Thanksgiving at the Dentist in Los Algodones, Mexico
When we quit our corporate lives last year, as well as ridding ourselves of the stress of office life, we shed the benefits of health and dental insurance. Like many people who retire early and lose their benefits we began researching alternatives to overly expensive treatments here in the US. We follow many bloggers who live a similar lifestyle to ours and several of them had described their experiences of visiting Mexico, specifically Los Algodones for dental work.
As many of our friends are horrified that we would go outside the US to seek medical or dental work let me first talk about healthcare in other countries. My career has been in the healthcare industry for over 20 years and I have traveled to all corners of the world, meeting healthcare professionals first hand. I encountered mostly well trained providers in clean facilities, comparable and often better than those in the US. This is not always the case, and just like in the US, care can be lacking and people can have bad experiences. Like most things in life, finding good care is not a chance thing, it requires research. I spent quite a while reading reviews and eventually found a couple of blog posts from people I trust and chose our dentist based on that.
Los Algodones pretty much exists solely for the purpose of providing healthcare services, primarily dentistry, prescription drugs and optical services for Americans and Canadians. It is located in Baja California on the border about 7 miles from the city of Yuma, Arizona. The town actually borders California but runs on Mountain (Arizona) Time rather than Pacific. From Yuma we took the I-8 west toward San Diego and exited just over the California state line at the 186 South. It is hard to miss the exit as it is preceded by lots of billboards advertising Mexican dentists!! After exiting the freeway turn left and head past the Quechan Casino and resort. A couple of miles down this road is a large parking lot run by the Quechan people. Here you pay $6 to park and can then walk into Algodones from there. Although you can drive over the border, I don't see any reason why you would.
After parking up we walked across the border. The town is directly over the fence and comprises of just a few streets. Those few blocks are jammed with dentists, opticians, liquor stores, pharmacies and vendors selling tourist stuff. There are lots of people on the street trying to solicit your business. Everyone was very friendly and we made sure we were friendly back, even though we didn't want their wares. Unfortunately we don't have the room in the Airstream for a 3 foot high bronze burro statue!
We had made our dental appointments by phone a week in advance. Many of the dentists have US numbers you can call. The dentist we chose Dr Eva Urena has a small, modern, very clean office, much like one you would visit in the US. Many of her staff speak perfect English and, since I don't believe she uses touts soliciting customers in the street, the waiting room is not too busy. We actually got there early for our appointments and were seen right away. The cleaning was a little faster than I am used to in the US and probably not as thorough. They used both an ultrasonic water jet and also did some manual scaling and it was all painless. Iain had a little more cleaning than me - he's a coffee drinker, whereas I am not. I paid $35 and his treatment was $40, which is about a 5th of what we would have paid back at our US dentist. All in all, it was a positive experience and we will definitely go back.
We also bought prescription medications. As with everything it pays to be vigilant when doing this. You don't need a prescription to buy medications except for some controlled narcotics. Iain had saved electronic copies on his phone of his previously prescribed drugs. He could then easily compare the exact active ingredient and the dosage he needed. The person at the counter can search and access everything they sell to match your needs. When they bring medication check it carefully - make sure the active ingredient is the same as you were previously prescribed. The brand will probably not be the same as they are often generic forms of the drugs or are marketed under different names in Mexico. Also check the dosage - is the quantity of ingredient and formulation the same as your prescription? Iain has asthma and nasal/respiratory issues and we managed to get all but one of his prescriptions for a fraction of what we would pay in the US. While it is not technically legal to bring prescription drugs across the border, generally, the border officials are advised to use their discretion and usually there is no enforcement if it is for personal use, i.e. 90 days supply.
As well as dentists and drugs - we also bought Tequila. Well it would be rude not to! I don't know much about tequila but I read a blog to get some advice about the best choices. We ended up buying Tapatio but couldn't find another one recommended on the blog (Volcan de Mi Tierra). We may have to go to Tijuana for that one in a few weeks. We brought back a liter of Blanco and one of Reposado. That is the limit for two people. I can confirm that the Tapatio Repasado was absolutely delicious in Margaritas - tastier than anything we have bought in the US. The blanco we will reserve for sipping with Sangrita. Finally we stopped for street tacos and some adult beverages to complete our day trip to Mexico.
We made our appointments on Thanksgiving Day. As we did not grow up in the US, we don't really have a Thanksgiving tradition. I actually quite like the holiday, but it just has no history for us, so for many years now we have used the extra time off work to go camping or to Mexico for vacation. As it was a holiday Los Algodones was quiet (so one of the store owners told us) and by 3 pm a lot of the businesses were packing up and heading home. Also there was zero wait at the border crossing back into the US, whereas I understand it is normally 20 minutes to an hour. We walked right up to the customs officials and offered our passports. They asked what we were bringing back and they took a quick look in the bag and waved us through. Very simple.
So we have thumbs up for the dentists and the tequila - the prescription drugs we'll have to report back on. Generally we found this to be a very positive experience and would have no hesitation doing it again to save on healthcare costs.