Mexico: Tips on going for Dental Work in Mexico from the US

Tips on going for Dental Work in Mexico from the US—May 2016

by L.M. Lalko

(I am not familiar with Canadian or other requirements for passports, your electrical system, etc. so adjust/investigate as needed if you’re not from the US.)

First, you need a valid US passport to get back into the US. To get your first passport or renew one:

Second, it appears most dentists will require a panoramic x-ray of your mouth. It should reflect your mouth now as much as possible (as in if you have had additional fillings, crowns, root canals and it is not on the pano the dentist is getting old information that is pertinent). You will need a scanned version to email to them. The better the quality, the better able to provide an accurate estimate. It appears bite wings are not used as a substitute for the pano but may be good additional information. Bite wings do have higher resolution so if you know you have an “iffy” area of the mouth (“Does this look infected?”) you might want to include a scan of that as well.

You will need a statement of what you want done: “I need all mercury removed from my mouth.” “I want my root canals extracted.” Whatever you want done. If there is something you will not accept, it makes sense to include that: “I will not have any manner of implants.” They have to know if an option they might offer should not be included when doing the estimate which is of time and cost.

You will need a statement of your medical history. If you are diabetic, if you have cardiac issues, if you are on a lot of medication, etc. this is important to know because it can affect what they can do, how much in a day, etc. Make it current, which includes: allergies, diagnosed medical conditions, your PCP info, your date of birth, current medications, surgical history.

With that information they should be able to get you at least a ballpark estimate which is for the work done, the time it takes, and the cost. As with all other estimates when you are not even physically present to be examined, you have to realize it could be more or less than what is quoted. I encourage you to allot 25% more in your mind to any estimate. I encourage you to add one day minimum to any estimate.  (In MY case, Dr. Lagos refunded a significant portion of my money because there were fewer hours of anesthesia being used; there were some charges for cavitation surgery that were needed, but not in the estimate. I still ended up with a net refund.)

You need to be clear in how you can pay the dentist (money order, personal check, cash, credit card?). As you are going out of the country for this procedure, assume your insurance will not apply. It may. You should contact your insurer with the information on the dentists you are seriously interested in and see what they tell you about coverage. They MAY say you pay it all and get a good, itemized bill, show proof of payment, and we will provide some amount of payment. It is conceivable a Mexican dentist accepts US dental insurance, but I think most are not going to want the nightmare of dealing with the insurer. It may be counterproductive for you to have the insurance have any authority. They often have rules that will cost you time and money and no insurer cares that you want to remove toxins that should never have been placed. You may have coverage for an infection, fillings that are cracked, etc. but there is NO coverage to remove Hg. Be aware your dentist may require a deposit to do the work. They are booking time and telling people they will be paid, they would be out-of-pocket if you cancel. You may not be used to this if insurance directs your life, but in the real world where you have control, deposits are the norm. You should assume all deposits are non-refundable. It may be the policy of the dentist that with 3 or more weeks notice you can get a refund; it may not. Be clear on that.

If you are in a border town at least, the electrical system IS the US system. You do NOT need a power adaptor to use their current. As most folks have phones, laptops, etc. to plug in and use, this is useful to know. I spent for an adaptor I did not need and did not allow me to use the socket because it would be like plugging that in to my US outlet.

You need to consider food. It depends on what you are going to have done, but if there will be extractions, there will be the need for SOFT food. There are NO temporary partials or bridges for the day you were treated. Even if they made them that fast, the PAIN of a fresh wound of that nature prohibits use (you have to snap those in, tight up against the gum line.) You will have a surgical wound, hopefully with one or more stitches (dissolvable sutures were used by my dentist). Depending on how many teeth, location, type (molar) this can have a massive impact on being able to eat. My dentist told me no using my temporary partials for a week after the surgery; your medical condition may require you to wait longer or allow you to have fewer days without the temporary in place. Food: best choice in my book is baby food. It will have less junk in it—because sea salt is healthy for us, you may want to add it to your protein-based baby food. IF you have the ability to can food properly, you may want to prepare your own baby food, but don’t just run food through a blender and dump it in a container and TAKE it with you as you will get food poisoning. You can make things there, use a blender, and eat. Probably simpler to buy the food there or take it with you.

Prices in Mexico. First, the peso is doing much better than it did for a long time when people said everything is cheaper in Mexico. Right now the peso exchange rate is around 12 pesos for a dollar. Large stores like Walmart (yes they are in Mexico) will use that exchange rate. Smaller vendors may give themselves a much more significantly profitable exchange rate and that is legal, so ask up front. Or get yourself pesos when you arrive. A lot of their food is more expensive than in the US. Overall, worldwide, Americans get very good food prices. Some things are ridiculously expensive there. I was going to get a one ounce tube of 1% hydrocortisone cream, store brand. In the US I get this junk-free (no EDTA) Equate brand at Walmart for $2.22. In Mexico the comparable product was about $8-10—and this was at Walmart. Folks in other countries have said HC can be very expensive there. Why it’s cheap in the US and not elsewhere, I don’t know, but take your own. Other medications may or may not be cheaper. Tip: If you use a credit card overseas, find out if they will have a foreign transaction fee in addition to how they figure the exchange rate. You could be unpleasantly surprised. Traveler’s cheques seem to be history. Cash, cashier’s checks, and money orders seem the three preferred methods of payment. Some places may also have a deal where you can put money on an account from the US by going to that bank in the States. You need the account number and name to do this. Ex: the Dali Suites where I stayed has a Wells Fargo account number. I paid for my room in advance by writing a check (no additional fees to me) and taking it to my local Wells Fargo (I do not have a WF account) and putting it on their account. I received a receipt from WF. I received email acknowledgement that I was paid in full. Again check on refund policies in advance for any business.

