Dental Tourism Lures Patients with Vacation Promises

Last week, we started talking about dental tourism to Mexico.

We received some interesting comments from dentists on the subject, and we’re still curious to hear more about what you dentists think of Americans who head south of the border to save money on dental care.

These were some of the key points dentists raised:

  • You get what you pay for. Overseas dental work might save money — or it might cost extra to fix the teeth after a hack dentist ruins them.
  • The patients who choose to visit other countries for low-cost dental work are more likely to be “difficult” patients, so maybe you’re just as well to be rid of them.

This week, I’m going to examine it from a patient’s perspective. Let’s say my dentist just told me I’m going to need thousands of dollars of dental treatment. What will I find if I go online looking for lower-cost options?

Shopping for Low-Cost Dental Care Online

It doesn’t take long to find Mexican Dental Vacation. Though they’ve done an excellent job of positioning their dental website on Google, they’re far from the only game in town. But they’re an excellent example of the dental competitor you may not have known you had: Canadian owner, American dentist, Mexican location, and a slick English-language website geared to the US dental tourist.

“With Mexican Dental Vacation you can save up to 75%! Crowns, bridges, veneers, dental implants, now you can have the smile you only dreamed of, all done within your 1 to 2 week vacation, right on the beach in Mazatlan, Mexico! You will love your dental vacation!”

The website shows beautiful pictures of a waiting room overlooking the ocean sands.It’s hard to compete for dollars with the Mazatlan beach!

“We have streamlined our clinic to the point where we can do your dental implants in 1 week.”

Dental implants in one week? You know patients will think that sounds like a great idea.

What Do Patients Have to Say?

Next it was time to dig for some dirt! What did people have to say about this organization?

Most of the online reviews were positive. Patients knew they had saved a lot of money, and most felt they had gotten good care. One patient described how his extractions were unexpectedly difficult, so the dentist sent him out to a local oral surgeon.

One woman who got her teeth whitened said they were not careful applying the bleaching gel, leaving her with painful memories of her 5-day Mexico vacation. A man said that language difficulties left him getting only root canals instead of the crowns he had also been expecting.

Some patients reported that, after paying up-front, they had little recourse if not satisfied with the results; the Internet houses a number of former patients who stay they are still awaiting refunds promised to them by Nick Konev, the company’s founder.

But What Does It Cost?!?

Curious about the dental fees they charge? Well, they’ve posted their price list online.

Mexican Dental Vacation: Dental Fees
Procedure US Prices Our Prices Lab Fees Total Savings
Bleaching, Chemical, per Arch $400 $80 $0 80%
Bleaching, Laser $1,100 $300 $0 73%
Bone Graft, Synthetic Material $900 $500 $80 46%
Bridge, 3-Unit Porcelain on Base Metal $3,000 $1200 $160 55%
Bridge, 3-Unit Porcelain on Gold $3,800 $1,200 $400 68%
Cleaning $120 $60 $0 50%
Crown, Porcelain on Base Metal $1100 $395 $56 59%
Crown or Veneer, Metal-Free Porcelain on Zirconium $1500 $395 $105 66%
Crown, Porcelain on Gold $1,400 $380 $120 65%
Temporary Denture, per Arch $900 $400 $180 46%
Partial Denture, per Arch $1,400 $600 $120 50%
Denture, Upper or Lower $1,800 $900 $180 40%

Some patient comments suggest that the prices charged by Mexican Dental Vacations are higher than at other Mexican dentists, though of course they’re still rock-bottom by American standards.

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.

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