Getting Dental Work In Mexico Part II – Our Los Algodones Experience
My last post dug up some great discussion, both good and bad, about experiences in Mexico. For those of you who are interested I highly recommend reading all the comments so you can get a feel of both sides. Dental work is not always black and white. There is a chance, even with a good dentist, that work will fail and there are people who have bad results with dentists that otherwise have good reviews. And then there are truly bad dentists and truly bad work. This is all part of the equation and one reason you always have to decide on what is the best care for YOU.
With that aside I figure it’s time to update you on our own personal experience in Los Algodones. Now I fully admit that this is going to be a somewhat limited review since there is no REAL way to know how good my dental work is until it stands the test of time, and that could mean a couple of years from now. So what I’ll try to do is give you an honest assessment of our impressions and go from there.
1/ Where/What Is Los Algodones?
Los Algodones is a small 5-block square border town just south of Yuma, AZ (right next to CA/AZ split) that is pretty much dedicated to medical tourism. It has over 300 registered dentists, a slew of pharmacies (for cheap prescription drugs), multiple eyeglass doctors (cheap glasses), places to get inexpensive hearing aids…and probably a few more specialties I don’t know about. People come here mostly for dentistry and prescription drugs, and there are significant savings for both, compared to the US. Dentist work is ~1/3 of US prices, and prescription drugs are up to 50% off.
2/ How Do You Get To Los Algodones?
Take Interstate 8 just West of Yuma, AZ to the Andrade Mexico (Los Algodones or Rte 186 exit). Travel south on Route 186 for 7 miles to the Mexico border. At this point you could take your car into Mexico, but the vast majority of people just park on US side and walk over. There are large parking lots for both cars & RV’s run by the local Indian tribe right before the border on US side. It costs US$6 to park for the day and takes ~5 mins to walk across to Los Algodones. All the dentists are concentrated within a small radius (just a few blocks), so you can easily and safely walk to your dentist without any issues whatsoever.
3/ What Should You Bring With You?
Two things you must bring are your passport and cash/checks. There are no customs checks going into Mexico (you simply walk in), but there are some limits to what you can bring with you (see HERE) and you will be required to pass customs coming back into the US. Most of the dentists in Mexico take either cash or check, so bring your money with you. Many dentist offices will also take credit cards, but there is typically an extra charge and if you plan on eating lunch in town cash will serve you best. EVERYONE in Los Algodones takes US$ so there is no need to bring pesos unless you want to.
4/ How Did We Find Our Dentist?
When you enter Los Algodones you will be inundated by street “peddlers” asking you if you need a dentist or prescription drugs. Although they can be quite persuasive I recommend doing your research and making your choices beforehand. I spent alot of time asking around on forums, internet and doing searches. Some of the things I looked for were:
- Certified in Mexico with continuing education in Mexico or US
- Well-established (in-business for a long time)
- Universally good reviews
- Specialty training
- Modern equipment
- US memberships (American Dental Association, American Implant Association). These are not critical, but they’re nice to see.
A few resources you can use for your search:
- Online reviews such as What Clinic and Dental Depatures. These are by no means comprehensive, but they can help narrow your search.
- RV forums such as Escapees, iRV2 , RV.net
- RV Now: Jim Twarmley’s 5 Part Series on Mexico
- RV buddies, friends, family, locals…
A few names popped up from this search. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but just a few of the ones I found and why I liked them:
- Dr. Eva Urena – She is a one-woman show with 20 years experience and is a member of several US-based associations. Her reviews on WhatClinic were 100% as were any other reviews I could find on the forums.
- Bernal Dental Group – This is a bigger dental group that seem to have very modern equipment. Not many “official” reviews, but they get many, many mentions and good reviews on the RV forums. Their name almost always comes up as a choice.
- Sani Dental Group – Again a bigger group that looks like a modern outfit with good reviews. They often come up on the forums too.
- Others I’ve Seen Mentioned – Dr.Rubio (more expensive than others, with many positive reviews online, although commenter Tina did not have a good experience here), Dr Marquez (recommended by some other RVers), Circle Dental (again, a larger group but the name comes up often)
5/ What Was Our Experience Like?
We decided to go to Dr. Eva Urena for all our care. I’m going to tell you up-front that despite all my bravado I am a dentist WIMP, so I always look for the worst in any dental situation. Paul, on the other hand has sensitive, but otherwise perfect teeth (always has, the bastard) and is rather more blasé about everything. Here’s what we thought:
Paul’s Experience -> Great. Loved Dr. Urena and the cleaning. I have sensitive teeth and told her up-front. She was careful and did not hurt me at all. Fabulous experience! Cost for cleaning: $30
Nina’s Experience -> Good, but with some reservations. My experience was 2-part since I got my crown removed & teeth cleaned at Dr.Urena, but was sent to a root-canal specialist for the root canal re-do.
