We first heard about Los Algodones, also referred to as Molar City, on the third month of our walkabout. Our neighbors in the Miami RV park we stayed in that first winter told us about this place in Mexico where lots of Americans went for dental work and glasses. They had had extensive dental work done for less than half what it cost in the states. Needless to say, we thought that was pretty interesting.
Finding a Dentist
I was quite fortunate that my tooth acted up just before we planned to visit Yuma. And that I’d read the post about Dr. Ureña, since I considered that a personal recommendation, which is my preference. And, when we met our friends in Yuma, it turned out that Tim and Becky had been getting work done at Dr. Ureña’s for several years.
Her website, just like many other dentists, provides a U.S. telephone number, so it was quite easy to make an appointment.
Los Algodones is the northernmost town in Mexico. It’s located near the borders of southeastern California and southwestern Arizona and is tucked into a spot where the border has a little notch and follows the Colorado River. There are U.S. borders in all cardinal directions (due south, due north, due east and due west) of the town. Only if you head SW do you actually stay in Mexico.
When Mexico became one of the dental capitals of the world, with its high standards of care and cleanliness, low prices and accessibility, many medical professionals established practices in Algodones. Over the years, the town has created an entire medical industry primarily focused on dental care.
Algodones has also established a reputation as one of the safe border towns, supported by all of the medical professionals and businesses in the town.
I read in a Yuma publication that there are over 70 dental offices and 100 dental labs in a five-block area, but have seen numbers as high as 400 on the internet. Other popular medical services include optometrists, opticians, pharmacies, and audiologists. These cater primarily to U.S. and Canadian citizens, including many retirees on limited incomes. And many RVers have tuned in to these services as well.
We drove down Interstate 8 from Yuma, about 20 minutes, to the Los Algodones/Rte 186 exit then south to a parking lot right by border ($6.00 daily fee), and walked across to Algodones. There are no requirements to walk across the border for stays of 72 hours or less, but there are restrictions on what you can bring in to Mexico.
Most medical offices and pharmacies are located within the next five-block area, a five to ten minute walk from the border. Vendors selling a broad variety of Mexican souvenirs line the streets and some offices are located in courtyards hidden behind the vendor areas.
First of all I have to say that it was a very unique experience. Here we were joining thousands of others crossing this border in pursuit of medical care and prescriptions.
With the influx of people, it did feel very safe there, and we could tell that many folks were repeat visitors.
Dr. Ureña was extremely professional, thorough and thoughtful. When checking my x-rays she was unsure about a faint shadow and had her assistant walk me across the courtyard to the endodontist, Dr. Armando Hernandez Mejia to get his opinion as to whether I needed a root canal.
Dentists in Mexico spend five years studying dentistry just like American dentists, and have to pass the National Board Dental Examination (NBDE), as well as attend continuing courses and conferences.
Dr. Hernandez had certificates from various European conferences hanging in his waiting area as well as thank you letters from the University of Illinois and Temple University in Philadelphia thanking him for outstanding presentations.
Both offices were comfortable and had modern equipment and both displayed high resolution images of my x-rays.
With so many dental professionals working in close proximity, many collaborate and refer to each other in order to ensure that patients receive the specific care that they need. And walk-ins are fairly common, so the practices do their best to accommodate them.
Which is how I wound up not only getting in to see Dr. Hernandez but getting a root canal ($390) that same day, the most expensive procedure I had. I was initially a bit hesitant as this was not the dentist that I came to see, but since Dr. Ureña referred me, I put my faith in her and frankly relied on my gut feeling of the situation.
Looking back, I could have done some research on Dr. Hernandez using his office Wi-Fi while I was waiting.
Meanwhile, Hector was checking out every single vendor in town. The vendors converge in the same area as the medical offices. And he made two purchases, a lamp and a tablecloth.
I was a bit surprised to see him show up in the waiting room with a giant bag holding a lamp with spikes sticking out in all directions but he assured me that the lamp was “almost free”, that we would be able to use it at our campsites, and that he would handle storing it. He is quite the shopper.
When I returned to Dr. Ureña’s office, she’d arranged for a periodontist, Dr. Jose Luis Barrera, to see me as well. A dentist and two specialists in one day – a wholistic approach not only addressing the issues but also the cause – grinding my teeth at night. My treatment included a visit fee ($10), deep cleaning by Dr. Barrera ($100), a mouth guard ($100) and a paste to apply at night to help restore the enamel ($20). But I couldn’t get it all done in one day, so we extended our stay in Yuma by a couple of days.
I paid by check, as she didn’t accept credit cards. U.S. currency is accepted everywhere, and many of the dentists will also accept checks, but not all accept credit cards.
And on our way back to the border, we still had time to order some glasses (I had the prescription already). I’d read a post about Best Optical on the Watsons Wander blog so I went straight there. Their largest selection of frames was in the mid-priced range which was fine for me. And although they are generally able to have glasses ready on the same day they are ordered, I arrived a little late in the day, around 2:30P.M., so the glasses weren’t going to be ready until the next day.
We got in line for U.S. immigration just before 3:30 and had about a fifteen-minute wait to get through. I did notice the line grow longer as we waited and we heard that there can sometimes be long delays crossing back to the US. So in order to avoid longer waits, it’s best to make early appointments and head back to the border in the early afternoon. A passport is needed to return to the U.S. and there are restrictions on what can be brought back, but we only had our two inexpensive purchases.
One More Trip Across the Border
I returned on my own a few days later for some follow-up work, while Hector got Island Girl washed and waxed.
Once again walking over to Mexico was easy. There was a bit of a wait at the endodontist, so I left and walked over two blocks to pick up the glasses I had ordered. My glasses with progressive lenses cost $219, less than half of what I generally pay.
So in that one day I picked up glasses and had work done by an endodontist, periodontist and dentist. Very convenient and I was a satisfied patient/customer.
General consensus seems to be that costs are about 1/3 of costs in the U.S. I estimate that I paid about 1/5 to 1/2 of what I would have paid for the same dental procedures in the U.S. But quite honestly, I wasn’t shopping for the cheapest dentists, since I knew I’d save money no matter what.
For those that might be considering having dental work at Los Algodones, here are a few tips:
As in any other place, there are good and bad dentists here. A personal recommendation is best, although google, reviews and forums can provide some good information. Nina’s second blog post about Algodones includes links to various resources.
If your appointment is at a dental group, make sure the dentist that you see is the one you intended. In the reviews, I observed that many good reviews of dental groups can be quite generic (not naming specific dentists) and yet I also read a lot of comments from very dissatisfied customers.
Avoid the “pickers” that solicit patients as you enter Algodones, the best dental professionals consider this practice unethical. Just say no thank you and continue on your way.
When in doubt about a procedure, ask lots of questions. If you need to, take extra time to make a decision as to what work you will have done. And, if at any time you aren’t comfortable, opt out. The good news is that in there are lots of choices in this town.