If you will fly, pick your airline and learn THEIR policies regarding carry-on baggage, checked baggage, any extra fees they come up with, etc. I recommend Southwest Airlines for many reasons. Use whoever you want, but put Southwest in your consideration set. Look at different classes of air fares. IF you book three or more weeks in advance you probably can get a very significant discount on airfare. IF you need to cancel or change your flight, there may be fees for that. Check even if you are “sure” you won’t. You may. I flew to San Diego and crossed the border. SWA flies into Mexico. If you fly into another country, expect to have to present your passport before boarding as well as when coming off the plane. If you land in Mexico, expect needing to fill out a form about why you are there, how long you will stay, when you will leave. If you will be there for a week or less, the permit is supposed to be free; if staying longer, there is supposed to be a fee. I crossed the border, so I didn’t fill out the form.

TSA is a huge pain. You need to show up about two hours before most flights now. (And do your boarding pass online so that you are checked in early.) Wear SOCKS people; they make you take your shoes off. Those floors are DIRTY! You can wear your socks. At least for now. Be prepared to take everything out of pockets, take off your jacket, fanny pack, etc. If you use a cane, they will take metal ones for sure and give you a wooden one to get through the detectors. We have those idiotic “let’s get naked” scanners. Then they “touch” you. Some a lot more than others. They take water bottles, even unopened ones. Interesting, coming back with my open one, the lady did ask if I had meds to take and I did so she took the bottle and put it into something, did some kind of analysis, and returned it to me.

If you drive and will cross the border, be prepared for LONG lines to get across. You will need your passport. You may have your vehicle and/or person searched (applies either way). Yes when you go to Mexico they will want to know about you and may inspect you. The vehicle I was in was pulled over; there was a cursory search of my luggage; my passport was checked. Took 5 minutes doing that. There are also armed military at the border. Yes going into Mexico; I saw no military on the US side returning.

If you are being driven across the border, this is hugely important: taxis and such can take you TO the border, then you need other transportation across. However, if you use a different sort of service, you can go from one country to the other without that hassle. In my case, my dentist (as well as hotel) had a service they recommended (same one) and I went from San Diego to TJ and back without unnecessary delays and fuss. Do everyone a favour and book in advance; reconfirm within a week of needing the service. It would be hard to find a replacement; not impossible, but hard.

Border crossings: there are tens of thousands of vehicles that cross each day. Most traffic is Mon-Fri for work hours so consider that when arriving and departing unless you love sitting in traffic. Returning Saturday morning around 6 a.m. probably took around 20-30 minutes at the border; if I had gone at a peak crossing time, it would have been at least two to four times as long. On the Mexican side, you’ve got massive entrepreneurship. The amount of food choices is astonishing. There are also “things” you can buy. On the US side, nothing. Remember crossing either way is NOT the time to display your comedic skills. Border guards both sides don’t pack a sense of humour and they DO have a lot of authority. They can hold you or refuse you entrance either way. That is the law both sides. Yes they can search your vehicle, your belongings, and you.

You don’t need to speak Spanish. With the dental offices, I doubt anyone does not speak English. Some will have significant accents, but many have no detectable accent whatsoever. Emails rarely show any more errors than ones in the States. Dentists are probably fluent, perhaps in several languages. Allow me a personal rant for a moment. I’ve lived in either Texas or Arizona for decades and I’ve known a good number of Mexicans on either side of the border. I have zero Hispanic blood and I do not speak Spanish (OK a bit of traveling and medical, but really, I don’t speak Spanish). I try to never speak it and I don’t always understand it either; in fact, most of the time, I do not. So don’t assume I can get some access or favour because I’m bilingual, I can’t.) There is a huge difference between what the US media with its agenda says and the reality of Mexico and Mexicans. Along the border, there is a lot of poverty; there is an education deficit along the border. When you get into the interior, the norm is for the people to be very well educated. I will be blunt: a typical “high school graduate” from inner Mexico is close to the equivalent of a college graduate in the US. They take their math and science seriously. They do tend to speak at least English as well as Spanish. Their health care professionals are in no way “second” rate. The price difference is courtesy of governments. This is not a case of “you get what you pay for.” If you lived in Mexico on Mexican wages you would not view the dentist as the bargain someone from the US does because we have a stronger dollar to peso ratio. Wondering if “they are qualified” is ridiculous. Wonder the same amount as you do with US doctors and dentists. They also are not “lazy,” “stupid,” “thieves,” and the other garbage I hear spouted all the time by the ignorant Rant over.)

