Our first experience with "destination dentistry" in Mexico:
"Going to the dentist, eh? Where?"
"Mexico. Right across the border in Nogales. It's a thing."
"Oh. <pause>. Wait. WHAT???"
I'm guessing we're not the only RVers who have participated in a conversation like this.
I know we're not the only ones who have stayed in a campground, RV park, or BLM area near the border on the US side, and then walked into Mexico to take advantage of professional, efficient, and inexpensive dentistry.
Yes, you can walk in. In fact, it's the preferred entry method due to ease and convenience — no worries about a potential automobile search at the border crossing, or about a tricky insurance claim should you be involved in an accident on the Mexican side. The dental practices want to make things easy for their American customers, so they are located within steps of the border.
We left our Heartland Bighorn fifth wheel at our RV park in Amado, AZ, and drove our truck about 30 miles south to Nogales, AZ, where we parked at a McDonald's that was just a quick walk to the border crossing. The McDonald's, like other public parking lots nearby, collects a $4 fee (cash only) and gives you a card to leave on your dashboard to show you've paid and to keep you from being towed.
The practice we chose — based on recommendations from others staying at our RV park in southern Arizona — was Dental Laser Nogales, which offers the following:
- Comprehensive and informative web site at http://nogalesdentallaser.com
- Prompt responses via both phone and email
- Fluent English (to include office staff, dentists, and hygienists)
- Payment via cash, debit or credit; some US dental insurance plans accepted
- A very clean facility with modern equipment
- A full range of services including but not limited to preventive and cosmetic dentistry, implants, orthodontia, dental surgery, crowns, fillings, and of course x-rays, exams and cleanings
- Both pre-scheduled and walk-in appointments
We made our appointments ahead of time. Our friend, Mark, who joined us for the adventure, asked when we got to the office if he too could get a cleaning, and despite the busy waiting room (full of other Americans doing the same thing we were, by the way), they were able to work him in. We were seen on time, and all three of us were out the door less than an hour later.
Why go to Mexico for dentistry when we've got that here on US soil? I can tell you the primary reasons we chose to do so:
- Cost. We opted not to purchase military dental insurance after Tim retired from the Navy in 2013. Paying out of pocket for a dental exam and cleaning (without x-rays) at our former dentist in San Antonio, TX, would have cost us $110.00 each. An exam, cleaning and x-rays in Mexico? $35.00 each. To avoid international transaction fees and potentially unfavorable exchange rates on our credit card, we paid in cash (US dollars were accepted; no need to exchange for pesos).
- Adventure. We like stepping out of our comfort zone from time to time, and had done enough reading on the subject to determine that this is in fact a pretty safe bet — but we wanted to see for ourselves.
For more information on why Mexican "dental tourism" has grown such a following in places like Nogales and the even more popular city of Los Algodones, I refer you to this article from NPR (http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2014/06/09/318212444/a-reason-to-smile-mexican-town-is-a-destination-for-dental-tourism) that helped solidify our decision to make a go of it.
And if you want to read more personal accounts from others who have done so, especially those who make use of their recreational vehicles to get there, you can find numerous true-life experiences on the internet, by using search term strings like "RV dentist Mexico." I can't list every blogger whose story eased my mind or made me laugh, but I thank them all for their honest accounts and helpful information.
- Ask other RV'ers in your park who they recommend. If you are anywhere within 50 miles of a border crossing, you will not have a problem finding someone who has been there, done that.
- If you're still nervous, ask that person to accompany you and offer to buy lunch. Seriously, who turns down tacos?
- Take your passport.
- Park on the US side of the border in a designated lot, and walk through the border crossing (see above).
- Know your cell phone plan, and your service provider's rules for use in Mexico. We chose to avoid the risk of surprise international charges by putting our phones in airplane mode. For the brief time we were off US soil, they served as timepieces and cameras only.
- Find out beforehand what methods of payment the dental practice will accept, and in which country's currency. Some practices accept US dental insurance plans, so ask.
- Be prepared: vendors on the Mexican side will approach you and ask if you'd like to buy whatever merchandise it is they're selling, or come into their store, bar or restaurant. There's no need to be afraid or rude; it's how business is done there. We were approached at least three times, but declined each vendor with a "No, gracias," and were not bothered further.
But was it worth it?
Yes. And we'd do it again, without hesitation.
It was a convenient, professional experience, and we love that we saved so much money. Also, at the bargain price of $150, I see a teeth-whitening trip to Mexico in my future!
Disclosure: We were not compensated in any way by Dental Laser Nogales. This was our first and only experience with border town dentistry, and all opinions are our own.