Spoiler: Our tale of getting dental work done in Mexico has nothing to do with nudism. It does, however, involve drilling, drooling and some drinking. So, there’s that.
Why do dental work in Mexico?
Nothings screams “Fun!” like a trip to the dentist, right kids? Let’s all open wide and have a stranger poke their fingers, and Medieval-grade weaponry, into our mouths like a rabid dog trying to locate a buried bone.
My favorite part comes when I get to pay serious moola to have my mouth mangled. I mean, really, I look at a trip to the dentist as an investment. An investment in the dentist’s new houseboat.
But lately we haven’t had dental insurance, or serious moola, and have been neglecting our chompers. So this year we decided to get our dental work done in Mexico.
What’s in a name? Molar City!
People have been traveling to Mexico for dental work since time began. When I say “people” I mean Canadians and U.S. citizens. And when I say “time began” I mean “since being retired on a fixed income.”
Several of our Canadian and U.S. citizen friends who winter by us at our favorite clothing-optional RV park had recommended dentists in the Mexican border town of Los Algodones, near Yuma, Arizona. Los Algodones, or just “Algodones,” is also known as Molar City and when I heard that I was sold! I mean nicknames can tell you a lot about what to expect from a town.
For example, if I have some asparagus stuck in my teeth, I’m heading for Strong, Maine — aka Toothpick Capital of the World. And of course we travel to Las Vegas, Nevada, aka Sin City, to seek out one thing and one thing only: a payday loan.
So, with visions of gleaming molars we drove to Yuma on a Friday afternoon. We had set an appointment with a dentist for early Saturday morning. Since I needed a crown, we’d have to finish up the work on Monday, so we rented a motel room and made a weekend out of it.
Let the dental work begin!
In the morning we crossed into California and drove a short distance south on a narrow road to the border. We paid $6 to park in a huge parking lot, and then walked a few hundred feet to the border crossing. Before we had even crossed the border, a couple of men asked us if we needed dental or optical work. Once in Mexico, a dozen more of these “tourist coordinators” asked us the same questions.
But the predominate hoards were silver-haired gringos dressed in cargo shorts and other assorted easy-care and practical fabrics. Many of them were milling about, hands in pockets or fussing with bags, and looking bewildered. “Typical tourists!” I thought as I pulled my iPhone out of my zippered cargo pants pocket and snapped some photos.
We then milled about, looking bewildered because I had conveniently forgotten the detailed directions to our dentist’s office. It was obvious we were in need of some tourist coordinating so several men swarmed us asking if we need “dentist” or “optical.” Luckily one of them actually worked for our dentist, so he brought us to our destination: Escobedo Dental.
The receptionist spoke excellent English and handed each of us a short form to fill out. A few minutes later I was lying in a chair, shaking hands with Dr. Erick Escobedo who thankfully spoke much better English than I can speak Spanish. He asked me a few questions and then got right to work.
The room and equipment were clean and in good condition and pretty much like any dental office in the U.S. What was different was how fast Dr. Escobedo worked. In minutes he did a full set of digital x-rays and pointed out four cavities I needed filled in addition to the crown replacement. He then did a full teeth cleaning and filled those four cavities in about 20 minutes.
The crown prep took a little longer because the tooth was really sensitive and he had to shoot me up three times with anesthesia. Even then, in less than an hour I was out in the waiting room while it was J’s turn. An American couple who were waiting started talking to me and I wish they hadn’t because, with half my face frozen, it was a little awkward:
WOMAN: “So what dental work did you need to get done?
ME: “I had unhth and thwee flapthsss.”
MAN: “Ha ha ha ha!”
WOMAN (SLAPPING HUSBAND): “Harold! Sorry, so, where are you guys from?”
ME: “Well, we livthdth in oosun but are thigh eenix now.”
In about a half hour, J came out. We paid our bill, which as promised was significantly lower than it would have been in the U.S., and set up appointments for Monday to finish our crown work. We tapped our numbed cheeks with our fingers and walked into the sunlight-soaked town, looking for lunch.
Excuse me señor, can we have more napkins?
We made our way past tourist coordinators (“Pharmacy? Best prices!” “Optical?”) and then followed a local’s directions to a restaurant called La Parilla. The friendly waiter sat us down and asked if we wanted anything to drink. Being responsible dental tourists who had just had a couple of gallons of Novocain injected into us, we immediately ordered healthy, fruit-based drinks: A screwdriver for J, and a margarita for me. Grande.
The waiter delivered our drinks (I was delighted to see that mine was, indeed, grande) and took our food orders. I ordered tacos and he said “These are hard shell. If you just had dental work I would recommend the soft shell.” I thought that was wonderful. I mean, this town is so in tune with why we are here!
While we waited, we tried to sip our drinks. We used our fingers to position the straws so that, hopefully, the liquid would go where we wanted it to go. Which was down our throats. Apparently, my margarita had other plans and escaped out the corner of my mouth. I caught the runaway drip with a napkin, and looked around the room to see if anyone was watching.
A band was playing in front of a banner advertising a local dental clinic. The female singer had beautiful, white teeth. Clusters of gringos dotted the restaurant. Some sat sullenly, looking defeated, probably numbed beyond all comfort. Others laughed and tipped drinks or poked at plates of food, probably wondering how to get through this experience with grace.
Eating my tacos was anything but graceful. I was able to get most of it down, using my fingers to push errant pieces back into my mouth, but occasionally a glop of refried beans would drop like a pooping horse.
Julie had ordered tortilla soup, and was entertaining me with her valiant efforts to slurp it up. As fun as this was, we decided enough was enough and paid our bill so we could head back to Yuma for a nap.
On Monday, we returned to have our crowns put in. About an hour later we left Molar City as experienced dental tourists. It certainly wasn’t our most enjoyable experience in Mexico, but it was certainly the most enjoyable dental bill we’ve paid.