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.