- At Dr. Urena: I felt Dr.Urena was careful and explained things well. She speaks decent English and was open about the risks I might have replacing my crown and what could happen once it was removed. Her office is sterile, all her equipment is sterile and her assistants were good. Another positive point is she has no street “peddlers” and does not overbook her office as many other Mexican dentists often do. Our appointment was on-time and ran smoothly. My cleaning was faster than I would like, but she did get all the stains off and my teeth looked good afterwards. My new crown will be installed on Monday so we’ll see how that goes. Overall I liked her and am happy with her so far. Cost for porcelain crown: $300
- At Dr. Ivan Gaspar Cuevas: My root canal specialist was obviously in high demand and the entire experience felt a bit too rushed for my taste. He had a somewhat heavy reliance on X-rays (took 4 to re-do my root canal) and worked fast. My mouth is now free of metal (great! he installed fiberglass posts), seems fine and is healing well, but personally I prefer a slower approach so I know exactly what is going on. Probably all will be fine, but I should have researched this side of the procedure before I went (I did not, shame on me) and if I were to do this over I would probably go somewhere else for this portion. Cost for root canal: $160
Alex & Ellen’s Experience -> Alex & Ellen went to Dr.Urena the day after us and had a good experience (cleaning only). They met folks in the waiting room that had been going to her for many years with good results. Cost for cleaning: $30
5/ Other things to think about Before You Go
Although I researched my dentist thoroughly before our trip, one thing I did not look at properly was the root canal side of my procedure, even though I knew (beforehand) that I probably needed to have it re-done. The lesson learned here is to know exactly what procedures you’re planning to get, whether your chosen dentist offers all of them and to read up on the newest technology before you go. As an example one of our commenters in the last post, Tina mentioned the need for a torque test on any implants you get done -> an important step in the implant procedure that you want to make sure your dentist follows. Read, research and know what you’re getting into.
Another important thing to check, especially if you are going to see one of the bigger dental groups, is who will physically do your work. Some of the larger offices (e.g. Sani) have multiple dentists in one place and unless you ask/specify beforehand you may not get the dentist you expect. This may be fine as long as you know and have recommendations for that particular dentist, but it’s best not to leave it to chance. Make sure you know who is scheduled to do your work.
6/ Coming Back Into The US
You will be required to pass customs as you cross the border back into the US. This means a passport check plus a declaration of what you bought in Mexico. There are no hidden charges for purchases (legal prescription drugs, eyeglasses, tourist buys etc.) under a total of $800 , but if you buy alcohol or tobacco, or you exceed these $$ there may be taxes or duty at the border depending on how much you bring back (which often negates any savings). Certain items such as narcotics, food, plants, animals, and products made from endangered species are prohibited. Know the rules before you go. We left Los Algodones at ~1PM and it took ~20 mins to get through the border line.
Hope that gives everyone a good overview of our own experience. Feel free to comment or add questions I did not cover. We are by no means experts so this is continuing education for all of us
Update On My Los Algondones Dentist Appt Jan 22nd, 2013: I got my new crown installed yesterday morning and I am very happy. This crown is 100% better fit than my old one (which always felt too big & awkward in my mouth), feels perfect and looks great. Dr. Urena did an outstanding job making sure the fit and look was just right. She even sent out the crown for some re-work in the AM to re-file the inner side and improve the fit. No-one can tell which tooth is the crown unless I point it out. We’ll see how this holds up, but for the moment I am very, very happy with the results.
Update On My Los Algondones Dentist Appt March 7th, 2013: It’s been several months since my new crown was installed and I’m still very happy with the results. The fit and look are great and my mouth & gums had no issues with recovery. I’ll update again next year, but for now I’m extremely happy w/ the entire experience.
Update on My Los Algodones Experience Jan, 2014: My root canal has been fine, but over the past year my gums had changed around the crown (they’d drawn back over the past year leaving a small gap underneath). I knew this coming in because I’d noticed some food getting stuck under the edge of the crown over the past few months. Dr. Urena confirmed my diagnosis when I got in to see her and offered to re-do the porcelain crown for the lab costs ($100) for a better fit. I took the offer and have been happy with the results.
Update on My Los Algodones Experience Jan, 2015: My crown from last year is holding. This year I had a regular cleaning ($35) I also had a few old, small fillings which had fallen out so Dr. Urena re-did them for $50 each.
Update on My Los Algodones Experience Feb, 2016: Sadly, the seal on the crown I had done in 2014 failed and I started to notice some pain in my tooth last year. I was not near Los Algodones at the time so I had the crown re-done (re-sealed) by a US dentist which has held well so far. My other work (original root canal & fillings) are all still OK. I have to admit I am very disappointed that the seal on my crown did not hold, especially since it was re-sealed in early 2014. This particular crown has always presented problems for me (dating right back to the original time it was done in the USA many years before I went to Mexico) so I am not sure how much of this is a crown/mouth/gum issue (for me) and how much is a reflection of the work I had done by Dr.Urena. At this point however, given my experience, I am OK w/ the cleanings, fillings & root canals I had done in Mexico (none have exhibited any issues), but I am not clear I would go back to Dr.Urena for another crown.
Post Edit Updates (2015) – Other Bloggers Who Have Written About Los Algodones
In the past few years several other bloggers have written about Los Algodones and their own experiences there. Many have also had work done with Dr. Urena, but others have chosen other dentists. Please click below to read and enjoy:
- Cheap RV Living -> Bob has several excellent blog posts about Los Algodones. Click HERE, HERE and HERE.
- Tales From The Scenic Route -> Thanksgiving At the Dentist In Los Algodones, Mexico
- Island Girl Walkabout -> Molar City
- Life’s Little Adventures -> Algodones, Mexico: Another Dental Experience.
- Watsons Wonder -> A Day-Trip To Los Algodones
- Winnie Views -> “Dental Camp” At Algodones
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