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American dentists are feeling pressure from their Mexican counterparts, an article in the magazine RDH, which caters to the industry, seems to suggest.

Titled Dental Tourism: Is the risk of ‘foreign’ dental treatment worth the savings?, the article first cites the cost savings that lure savings-seekers across the border. Dentists in several border towns, including Tijuana, were surveyed and a cost matrix of offered procedures was presented. For Tijuana dentists, porcelain crowns averaged $365, molar root canals $235, and dentures $495. By contrast, a bracesinfo survey of dental costs just north of the border in San Diego reports average costs of $1,044 for the crown, $1,114 for the molar root canal (plus $101 for an initial consultation), and $1,189-$1,693 for dentures.

Marcy Ortiz, an Arizona dental hygienist and author of the article, details the problems American dentists face in trying to compete in an environment where insurance, wage standards, and regulatory agencies don’t allow them to come close to matching prices found in Mexico. She complains of patients that visit her practice for regular care and diagnosis of serious problems but then cross the border for more expensive procedures, returning to her to purchase follow-up care. She argues that Mexican dental firms, since they’re not licensed to practice in the U.S., shouldn’t be allowed to advertise their services in media that reaches U.S. consumers. She also warns dentists that many domestic insurance companies will cover Mexican treatment, causing her office to be denied payment for providing duplicate services she was unaware her patients had already received.

“It is our duty as dental hygienists to inform patients of the possible risks they may encounter when traveling to a third-world country for their dentistry,” writes Ortiz. “They need to know what these specific risks are as well as alternatives that are available for them to receive their needed dental work in the United States.”

Ortiz goes on to offer tips on how U.S. dentists can discourage their patients from seeking to save money across the border. A list of several negative experiences with her own patients she cites include a patient who received two crowns that appeared “average or slightly above” in quality, though the dentist performing the work didn’t X-ray the patient before providing service or require medical records, missing the fact that she required antibiotic treatment. Another patient had two crowns placed in Mexico, though he visited a San Diego dentist to have them seated, not feeling comfortable with having the surgery done across the border. Ortiz argues that since he vacationed for a few days in San Diego while waiting for the crowns to be produced, he didn’t really save any money, as the cost of paying her and not taking the vacation would’ve been comparable.

Other suggested tactics to get patients to avoid Mexican dentists include telling patients that while 90 percent of U.S. dentists receive Hepatitis B vaccinations, only 21 percent of their Mexican counterparts do. “Several infectious diseases are more prevalent in Mexico compared to inside the United States,” Ortiz writes, “such as hepatitis A, B, and C, typhoid fever, amebiasis, shigellosis, and tuberculosis.”

Mexican dentists, Ortiz says, have no uniform standards of practice, and there is no regulatory agency consumers can complain to, nor any recourse they can take if they’re dissatisfied with services received. “What ends up happening [when a procedure goes wrong] is obvious. The patient returns to the United States to have their problem fixed and repaired, whether it is botched dental work or a medical problem resulting from Mexican dental care.”

In addition to using scare tactics, Ortiz recommends that U.S. dentists consider offering a three month interest-free payment plan to help patients afford their care. She also suggests that patients requiring a large amount of work receive it incrementally, unless there are direct health risks to delaying treatment, saying “It is surprising how this makes the patient seem less overwhelmed compared to receiving a treatment plan in the tens of thousands of dollars.” Another option is receiving care at an American dental school, where the cost of having procedures performed by students supervised by experienced peers is less costly. Finally, as a last resort, she recommends referring patients to community health clinics that will provide low-or-no-cost treatment to children, elderly, and low-income individuals.

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Comments

xenubarb Dec. 22, 2011 @ 10:03 a.m.

If the choice is between going toothless or risking Mexico, clearly people are choosing the latter.

I have many friends who frequent Tijuana dentists and they've been quite happy with results.

Of course American dentists can't compete, but many people going to Mexico can't afford care in the United States.

I have two broken molars. Every time I have my teeth cleaned (an affordable procedure here) they ask me if I've "won the lottery yet."

