A sleepy border village in Mexico, just one-square mile and steps from the dusty deserts of Arizona, has slowly become one of the dental capitals of the world.
Los Algodones, nicknamed Molar City, has a population of 4,000, yet has about 350 dentists, some with so many patients the line swings out the door. Block after block is lined with dental offices and wall-to-wall billboards promising to enhance a smile.
The four square blocks of Los Algodones is said to be occupied by more dentists than anywhere else in the world. About 90 percent of its clientele is American.
The sun-drenched city is such a dental draw because of its cut-rate prices – about $70 for a filling, $330 for a porcelain crown, less than $20 for a cleaning. That's about 70 percent less than U.S. prices -- where major dental work can run up to a thousand or several thousand dollars.
But medical authorities in the U.S. warn that Los Algodones is the equivalent of dental lawlessness, with no accreditation process or licensing procedure existing in Mexico – making it a dentistry free-for-all.
In the United States, dentists are required to receive a bachelor’s degree and then graduate from a four-year dental school. Then, to start practicing dentistry, they have to pass the National Board Dental Exam, and receive a license by a state board.
“There is no uniform system like that in Mexico,” said Kevin Earle, executive director of the Arizona Dental Association. “They could have wide variability in the training in Mexico in comparison to the reliability of seeing a dentist here in the United States.”
Earle said some dentists in Arizona, particularly those on the border, often see patients with substandard and botched work that their dentists are forced to fix. One doctor, he said, was called to the emergency room after a patient came in bleeding profusely in the mouth. The Mexican dentist, Earle said, either didn’t understand or forgot the patient was on a blood thinner called Coumadin.
“There is no investigative authority to see if a dentist has complaints against them, or if lawsuits have been filed against them,” Earle said. “That whole safety net that we have here doesn’t exist in Mexico.”
Yet the experience could be positive for many – but only if they do their homework, said Ron Vinluan, managing director of Dáyo Dental, a company that arranges dental procedures for U.S. clients getting work done in Mexico.
“You have to know where to go,” Vinluand said. “You’ll have a great experience there, at a significantly less cost, if you do your research.”
Vinluan said there are plenty of good dentists in Los Algodones. He said there are also great, top-of-the-line facilities and equipment that are on par – and sometimes better – than the ones found in the U.S.
“You get the same experience than the U.S. – at the fraction of the cost,” he said. “That’s why it’s gotten so much attention.”
But even he cautioned people have to be careful. He said some Mexican dentists will perform surgery even though they don’t have the training or proper equipment to do so. People, he said, should never consider price above quality when going to Los Algodones, and they should always look for reputable dentists with good pedigree and high-quality equipment.
“You have to do your research,” he said. “You can’t just show up there and go to the first place you see.”
You can reach Carolyn Salazar at email@example.com