My friends didn’t believe I was considering traveling to another country for major oral surgery. 7 or 8 years ago I had good dental insurance and as my luck would have it, my wisdom teeth weren’t bothering me. My back teeth were late bloomers and decided to act up shortly after I opened my new business. Money was tight and I couldn’t afford small business health insurance for myself to ease the cost. Over the past 2 or 3 years, my wisdom teeth slowly pushed through and with it came a lot of pain and discomfort.
My lower left wisdom tooth was considered a class 3 bony impaction and it’s completely hallow inside and all the way to the nerve. My upper right wisdom tooth came in sideways, partially under another tooth. The bottom right tooth had enough room, but was riddled with cavities and a decent hole in the middle. I needed 3, possibly all 4 removed along with work on my top front 4 teeth. The cost estimates added up in the United States. I refreshed the travel application on my iPhone and started to plan my adventure.
The West Coast
I flew from JAX (Jacksonville, FL) to LAX (Los Angeles, CA) on one-way tickets. I wasn’t sure how long this dental work would take, but I actually saved money verses a round-trip ticket. I flew with United in a comfortable window seat with minimal layover. I paid $195 for the ticket there, and $237 to return home with just a week notice on both fairs. My first flight was delayed due to weather and I arrived in Los Angeles at 12:35 AM, hours later than scheduled.
My friend was going to pick me up from the airport, but his car broke down the day before my arrival in Rosarito at an Oxxo convenience store parking lot. Uber prices surged so I ended up snagging a decent rate on Lyft. I arrived later into the morning after a 110-mile journey from the airport to Bakersfield, CA. It was under $120 with tip — not too bad. After relaxing in California and preparing myself for what awaits me, another friend and his fiancée graciously drove me to the San Ysidro border (San Diego). It was a long drive from Bakersfield, and I walked across the border into a waiting taxi around 11:20 PM with my rolling carry-on bag next to me.
I checked in to my hotel, which was located just a few blocks away from the dentist office in Tijuana. The hotel I stayed at for nearly two weeks was the Velario Hotel. The hotel changed owners, from what I’m told, and they spent a lot of money making it more upscale. The location, unbeknownst to me, is sitting next to the biggest red-light district in North America, the infamous Zona Norte neighborhood. I quickly learned that even though there is no shortage of taxi cabs, using Uber was my safest and cheapest option 9 out of 10 times! They would pull right in to the hotel’s gated secure parking and I rarely walked on foot.
The food and drink is delicious! With the Mexican Peso falling against the US Dollar so hard, everything is inexpensive. I paid more for mouthwash than I did for tequila at Walmart. It was a real experience for sure. I wasn’t robbed, kidnapped, or harassed by the police, and I stick out like a sore thumb with my pale skin and dozens of tattoo/piercings.
I spent a year or two, on and off, researching dental tourism before deciding on Mexico and Washington Dental. As a web developer, I understand how the online promotion game works. I weeded through hundreds of fake dentist reviews, spammy TripAdvisor threads, Yelp, etc. before I made my final decision. There’s no shortage of dental and medical offices in Tijuana.
I wrote a small script to crawl certain websites and search results looking for Washington Dental being mentioned. I typed a semi-canned response and contacted 20 or 30 individuals that had either wrote reviews or articles related to this dentist office via email. I’m sure many of my messages landed in the junk folder, but I did get some positive replies to further solidify my choice.
Mexico doesn’t have the kind of malpractice laws and guarantees we have in the United States. I wanted to make sure where I was headed is as legitimate as possible. There was no way I could afford to do this again if mistakes happened.
In The Chair
I walked in, signed my name on a piece of paper and sat down waiting for my name to be called. I was emailing them previously, and rather than set up an exact time they told me just walk on in. They have several dentists and many rooms in the building, seeing patients 6 days a week. I was surprised to see the line moving quickly. They had free drinks and wireless internet for patients. Within 15 minutes or less I was in a room getting x-rays taken for the first time on my mouth as an adult.