Otherwise I will never be able to afford to fix them.

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 22, 2011 @ 8:22 p.m.

1.If the choice is between going toothless or risking Mexico, clearly people are choosing the latter. == Excellent point, w/o the Mexican dentists many poor and middle class Americans would be forced to go without dentistry services.

/

I have many friends who frequent Tijuana dentists and they've been quite happy with results. == Same here, know many people, mainly seniors living on fixed budgets............ but when things do go sideways there is no recourse.

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Shane_Finneran Dec. 22, 2011 @ 10:05 a.m.

"Ortiz goes on to offer tips on how U.S. dentists can discourage their patients from seeking to save money across the border."

Instead of trying to fight the laws of economics, perhaps energy would be better spent pushing for universal dental coverage for all Americans. Then all Americans could be treated in the United States.

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Joaquin_de_la_Mesa Dec. 22, 2011 @ 10:44 a.m.

And there we have it... just pass a law that makes it all free.

After all, the gov't can print money to pay the dentists.

And the tooth fairy will pay back the government.

Then we'll pass a law that makes every day Christmas.

And another law decreeing that donuts make you skinny.

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 22, 2011 @ 8:23 p.m.

And another law decreeing that donuts make you skinny. = Dont tease me!

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Shane_F Dec. 25, 2011 @ 4:49 p.m.

Um, Joaquin, you think universal dental coverage is somehow impossible? I think the US would be up to the challenge. After all, plenty of other countries currently provide universal dental coverage to their citizens.

Not free, of course. Paid for via taxes. But thanks to economies of scale, the average citizen in one of those countries pays a lot less for dental than we do here in the US.

and hey... added bonus... every citizen in those countries gets their teeth taken care of! personally i think this would be an impressive and noble achievement here in America. though i realize not everyone shares my concern for my fellow Americans.

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Visduh Dec. 22, 2011 @ 11:55 a.m.

Many of the people who head to TJ for dental work, medical care, prescriptions, etc. have roots in that country, can speak the language, and could pass for local residents on the street. In my case, none of those things is true. With all the drug war violence going on, with cops you cannot trust, and with the lax standards, I'll get my teeth fixed by an American dentist on this side of the border, and treat the extra cost as money well spent. I feel for those who cannot afford dental care. But have many of them actually tried to get the care near home? If you genuinely cannot afford the needed procedures, many dentists will work out accommodations, such as stretched out payments and reduced "hardship" fees.

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 22, 2011 @ 8:24 p.m.

With all the drug war violence going on, with cops you cannot trust, and with the lax standards, I'll get my teeth fixed by an American dentist on this side of the border, and treat the extra cost as money well spent. ==

Excelelnt points, and I cannot disargee, but what if you DO NOT have the $$$$? As many Americans today do not. / / If you genuinely cannot afford the needed procedures, many dentists will work out accommodations, such as stretched out payments and reduced "hardship" fees. == My dentist will let me pay by installments, in adbvance. Plus with no insurance he gives a 15% cost break, but the fact remains- if you don't have the $$$ you cannot get the treatment.

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David Dodd Dec. 22, 2011 @ 5:48 p.m.

I've heard very few complaints about dentists in Mexico and my own experiences were fine. Dentists in the U.S. are not losing much business to dentists in Mexico these days, crossing the border to get back into the U.S. has now turned into a 2 or 3 hours ordeal and most folks would rather not deal with that hassle. And Mexico is not a "3rd World Country", it is a "Developing Nation". In terms of purchasing power parity, Mexico's GDP ranks 11th in the world.

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 22, 2011 @ 8:21 p.m.

"Marcy Ortiz, an Arizona dental hygienist and author of the article, details the problems American dentists face in trying to compete in an environment where insurance, wage standards, and regulatory agencies don’t allow them to come close to matching prices found in Mexico." ==

PLEASE, the biggest expense in US dentistery is the COST OF THE DENTIST. Dentists are the highest paid professionals out there with the possible exception of MD's with highly specialized surgical skills. Average Dentist probably clears $400K per year. Working 4 days per week no less-as bad as teachers.

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