Check out the dentist as you would one in the States. I still say word-of-mouth (how appropriate for dentists) is your best bet to find out if someone is qualified. We are lucky on ACC that we can ask and there is a decent chance that we will find one or more folks who HAVE used the dentist and can give an honest evaluation. Personality fit is also a factor.

Be prepared to get additional requests from the dentist, such as “do a biocompatibility test” for dental materials. I doubt any would “demand” it, but it makes them feel better. Be prepared for the same long, ridiculous “informed consent” forms there as here. Remember you have added a wrinkle by being in a different country, so choose wisely as suing would be I imagine one hundred times more difficult than suing in the US. He may have supplements he wants you to take.

If you can take someone with you, I would recommend it. I did it alone, but it was extra hard. You may be woozy, makes it even more fun to go shower when you are alone. You may discover you need a medication, food, etc. you have to figure out how to take care of it; a companion could do it for you. You may be in a lot of pain, it’s nice to have help, sometimes the company. If you can’t take someone with you, still go. It’s not reason enough to not go.

A few other observations. You will want to have bottled water. Most likely your hotel can arrange that. In my room there was a water cooler with a 5-gallon bottle of water. (BTW, there was a good gallon or two left in the bottle when I came in. I left about two gallons when I left. In the States, probably the water bottle would have been changed out and the water wasted. In Mexico you will find that the rolls of toilet paper are not all never opened, but are as if you went to a friend’s house—the roll has been started. If you want to fuss and demand fresh, I am sure they will accommodate you, but will probably wonder what your problem is.) I suggest taking suppositories with you, even if you’ve never needed them in your life. Travel can mess with your body; anesthetics and anesthesia can mess with your body; pain meds can mess with your body. If you don’t need them, great. If you do, you will thank me. I would avoid drinking the water. Again, it’s not that it is not clean, it has different “stuff” in it and that can give you diarrhea. That can happen to anyone, anywhere who travels. So you’re fine to shower there. I brushed my teeth with the tap water and I’m a canary. If it didn’t make me sick (and it didn’t) odds are near zero it will make anyone sick. I drank only bottled water because I don’t live in Mexico and my gut is a mess. It’s not so adaptable as it should be. Sleep mask. Even if you don’t use one at home, it can be a good idea. If you have someone in a strange room with you, they may need a light through the night. Sometimes the blinds don’t close 100%, etc. Ear plugs may be a good call as well. I also recommend taking a flashlight. I didn’t use mine, but I had it. Cell phone/s with chargers are probably a good idea. I got a TracFone but told folks I didn’t have a cell phone because I don’t normally use one and was not even 100% sure how to make calls there, etc. I could have or handed the phone to someone for help. I opted for a little laptop and that is how I stayed connected. A fanny pack. Yes they are out of favour. That’s foolish. Nothing better for travel. I used mine constantly. I suggest getting your cash and putting it in envelopes: I had one for getting into TJ another for getting back to San Diego. One for known tips (skycap for ex.); one for incidentals (I bought baby food there); some serious shopping cash (untouched). You don’t need to exchange for pesos in a big city; be hard-pressed to find someone who won’t take dollars. Sensible shoes are a must. Jacket/sweater/coat even in late Spring/early Summer are wise. Umbrella. Your own personal medications in their original body. You can cross with most anything for personal use, properly marked. Water bottle—good idea if you will be wandering around at all. A new soft toothbrush (or toothbrush head for those with the electric toothbrushes). You don’t want to use your “mercury toothbrush” on an improved mouth. Cuticle scissors. Regular scissors (you use these more than you realize). First aid supplies. Spare pair of glasses if you wear them. Glasses cleaner if you have glasses. Hat/ball cap for sun protection. Your basic supplements. Lots of extra C, but do NOT take 2-3 days before procedures and wait for locals to wear off before using. Sea salt—good for rinsing mouth as well as eating as you can use the adrenal support.


Personal note: I do not find Mexico scary. I had zero concerns about my personal safety. I did, however, not wander around and certainly not after dark because I was exhausted and I don’t wander around where I live either. There are bad parts of the city—it will be apparent when you are in an “iffy” area. I did ask some people for directions (I had a map, said “Excuse me,” pointed at map, said street name, pointed direction I thought it was, and said “this way?” Doesn’t matter if they didn’t speak English, concept was clear enough. At least a third of folks spoke English.) I think, overall for a big city, people are more helpful and friendly there than a lot of big cities I have been in. If you listen to news reports, you may be afraid of Mexico. A little common sense goes a long way. BTW, I had major surgery in Mexico 25 or 30 years ago when I had no insurance. Basically uneventful and there are things they do there that we should here. When I would mention the surgery, interestingly it was Hispanics who were appalled; Anglos thought it was cool or “brave” to go to Mexico for the surgery. Quality of staff were comparable to any in US facilities and I’ve had several surgeries in the States in different cities. Also you can feel like you are in San Diego if in TJ—they’ve got a ton of San Diego stations in English. I didn’t want to be separated from my dog; I am not a fan of flying or staying in hotels. I hate dental work. The fact it was in Mexico didn’t register on the “not fond of” list at all.

L.M. Lalko

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