Up to 12,000 tourists take a dental vacation every year

Most people book a holiday to Mexico to lie on a beach. But Sandra Montgomery spent part of her vacation last month lying in a dentist’s chair.

When the Fort Langley woman arranged her travel plans to Mexico, they included a stint in Los Algodones, a former farm town that now claims to be the “dental centre of Mexico.”

Her mission: to get extensive work done on her teeth at a significantly cheaper price than here at home.

The dental vacation was a first for Montgomery, who hadn’t had any work done on her teeth in more than 20 years. “But I knew the day of reckoning was coming,” she said, noting her bite was off, her teeth were cracked and she desperately needed crowns.

Montgomery stumbled upon Los Algodones -a tiny hamlet across the border from Yuma, Ariz. -on a message board for retirees and snowbirds.

Dayo Dental, an Arizonabased group that helps Americans and Canadians find dental care in Mexico, estimates that roughly 6,000 to 12,000 Canadians travel to Mexico, including Los Algodones, for dental care every year.

This includes the raft of Canadian snowbirds, as well as those who hear about the dental care through family and friends or the Internet, said Dayo’s marketing manager Ron Vinluan.

The lure is the much cheaper rates for extensive dental work such as dentures, implants and bridges, Vinluan said.

Dayo Dental itself has 400 Canadian clients, while Vinluan estimates Los Algodones draws roughly 1,500 to 2,500 Canadians each year.

The boom in “medical tourism” is underscored by the fact the number of resident dentists in Algodones has swelled from a few dozen 10 years ago to 350 today.

“Easily 30 per cent of the people that go to Algodones are Canadian,” Vinluan said. “It’s really hard to find [the actual number]because no one tracks who is going in and out of the border and nobody keeps track of whether [the clients]are Canadians or Americans.”

At the Simply Dental Clinic in Algodones, about 30 to 40 per cent of customers are Canadians, most of them flocking to the centre between October and April, said owner Danilo Daspar. Daspar usually charges $150 to $300 for a crown, while a set of full-fit dentures can be had for $400.

“Right now it’s a little bit slow,” he said, but added the crowds will pick up this winter as more people are lured south by the cheaper rates.

Prices in Los Algodones, according to a website for dentists in the area, are 70 to 75 per cent less than in the U.S. and significantly lower than in Canada, even with a dental plan that could knock off up to 80-per-cent off some of the work.

Tack on a flight to Phoenix, which could be booked on Air Canada for next week for as little as $200 plus tax, and hotel and car fees, and it’s still seen by some as a bargain.

“It’s cheap,” said Kelowna snowbird Grace Matlo, who has a home in Yuma and heads there every October.

“They get extremely busy at the end of February, early March. There’s a lot of them because there’s such a demand for them.”

Matlo paid $180 for a crown last winter at one of the dental clinics at Los Algodones, while her husband got an upper plate for $100.

And there’s no waiting around; her husband’s plate was ready the next day. “Anyone can just walk in and get something done,” she said.

Montgomery, who now has a dental plan as part of her job in the film and television industry, could never afford to have bridges because she had been a full-time mom and her husband was self-employed.

She suspected she’d need some crowns when she got to Los Algodones. Her dentist outfitted her with 14 of them -and two upper bridges.

The cost: $5,400 US. “I’m absolutely thrilled with the work,” she said in an email interview. “It’s outstanding, as was the care I received.”

Montgomery plans to head back to Los Algodones for her lower bridges this fall. If she had stayed in Canada, the work would likely have put a dent in her bank account, even with a discount of 50 to 80 per cent offered in most dental plans.

The B.C. Dental Association wouldn’t give costs for treatments, arguing it depends on patients’ specific needs. But according to its suggested fee guide, the price for one crown in Canada is $940 to $1,000 plus lab fees, which could include another $260.

Full dentures for both upper and lower jaws cost between $1,300 and $1,400 plus lab fees of about $900, depending on how much work needs to be done.

But B.C. dental officials warn patients shouldn’t race to Mexico swayed by price alone.

In an email to The Vancouver Sun, the association warned that patients seeking treatment outside Canada should consider the quality of care they get here as well as the health risks that come with receiving care in foreign countries.

It also reminds Canadians that if they get work done in Canada, they can get pre-treatment guidance to make an informed decision about the best treatment option for them, as well as followup care and recourse if something goes wrong.

Micheal MacKenzie, of the Canadian Snowbirds Association, said the rush of snowbirds heading south for dental work is a new trend, noting this year was the first winter he’d heard about it.

And while snowbirds are often warned not to cross into Mexico -“not because of the dentists but because of the violence” -MacKenzie said many don’t heed that advice.

If you ask Matlo’s brother Robert Groschmal, he’d recommend going early in the season “before the snowbirds get there, because everybody’s hungry for business.”

He bought a set of dentures from a clinic in Los Algodones last winter for $450.

And he had his pick of dentists: The one he chose was on a block with nine clinics.

“I haven’t been to a dentist in Canada for 50 years,” he said, noting: “I haven’t had any teeth for 50 years.”

By Kelly Sinoski, Vancouver Sun May 25, 2011

Source Article:  Vancouver Sun