I went to Peurto Vallarta from 04-11 July inclusive for extensive dental work.
I stayed at Canto Del Sol which turned out to be a fairly generic older 4 star all inclusive hotel.
On the Monday I made my way to JustSmiles which was located approx. 4 km from my hotel. I was warned by numerous people before I went that Peurto Vallarta was dangerous and that I was mad to go there. However, as has been often the case when I have travelled, my experience was the complete opposite. The overwhelming majority of people I met were warm and hospitable.
Most days as the weather was lovely, I walked the 4 km back and forth to the dentist:
I have to be honest, as I was a block away from the dentist a few doubts entered my mind about seeking dental care in another country, but they were quickly put at ease once I entered the clinic. It was spotlessly clean and modern.
The next task at hand was filling out the typical paperwork. Past medical history, dental history, medications etc. The staff all spoke very good English and the process was pretty much identical to most every dentist I have seen over the years. Whilst completing the paperwork, I chatted with a lady from Detroit who was finishing up a series of dental implants and raving about her specialist. During the week I was there, I traded dental stories with a steady trickle of Americans and Canadians seeking dental care.
It was now time to meet my dentist. Dr Gonzalez was instantly disarming, friendly and professional.
My only major concern with seeking dental care in another country was infection control protocols. Bad quality dental care is a risk anywhere you go, but conditions such as Hepatitus B from poor infection control protocols should be at the forefront of everyones mind when seeking dental care anywhere. Dr Gonzalez was happy to show me the autoclave and how all the dental tools are sterilised for each patient and for each procedure.
Once we finished all the preliminaries, the next order of business was an examination and a review of my x-rays. Whilst I was there, the dentist ordered a handful of new ones as some were several months old on teeth that required major dental work.
It was reinforced to me that my teeth, although they looked ok from the outside were a bit of a mess on the inside. Just like the dentists I went to in Canada, I was told that I would need 5 crowns, at least 5 fillings, definitely 2, but possibly 3 or more root canals.
I have to take full responsibility here. I thought it was just over a year since I have been to the dentist when we returned to Canada, but when I checked my records, it’s actually closer to 3 years. Such was the life of running my own business for many years, I was rarely home before 9pm on a weekday and 5pm on a Saturday. I certainly don’t miss that.
However, unlike the dentists in Canada, the fee schedule in Mexico was open and transparent. The estimate of work was consistent with the first dentist I saw in Calgary who quoted just under 9K CDN but that didn’t include up to three root canals that he estimated I would require (each around $1500 CDN).
I was happy to proceed. The first day I was in the dental chair from 10am to around 7pm. I can’t say it was the most pleasant experience of my life. On that day I had the 5 teeth ground down for the crowns, 2 root canals and temporary crowns installed.
But here is the most amazing thing. Dr Gonzalez was of the opinion that I definitely needed 2 root canals but the third one was questionable. She refers to a root canal specialist for this procedure. During the high season, the specialist would come into the clinic a couple of times a week as the demand was high. During the low season (July) the specialist only attends the clinic every other week, which unfortunately was not the week that I was there. As such, she contacted a nearby specialist that could fit me in and personally drove me there. I can’t say I have ever had that level of service at a dentist before.
The next day Tuesday was a welcome day off from the dentist. On the Wednesday I went back for several fillings that needed attending to. I also had a cleaning with the high pressure water device and polishing.
Over the next couple of days the crowns were completed from their onsite lab located on the top floor and they were fitted. The whole process was completed in time for me to fly back to Calgary on the Saturday.
It’s now just under 3 weeks post procedure and I am overall very happy with the entire operation. However, I view major dental work as a bit like buying a car, you don’t know if its any good until you have a good few thousand miles on the clock. So ask me in 3-4 years to make sure the crowns are holding up.
Now, the big question is how much did it cost?
In total I had 5 crowns, 2 root canals, 3 posts, 5 fillings, a cleaning and a few x-rays. I spent $2840 at JustSmiles. The two root canals from the specialist were $454 for both, plus it cost me $722 for the week at the all inclusive resort. I also spent around $50 on incidentals which included tips at the hotel, bus fare on one day as well as post procedure pain medication. So the grand total was $4066 Canadian dollars. The cheapest quote I had in Calgary was approx. $12,000 inclusive of root canals but that didn’t include additional x-rays, a cleaning or the posts for the root canals.
