The most popular dental tourism places in Mexico seem to be Cancun, Guadalajara, Lake Chapala, Los Algodones, Mexico City, and Tijuana.
Below are two stories and some guidelines based on 20+ years of witnessing and eventually experiencing dentistry in Mexico that may provide some insight.
As with any country, it is best to conduct due diligence first, preferably on-site instead of from afar. I am not a dentist with in-depth knowledge and not in a position to recommend a dentist. Each of us has unique needs. There is no one size fits all. Do your best to choose who you feel is right for you and do your best to locate who has the years of specialization and training that match your needs. That is, of course, if you are intent on dental care in Mexico. More about vetting under “takeaways” and “resources” below.
Dental Care in Los Algodones, MX
My introduction to dentistry in Mexico was as Senior Center Director for the City of Coachella, at the time the sixth poorest city in the U.S.
My precious charges were Mexican born and spoke little English. They had emigrated to California as farmworkers during the “bracero” program of WW II. Most were low income.
Every few months we reserved a bus at a discounted rate, sometimes donated, to transport 40 seniors for a day trip to Los Algondones, MX, about two hours each direction.
Some “gringos” refer to this dental destination as Algodones without the “los”, or, as Molar City.
Note: Algodon means cotton in Spanish. Approximately 18% of Mexico’s cotton is grown in this region.
Algodones is located northeast of Mexicali, MX in the state of Baja not far from the California/Arizona border. Yuma, AZ is 15 minutes drive to the east. If you are coming from California there is a place to park on the U.S. side along a wire fence. We walked in. Some dental offices will send a shuttle to pick you up.
The sweet seniors were thrilled to travel, even for dentistry. They knew where to go based on previous experience or referrals they felt safe with. They felt better communicating with someone in their native language even though most dentists in Algodones speak good English. Thankfully, we did not have any dental casualties. The seniors were also excited to buy medicines at one of the many pharmacies (some meds that require prescriptions in the U.S. can be purchased OTC in MX for considerably less). They could also consult with a physician and/or enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants before heading home on our bus at the end of the day.
Dentistry has always been expensive so extended family in Coachella often pitched in to pay for procedures. Prices then and now are generally, but not always, 60-70% less than in the U.S.
Note: The Mexican border at Algodones is currently open limited hours due to COVID restrictions. Check with the Internet for details. You are considered an essential traveler if you are visiting Algodones for dental care. Americans and Canadians who have discovered Algodones often drive to Yuma, AZ and stay in a Yuma hotel – enjoying a mini-vacation near the Colorado River at the same time.
My 2021 dental story at Lake Chapala, Mexico (one hour south of Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city):
I have been more fortunate than most with dentistry managing 35 or more years without cavities, gum challenges, or dental needs other than prophylaxsis every 3-4 months.
In 2020, that changed. Ten months passed before an office was opened to have my teeth cleaned. I was in the little village of Ajijic when the dental hygienist discovered cavities in molars plus loose teeth, bone loss, and movement from sliding and clenching in my lower front teeth. (Yes, somehow without realizing it, the pandemic had affected me).
I interviewed a dozen dentists and four orthodontists. Some I paid a consult for (between $20 and $50) – a worthwhile investment to get a feeling of offices, the dentists, and more. And yes, I was blessed. I had the advantage of renting a room at the lake and did not have to leave. I also did not wish to travel during uncertain times even though my preference for dental care is in Los Angeles.
Ironically, the person I imagined I would not choose, is the person I chose, an endodontist who was focused more on my health than on earning money performing root canals. Nothing replaces attentive health care. In this instance – intelligence, honesty, and a slow medicine naturopathic approach. A most unexpected and welcome gift during a time of concern.
Other dentists wished to perform two root canals to start. This dentist felt removal of #15 molar might be a more healthful choice based on weak bones and slight cracks from clenching. She felt the tooth could crack and result in a serious infection. She was not certain about the second tooth until she removed the inlay, but we would get to that in due time.
I called the U.S. for an opinion. By a miracle the amazing dentist who did the restorative work years ago is still working. We sent him the x-rays. His conclusion was the same as hers. That fortuitous assurance felt good!!
There was trepidation on my part about removing the molar and the surgery involved. I asked friends to please pray, and they did. The dentist gave me a mild dose of lidocaine, coached me as she was giving it to me, mentioned she may have to take the tooth out in sections. Slowly but surely, the tooth came out in one piece and the experience was nothing short of a big relief. She gave me explicit instructions about food and beverage and a date to return to check the healing, and of course to call on her cell phone in case of an emergency.
The next tooth, #14. She gently removed the inlay, removed the decay, cleaned the space, inserted a white filling. She put a temporary cap over it. We waited a few weeks testing for heat and cold. I got lucky, we were able to save this tooth and cover it with a crown.
