THE BLOG

Dental Tourism: How Far Would You Go for A Crown?

06/04/2011 10:05 am ET | Updated Aug 04, 2011

Have you heard of the term "medical tourism"? If you have, give me a second to explain what it is to everyone else -- essentially, medical tourism is combining a vacation abroad with a medical procedure/operation. The reasoning is, many procedures and operations can be done much cheaper in many other countries.

India is a country that is a popular medical tourism destination. And, from my "outsiders" perspective, with good reason -- in many areas, they have state-of-the-art medical facilities and world-renowned medical professionals.

I'm stating the above because I do not know enough about medical tourism to be a naysayer on the entire industry. But I do have an opinion on it when it comes to medical tourism and dentistry, particularly in the area of Mexico.

Maybe you've seen some ads or websites that state something like: Hey, how about a Mexican vacation, complete with sun, surf and tequila? And while you're here, why not get a dental implant or cheap crown?

Why not indeed... Allow Dr. Connelly to tell you why not.

Before I start, I will warn you that some of my comments may seem anti-Mexico. That is not so. But -- and I'll be frank -- in my opinion, as a whole, Mexico is not at the level of the U.S. in terms of dental excellence, nor do I think they are they on par with the U.S. in regulation, safety procedures and similar. This post isn't anything other than dentistry in Mexico as compared to dentistry in the US.

Ok, here are a few items you should consider before taking that Mexican Dental Holiday:

• Operating Costs -- Yes, going to the dentist in Mexico will be cheaper. Sometimes a lot cheaper. But let's understand why. Under Mexican law, a dentist does not need malpractice insurance -- this reduces their overhead by varying amounts compared to their American counterparts. In addition, there is no OSHA in Mexico. Sterilization monitoring systems and standards are NOT in place (if they even exist). Your local dentist's fees have to take these standards, which all cost money to maintain, into account.

• Recourse -- You will have little to none with a Mexican dentist. Like I mentioned above, malpractice insurance is virtually non-existent in Mexico, so odds are, they don't carry it. Plus, international laws make suing across borders very difficult (if not impossible). In short, if something goes wrong, the best you might get is an "I'm sorry."

• Follow-up Care -- Unless you wish to go back, you won't have any.

• Work Quality -- OK, I may get yelled at in the comments section, but I have to bring this to light: I have worked on many mouths that had implants/crowns/bridges done in Mexico. And in all of my time doing so, I have yet to find one that I would call acceptable. Listen, dentistry is a very microscopic science. If the crown margins (where the crown meets the tooth) are not properly sealed, they will fail very quickly (and often lead to infection). Again, I have seen this firsthand repeatedly. Now, maybe I'm just seeing the bad ones (after all, these patients came to me with an issue) -- I'm quite sure there is good, professional dental work done in Mexico. But (and again, this is more my opinion as a NYC Cosmetic Dentist than anything else), you are really taking your chances.

• Materials Used -- The alloys that I use (for example, to reinforce the crown under the porcelain) are FDA regulated. In Mexico, they are not, and can contain almost anything. I've heard complaints (firsthand) about sickness, bad taste, etc. coming from inferior alloys that leech into the salvia and similar. One more time -- this is not a universal statement, but yes, I've seen it, so I'd be remiss if I did not mention it.

Now, I do realize that US dentists seemingly charge a lot. But trust me on this - your local dentist isn't buying a yacht anytime soon. The cost of doing business in the U.S. (required malpractice insurance, OSHA standards, FDA regulations on materials and similar) add to the fees. But trust me -- you want these things in place. I know that's not all that helpful when you pay $1,000 for a crown that I (seemingly) worked an hour on, but I'm hardly making "$1,000 an hour". Take away the FDA regulations, malpractice insurance and other expenses, and I could at least somewhat compete price-wise with my Mexican counterparts. But you are losing all of your safety assurances and road to recourse. Not a good tradeoff, in my opinion.

Until next time, keep smiling.

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