At a minimum I saved $8000 by going to Mexico.
Would I do it again?
That depends. If I had dental insurance that covered all my care, of course not. If I still had no dental insurance, absolutely. I may still need a bit more work in the near furture. I have a couple more teeth that the dentists in both Canada as well as Mexico debated whether I needed another root canal or not. If those teeth cause problems in the near future, then I will need more care. One root canal for sure, and possibly one of my wisdom teeth pulled.
I reckon any dental work over $1000 and it becomes cost effective for me to go to Mexico. So much so that we are going back to Peurto Vallarta as a family before the end of the summer as we found another bargain last minute deal, $2700 CDN all in for a family of four.
Both my kids need a check up and cleaning, in Calgary we won’t see much change out of $450 each for this, in Mexico the check up is free, the cleaning is just under $50 CDN. My wife needs a check up, cleaning and a few fillings. I am happy to play in the waves and eat Mexican food. Essentially, this gives us a heavily subsidised trip to Mexico.
If anyone else thinks about going to Peurto Vallarta, here are some tips:
Get an account with HSBC.
Just across the street from the resort was an HSBC Branch, they really are the worlds local bank. I have a premier account with them. Many years ago I was robbed at knife point, so here is what I do when I travel. I keep an old bank card in my wallet with throw away cash ($50) in case I am ever mugged again.
I carry a money belt on my waist with credit cards and cash. I would pop into the HSBC, withdraw the money I needed that day for the dentist in pesos, put it into my money belt and pay the dentist cash. That way I avoided the 3% credit card surcharge from the dentist plus the other surcharge the credit card company charges on foreign card transactions. With using the debit card to withdraw cash, the rate was excellent and there were no ATM fees.
Take local transport.
I preferred to walk to the dentist but there is the option of taking the local yellow cabs. The hotel will arrange one for you and the cost is around 50 pesos ($5) to get to the dentist. Taxis in Peurto Vallarta are regulated with set prices.
My preferred method if I couldn’t walk, which I used once during heavy rain and thunder was the local bus. The cost is 7 pesos (70 cents) each way and they are blue in colour. Make sure you take the one marked “Centro” as this takes you into the old town and there is a stop on the same street as the dentist, Basilio Badillo and its only a couple blocks to the dentist from the bus stop. The first time I walked to the dentist I used the TomTom app from my phone to get me there.
General tips on going to Mexico for dental care:
Do a lot of research, Canada isn’t the only country in the world with universities producing health care professionals. Mexico has some good dentists, but I walked by a couple of other dental clinics on the way to JustSmiles that I would not have felt comfortable in. They looked run down.
Ask around, see if you can find some people who have had work done more than 5 years ago. Ask them if their dental work is still holding up. Have they had any complications? Quite frankly, these are the same questions I asked when seeking dental care in Canada.
Find a clinic that has been around for at least 10 years with the same dentists. If there are problems, you probably would have heard about it.
Insist upon seeing their infection control protocols, make sure its clean.
Do realise that the lower costs are related to a number of factors including lower human costs, you won’t find dental hygiensits making $75 an hour there but also it is nearly impossible to start a malpractice claim in Mexico. That works both ways, you benefit from a much lower cost base, but if something goes wrong, you are out of luck for putting in a claim.
It’s not always sunshine and puppies:
Do bear in mind that not everyone has positive experiences about dental treatment abroad, the BC dental association had put out an advisory on this very topic. I suspect part of the problem is a very basic research term know as selection bias. A Canadian dentist is unlikely to see anyone who went to Mexico and had a positive experience. I certainly have no plans to return to the dentists I saw in Calgary for estimates. The only people who will likely go back to their Canadian dentists after treatment abroad are the ones who had bad experiences. Thus, dentists at home can develop a rather jaundiced view.
The final factor to bear in mind is that dentistry is a business like any other. The BC dental association (or any other Canadian dental association) is effectively a trade body designed to protect their members interests (including financial). I did a medline search and could find very few studies regarding Canadians seeking dental care abroad to provide an evidence based viewpoint.
I will keep this blog updated as to how my dental work is holding up.