Next, three lower front teeth with varying degrees of bone loss. The least expensive and most expedient option was to place a metal splint behind the lower front teeth (splints can last up to 20 years), and create a night guard for the upper teeth with more strength than a standard retainer.
I was concerned about the stainless steel splint/wire step so I reached out to an acquaintance who used to teach at USC School of Dentistry. By great good fortune he turned up on an Internet search in Paris!!! Once again, I was guided by someone not only with outstanding credentials but someone who could assure me that the dentist’s choice was wise. I am forever grateful and this support gave me confidence.
Before the placement of the splint, I had two perio scalings with a periodontist who visits the dentist’s office from Guadalajara once a week.
On my own I did a search for an orthodontist as the orthodontist who works with the dentist managed to get COVID. The Internet led me to a man who studied at a dental school famous for orthodontia in Mexico City. He also had orthodontic training at NYU’s Department of Orthodontics!!! I hired a private driver to take me all the way to Guadalajara and stay with me. Mission accomplished.
Note: In my case my lower teeth were bonded cuspid to cuspid. Over the stainless steel wire there is a white cap to hold each tooth in place. If you are curious to see a photo of what the splint looks like there is a photo in the Resource section below at the specialtyappliances.com link. Fortunately, you are unable to tell from the front that there is a wire behind my lower teeth.
Here included is the orthodontist’s link on Instagram which I found a few days after the work was done. You will get a feeling for the beautiful office space at Puerto Hierro but more importantly the quality of his work. He loves orthodoncia. https://www.instagram.com/ortodonciaraul/
If you are wondering why the dentist and the periodontist did not recommend anyone when asked it is typical in Mexico to not refer to other “colleagues”. That concept is worth an entire blog for another occasion.
I am now in Los Angeles and the orthodontic splint has been reviewed by an orthodontist, a dentist, and a dental hygienist who all remarked on how well placed it is and how well the work was done. Hurrah about that! And hurrah about my good fortune to have met the most compatible dentist and orthodontist who could do what is best for my long-term health.
Dental costs in Mexico, different by location:
Generally one-half to two-thirds less than in the U.S.
Please refer to DuckDuckGo link in resource section which provides average prices.
Some takeaways and suggestions:
Study credentials of several dentists, not just one.
There is no accreditation and review in Mexico with U.S. standards.
If you do not speak Spanish, note who speaks your language.
Some dentists are artists, some will care about your health and wish to build a following, others not.
How will you determine a dentist’s touch? Their manner? I like to see photographs of the dentist and their team and note energy and hands. These are reasons to meet the dentist ahead of time.
Note if there is transparency when the office speaks to you by phone or writes to you.
Make certain you understand prices in dollars and/or pesos and whether or not there are add-ons. Expect to pay in “efectivo” – cash – few offices provide use of credit cards.
It is best to be careful about recommendations of friends and info you read on expat sites. There are many well-meaning folks eager to share. Choices are relative. What may work for one person may not work for another. The key is what procedure or procedures you need. In Mexico, most dentists are specialists, not generalists.
Dental Tourism web sites don’t necessarily vet whom they list. Dentists generally pay them a fee to list and a percentage when someone comes through the web site. You could get lucky, or not.
In the U.S. it is easy to find relatively reliable referrals by calling a dental school. Dentists tend to be transparent about their education and specialties on their web sites. Yelp! in the U.S. will give you hints of who not to see and why. In Mexico it is more of a challenge to figure out who is who.
Again, narrow your list and try to visit in person before choosing.
Proceed slowly and carefully.
You will have no legal fallback if something goes wrong.
Trust your instincts, if something doesn’t feel right, it may not be. Simply absent yourself, there will be another choice. I would do this in any country.
Ideally, it would be nice to pay less, especially if you are on a budget.
Since you know your oral health affects the health of the rest of your body, and therefore the quality of your life, do your best to choose wisely and then pray. Wishes for best outcomes no matter what.
https://duckduckgo.com/?q=dental+care+in+Mexico&ia=web courtesy of Retire Early Lifestyle authors Billy and Akaisha Kadleri
https://ipad.fas.usda.gov/highlights/2017/10/mexico/index.htm cotton in Mexico
https://www.specialtyappliances.com/appliance-categories.php?type=11 A photo of the metal splint with white bonding posts. Mine looks like the photo that says all anteriors bonded except that the work is on my lower cuspids and the teeth in between.
Wendy Jane Carrel, MA, is a Spanish-speaking senior care specialist and consultant from California. She has travelled Mexico for several years researching health systems, housing, senior care, and end-of-life care in order to connect Americans, Canadians, and Europeans with options for loved ones. She has investigated hundreds of senior housing choices in 16 Mexican states. Her web site is http://www.WellnessShepherd.com