We agreed on 3 impacted wisdom teeth being removed since I did have 1 wisdom tooth coming in without much fuss. I was instructed to try and brush harder in the back of my mouth to avoid needing it removed later. My top front 4 teeth had cavities galore from my constant iced coffee drinking. One tooth was almost rotted to the nerve, with roughly 30% of the tooth gone. It was starting to change to a slightly blackish color by the time I made it to Mexico. The rest had cavities in between the teeth at varying degrees. I ended up getting root canals on 3 of my 4 front teeth, and then had porcelain-fused-to metal (PFM) crowns placed on all 4.
After we finalized everything on paper as to what we were going to do and how much it would cost, I moved to a room a few doors down and they started working on my mouth.
An oral surgeon and dental hygienist arrived and the oral surgeon introduced himself, speaking perfect English. The hygienist didn’t speak but a few words of English, however; her job didn’t require much conversation from me. I was numbed up locally with a GIANT needle that looked rather intimidating. The dentist sprayed some liquid numbing agent into my mouth and I barely felt the needle being pushed into my gums. Surprisingly, they started with filing my front teeth down and doing the root canals first.
After they completed the 3 root canals and filing of the 4 front teeth, a person that I talked to at the front desk when I arrived knocked and entered the room. They mentioned there is a problem and that they couldn’t find my billing record. They’re half way done with my procedure and they forgot to charge me for it! I grab a small towel-like cloth and hold it against my numb, drooling mouth as I get up to walk over to the front desk. They go over the charges with me, in which I give a thumbs up sign and hand over my bank card. Their bank and merchant are located in San Diego, and they charged me in U.S. Dollars: $1,430.00 with medications filled. The 3 wisdom teeth were only $450 of that cost. Considering 1 root canal in the United States without insurance can often run between $500 and $1,500, I was getting one hell of a deal if you do the math.
I sat back in the chair and they numbed me up some more. The sideways wisdom tooth that I thought was the worst of the bunch turned out to be the easiest — it was yanked out before I knew it within 20 seconds. Soon followed the next tooth, and finally they started working on what they considered to be the worst impaction you can get. And they were correct! It took what seemed like an hour to get the last impacted wisdom tooth removed from my jaw. The dentist drilled, screwed in his tool, wiggled it a bit and then it’d snap off. It was so hallowed the tooth was difficult to grasp and buried deep in my gums. After several attempts at drilling and screwing into the tooth, another assistant appeared in the already full room dedicated to giving me more injections for numbing.
“Pain, yes?” he called out after what seemed like my 12th injection. I gave him a thumbs up as to not shake my head around too much and he continued — I was virtually pain free! Finally, after roughly 4 hours straight in the dentist chair, all of my work was completed. I was fitted with temporary crowns and told to return in a few days for the final set, which I did. After the final set was placed, I returned one last time to make some minor adjustments to keep my new crowns from hitting my lower canines (they were pushed out because of my wisdom teeth). They re-examied my healing progress and told me everything looks great.
There are many reasons why people leave our country seeking more affordable healthcare. It’s not just for the uninsured. For those who live a little closer to Mexico (California, Texas, etc.), the cash rates down south are often as cheap or cheaper than the amount of money you’re left to pay out of pocket even if you are covered. Remember, this is not just a routine cleaning — this is considered surgery, performed by a specialist in the field of cutting your mouth open. Places like Mexico, Costa Rica, and even Thailand cater to foreigners seeking dental and medical procedures they can afford. Even with a dental school, I would have been required to make multiple visits, wait endlessly, and still pay something out of pocket.
I would have paid an estimated $7,000 to $10,000 in Florida for all my work compared to $1,400 (+$30 in medications). Even when you add up the air travel, hotels, taxi, and food, I still saved thousands upon thousands of dollars and more importantly, I’m happy with the work. I survived Mexico and 4 hours in the chair all by myself.
My biggest piece of advice for any American looking to travel into Mexico with large amounts of cash seeking medical attention: don’t drink the water.