One of the wonderful things about the Internet is the sheer volume of information we now have access to in terms of seeking health services.
My first trip to the dentist since returning to Canada was a bit of a shocker. After living in Europe for many years the style of dentistry is very different between our different continents. Where we lived in Europe, it was predominately reactive. I would see the dentist once or twice a year, a bit of poking around, a quick cleaning and the mandatory reminder about flossing and brushing teeth twice a day. In Europe, we rarely saw Hollywood smiles or artificially white teeth. If your teeth were a little crooked, nobody seemed particularly bothered with it.
Upon returning to Canada I’ve had more x-rays in the last few months than I’ve probably had in the last 15 years. I’ve been advised that I need multiple crowns, fillings and a few root canals. The estimates varied from a little under C$9000 for the do as little as possible, super cheapo “budget version” to well in excess of C$20,000 to make my mouth “perfect”.
The difficulty in assessing dentistry in Canada, in particular Alberta, is that it is neither open nor transparent. It is also procedural driven, in that the dentists are paid by how many procedures are performed and the whole process is horrendously subjective as this recent CBC report discovered. Three different dentists will typically give three different estimates in terms of what treatment needs to be carried out and its cost. To be fair, that’s typical of any healthcare profession that is both an art and a science and you could make the same argument for family doctors, surgeons, physiotherapists and chiropractors.
To complicate matters further, when I telephoned a few more dentists locally, most were unwilling to provide a costing of a crown or a root canal without coming in and spending a couple of hundred dollars for an appointment. I appreciate that there are different materials that are utilised. But even when I asked specific questions involving a tooth number and how much is a root canal involving 2 roots and a post, there were still unable to provide me with a cost.
In any event, none of this is terribly relevant as Calgary was recently reported as having the highest dental costs in Canada so I’m not going to get the work done here. Like any market, dentists are just charging what the market will tolerate as was recently reported in the local newspaper. Until recently, we have had a good 10 years of booming oil prices in an oil producing economy, with that came labour shortages, wage inflation and increased benefits to attract workers.
One of the many perks that was offered to employees here is Alberta in a fiercely competitive labour market was generous extended health benefits. Some of those dental plans for oil companies offered “unlimited coverage” for dentistry and like any business, fees were be raised to maximise profits and cover overheads. As a result, we have had spiralling fees for dentistry as they were able to charge more combined with increasing dental overheads as a result of growing land and labour costs. All of this has resulted in a perfect storm of sky high dental fees.
I started to explore alternatives to having my dental work done in Calgary.
I recalled having read a blog article a couple of years back by Jeremy at Go Curry Cracker about his experiences with a Mexican Dentist. In addition I had a conversation with my father-in-law who is now retired with no dental insurance and was planning this past winter heading to Mexico to have dental work done at considerably lower cost than he could have achieved in Canada.
One of the difficulties of early retirement, is that you also lose your employer benefits. If I am completely honest, dentistry in Canada I knew would be expensive, but I didn’t think it would be quite this bad.
The one thing that I do have is time, so I started to do some research on the possibility of dental work abroad at considerably lower cost.
When approaching this type of problem it’s very rare that you will be the first one who has ever come across it and it is often helpful to learn from others experiences.
My father-in-law mentioned Algodones, Mexico so that was my first area of research.
Los Algodones, Mexico sits just across the US border from Yuma, Arizona. It is easily accessible from Calgary with numerous non-stop flights to either Phoenix, San Diego or into Yuma. From there I could rent a car, drive to the border and simply walk across having my dental work done and then walk back across the border on the US side that evening. There is no shortage of inexpensive accommodation on either the US or Mexican sides of the border and there are literally dozens of dentist to choose from.
There are countless bloggers that have shared their dental experiences in Mexico, and the vast majority of them were only too helpful to entertain my long-winded questions.
