By Joe Johnson, AllAboutChile.com
“The dentist plugged my nose and told me to blow. When I did, I felt the inside of my mouth shift and fall into place.”
I just sat there with my mouth open for a moment. That seemed like one of the strangest things I’d heard to ever come out of a dentist office. But if it works, who am I to say anything?
We’re talking about teeth over a steaming plate of fresh Mexican food in Los Algodones, B.C., Mexico, a border town just about due west of Yuma, Arizona. Walking around this town, one is certain that they’re not in the US. However, during the cooler time of year, foot traffic is just as likely to be American or Canadian as it is to be locals.
Our second day there, as I waited for my wife to get finished with her teeth cleaning, I spoke to one of the men standing in the street offering dental services in the office behind him. Juan was very polite and professional, in a friendly and outgoing sort of way. He was absolutely disarming.
He’d been in Los Algodones for many years, and shared that he could remember when there were just a handful of dentists, along with the visitors to keep them busy. At the time there were about fifteen or so. Now? He estimates it to be in the neighborhood of 350 dentists.
I have no clue how to verify or deny that. By the appearance of the shops along the crowded streets, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.
We were enjoying lunch with Mike, my father-in-law. He’d called us a few weeks earlier and asked if we could meet him and his wife, Nori, in Los Algodones while he had some dental work done. For him, it was a no-brainer.
A few years ago, he paid over $6,000 to have two teeth implants done. This was after a dentist caused some damage the first time, requiring several months of healing before the procedure could be completed. That might be okay if the implants had worked. But they failed, causing more problems.
In the interim, another one of his teeth needed to be pulled. So as he grew more space in his mouth, life was becoming more challenging … at least the eating part of life. And the prospect of going through that again only to have it fail was a bit daunting. The cost certainly didn’t help. His most recent quote to fix all three with new implants came in at about $13-14,000. And that was two years ago.
The quote from the dentist in Los Algodones was $1250 per tooth. So for all three, it was only going to be $3750; a little more than half of what two implants cost in the US several years ago.
Pam and I had our teeth cleaned and a simple examination, for $39 each. Mine included one X-ray for no additional charge.
While my teeth passed, my poor wife’s did not. She needs a lot of work done – about $5,600 worth. This was daunting, but not nearly as daunting as the $24,000 plus that another woman there said it cost to get the same procedure done in the US. After talking to her, we felt a lot better about it.
If you find yourself in a pinch and need some good dental care, perhaps Los Algodones is just what you need. You can stay in your RV at night, and then walk across the border during the day. However, be prepared to stand in long lines if you plan on re-entering the US any time after about noon. We managed to leave early on our last day, with no line at all.
Alternatively, you can stay at the Hacienda Los Algodones Hotel. It’s not a five star establishment by any standards, but it’s clean enough and the staff is incredibly friendly. The other guests were very friendly as well, offering lively conversation over good food served periodically from the hotel’s kitchen. Don’t count on the posted hours though. It seems that they’re more suggestive than dependable.
You might consider eye exams too, though we weren’t nearly as impressed. The last time I went to Costco to renew my prescription it was about the same as the bill was in Los Algodones. But the Costco lenses were superior. The same lenses from the clinic at Los Algodones would have cost substantially more. The frames seemed less expensive in Los Algodones though.
One last thought – make sure you understand the rules when crossing back to the US. It’s not complicated, but it’s not necessarily intuitive either. While walking into Mexico required nothing in the way of ID or checking through (we were questioned for about 20 seconds by a friendly guard), going back to the US requires a passport. Everything you’ve acquired in Mexico is supposed to be declared.
But there’s more. As of this writing (make sure to check with the border), you could bring up to 90 days supply of medications you acquired in Mexico. This is because it is a medical town, from what we were told. Although, I recall we used to be able to do the same from Nogales more years ago than I care to admit.
If you have your own medications that you need to take into Mexico, only bring what you need, and don’t take the original prescription containers. You are allowed to bring them into Mexico, but you are not allowed to bring them back into the states. We didn’t know this, and they gave us quite a talking to as a result when they found some of Pam’s medication. They let us through, but not without the obligatory scolding.
At the end of the trip we were glad we went. It cost a bit, but it was a delightful few days in the company of family and new-found friends. The food was wonderful. The streets are safe. The experience was both inexpensive and helpful. Now to save up for a new rack of teeth for the missus … hopefully early next fall before we head back to Chile.
To read more articles by Joe Johnson, visit AllAboutChile.com.