’t touch your failed restorations with a 10ft pole unless you replace it. Let me just say fixing teeth a second time around is more risky, more costly, and you will either lose the tooth or pay big money for retreatment of root canals or re-crowning teeth, if you get them repaired locally.

    Every person who Ive seen with bad work or come in with a failed restoration from Mexico or abroad all *thought* they had great work done and really had no clue. Teeth aren’t like car parts, you can’t just swap them out so easily, so if you want to gamble with your health, dental tourism is a great way to do it. A smarter way would me to do some research and find a local honest dentist (of which there are many) and get your work done in your town of city.

    I would not take the opinion of a pessimistic person like the poster “Shannon” and call american dentists crooks and cheats. We see gruMps like her occasionally and try to send them on their merry way because of their bad attitude. Also being a nice person gets you discounts because nice people refer other nice people, and we want to keep them. Grumps usually pay the full price. Some of us actually spent a good portion of our lives in school to help people.

  • http://katelivewire@yahoo.com Marykathleen griffin

    I recently was duped from Gator dental group in los Algodones and the charge was for 2,000 u.s. dollars but ended up 4,400.00 u.s. dollars and the end work was poor and the 16 porcelin crowns were ceramic. In the beginning I stated health problems and metal allergy, they still did metal jackets and the following day had to remove them all. the final 16 were not what they were suppose to be and the front ones don’t line up to the gums on 4 of them on the inside gums. I can stick my tongue under the corners. please warn americans about the metal they use and the shoddy work some of them do. not all are bad but the ones that are should be listed.

  • Ridwan

    Hi, my family is from Germany but I was born and grew up in Mexico.
    I would generally not recommend to people to just go to Mexico to get dental work done, specially not in small towns or along the border.
    Don’t get me wrong, there are excellent dentists in Mexico an well as excellent clinics with state of the art equipment, but you need to be at least a bit acquainted with the country to know how to choose a good one.
    Most highly trained and reliable dentists would be in major cities, like Mexico City or Guadalajara. You need to remember that Mexico is a country with huge differences in economic development and social structure, so you can pretty much find the most modern infrastructure as well as something completely inadequate.
    For the years I lived in Mexico, in the city of Cuernavaca, I went to a clinic led by a Swiss technician and a German dentist, which I can only say was great. Both of my parents and some friends had extensive work done with them, always with impeccable results, including bridges, crowns, veneers and implants. They had their on-site lab and worked mainly with materials from Ivoclar, which I guess all of you know. Pricing was fair and adequate for Mexico, but still meaning that for someone coming from Europe or the US you would probably spend half or a third of what you would in your home country, simply because of the exchange rate and the local cost of labor and real estate.
    So in conclusion, there are excellent dentists in Mexico, but it is not like you can simply take a flight and get your teeth done anywhere, you need to really get your homework done. At least I would…
    hope this is useful to you all, take care

  • http://www.uniteddental.org/ united dental

    Oh!…that’s great helpful, it’s so right to me! Million thanks for the article,

  • Seabone

    Thought I’d pass on that while I am an American, I received poor dental work in America.
    I chose to go to Costa Rica – to the smile90210costarica.com or esthetic dental center where Dr. Yelda Fernandez, a restorative dentist, restored my teeth and likely my health.
    My teeth are beautiful – they are zirconium & porcelain. The work was superb and every dental professional that peers in my mouth is amazed at the quality of the work.
    Had every single drop of metal removed from my mouth. Had laser root canals, my choice.
    It is affordable. Yes, you can do it. My teeth are guaranteed. I went to the source: the dental clinic I chose is affiliated with the largest dental laboratory in all of central america, and it is owned by an american who will make SURE that you are happy with your results.
    Have referred many friends & family. My daughter going next month. Everyone is pleased.

  • Potteryrose1234

    Sergio, you should be a full fledged dentist by now – are you practicing in Mexico? I need extensive work done on my teeth and your message resignated with me – I found it to be honest and forthcoming – am I right? Could you please send me an email and let me know what steps I should take to come to where you are? I have a fear of dnetists and had a bad experience when I was much younger. I am anxious to get this started and quite serious about it. Please respond as soon as possible. Thank You

    p.s. My email is; potteryrose1234@yahoo.com

  • Redcell8

    I had allot of dental work done in Juarez recently. Great staff and very accommodating. However, after $12,000+ and several trips, two crowns have failed and a serious abscess has developed. While they guarantee their work, who can afford to make repeated trips for warranty work. Now I have to have local dentists fix the bad crowns. Suck it up and stay with quality dental work in the USA…

  • Anonymous

    Two weeks ago I got a partial plate (three teeth) made by a dentist in Algodones. It cost $350. The same plate was going to cost me $1500 at home in Canada. The plate seems to do the job, is not uncomfortable and if it doesn’t do the job, I won’ have spent much money.

    The dental office was clean and comfortable if a bit spartan. i would go back.

  • Mike Johnson

    I would not take the opinion of a crook like Vick. If he ever called me a grump for wondering how 2 hours worth of work could EVER, EVER cost $10,000 then I would love nothing less than to see him receive a curbie. You are probably one of the few people who would get excited about hearing someone got a curbie as you would only think of the dollars it could make you.

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