I also contacted Dayo Dental who states they act as a broker by screening Mexican dentists in terms of quality and price. I gave them a time to call me but they called a few days later, just as I was putting the kids to bed. I thanked them for calling me. We agreed that they would call me back at a specific date and time and that’s the last I ever heard from them.
I have listed the blogs here in no particular order, some are better than others but all are worth a read:
Gone with the Wynns
Sherrie Questioning All Part 1
Sherrie Questioning All Part 2
Calgary Wedding Photographer
Go Curry Cracker
Love Your RV
Watson Wanderer RV Love
Wheeling it Part 1
Wheeling it Part 2
Tales from the scenic route
Karen in the woods
Medical Tourism in Mexico
Slate Magazine in Mexico
Butterfans Mexican Dentist
Ramblinman’s Mexican Dentist
Mobile Cocdgers Mexican Dentist
Donald Murray Expat-My Mexican Dentist
The significant attraction here is simply cost. If I get a done crown in Calgary, I will not see much change out of $1500. A crown in Mexico will set me back give or take $350 and I need several of those, so the potential for cost savings is substantial and certainly offsets any travel costs.
I had narrowed it down to three dentists that I was interested in Algodones. All of them were very quick at answering my e-mails . I set them my x-rays above together with a written treatment plan that I have been given here in Calgary and the estimates for costing came in around 1/5 to 1/3 of what I would have paid locally. On top of that I would have the cost involved of getting me to Mexico, which would be insignificant comparative to the cost savings.
Then I hit a major stumbling block, specifically when I looked up the weather for Yuma, Arizona it was an eye watering 46°C in late June/July. As I now had one tooth that was growing in discomfort by the day I need to look for alternatives quickly. I figured Los Algodones, Mexico cannot be the only spot that uninsured Americans and Canadians flocked to for inexpensive dental work. I had a look for inexpensive last-minute deals for the end of June 2015 to Mexico, and Peurto Vallarta was consistently an inexpensive option.
The next tasking was more Internet research for a dentist in Peurto Vallarta. There aren’t quite as many bloggers writing about their experiences in Peurto Vallarta. I would suspect there is a simple reason for this. Many people who cross the border from Yuma Arizona are American and Canadian snowbirds and the vast majority seem to be members of the RV crowd who are prolific bloggers. Secondly, Los Alogones has over 300 dentists in barely a square mile so the foot traffic through there is substantial and dwarfs other jurisdictions.
By contrast, Peurto Vallarta involves an entirely different demographic that goes down to Mexico for months at a time and either owns or rents a property.
Whilst there are a handful of very helpful blogs on the topic, most of the information gleaned was from forums of people who live in Mexico for a few months of the year.
The next step was reaching out to people who had substantial dental work done in Peurto Vallarta. This time I was looking for older posts, a good few years old to see if any of their crowns or root canals had failed. People were surprisingly helpful such as this response: “Oh yes. I am still happy with Justsmiles. And I have bad teeth to begin with! But I used Doctora Gonzales and am extremely satisfied. My hubby also used her. I found their prices reasonable and the work better than what I have had done in the U.S. In fact, I am going to have a brace on my bottom teeth redone in September with Just Smiles. Dr. Gonzales is very aware of any one that is nervous about being in the dentist chair. I am a “chair gripper” when it comes to going to the dentist. She was very gentle with me. I would recommend them to anyone! Good luck with your dental work!! And enjoy Puerto Vallarta in between!!”
There were two dental clinics that were repeatedly mentioned. One was called PVsmile and the other Justsmiles Both clinics were immensely helpful in answering my questions, just like the other clinics I’d sent my previous treatment plans and multiple x-rays to by e-mail.
I am planning to go with Justsmiles as I had the perception that they have different specialist for different problems. I was advised that they have one dentist that just does root canals etc.
I’ve managed to book a last-minute flight staying at the all-inclusive resort, Villas Vallarta By Canto Del Sol for a total of $722.01 Canadian and will leave in a few days. Upon my return I will give a full report, good or bad.