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    Dental care, south of the border

    Examining the surprising trend of American dental migration to Mexico.

    American news media is filled with reports on the status of the border with Mexico. Talking heads expound endlessly about the number of Mexican migrants crossing the border into the United States. Debates are had about a wall or  opposition to a border wall. Whether fleeing violence in home countries, just seeking some better life options, or another reason entirely, migrants cross the border — legally or illegally — and the conversation stateside rages on.

    But one topic ripe for debate is discussed much less often: What about the reverse trend?

    Reports have often focused on spring break escapades to Tiajuana, Mexico, or Californians crossing the border for more affordable and easily accessible prescription drugs. But many in the American dental community may be surprised to learn that during the winter months, as many as 7,000 Americans per day are traveling to Los Algodones, Mexico, a small town located on the northeastern tip of Mexicali. Why are so many making this trek?

    To receive affordable dental care.

    A coverage gap

    Los Algodones, also known as Molar City, is home to more than 600 dentists working in 300 clinics, according to a report from NBC Nightly News. Many of the clinics advertise their affordable costs for dental care and treatment on their websites. According to Molar City’s official website, dental services there are reportedly about 70 to 75 percent less than the cost in the United States and Canada.

    More from the author: Are dentists causing a deadly infection in patients?

    It’s no surprise that cost is one of the major reasons Americans are considering traveling to another country to receive dental care. According to the National Association of Dental Plans, roughly 114 million Americans have no dental coverage. Medicare doesn’t cover most dental care or dental procedures, leaving about 46.3 million Americans over the age of 65 uninsured. A research brief by the Health Policy Institute and American Dental Association suggested that financial barriers are keeping adults from visiting the dentist, noting that one out of five American adults is unable to afforded needed dental care.

    Sani Dental Group, which claims to be the largest dental group in Los Algodones, Mexico, has been providing dental care since 1985. Its three offices see approximately 750 American patients each month, depending on the season.

    “Some Americans just love being treated in our facilities. They say that it’s because it has the same high quality at more affordable prices,” says Dr. Javier Muñiz Pérez.

    Dr. Yasmin Carvajal of Dental Betel in Los Algodones says her office sees about 100 American patients from November to April and about 50 per month the rest of the year. Dr. Carvajal says the cost of dental care is lower in Mexico because all expenses are paid by the patients, rather than being negotiated by insurance companies, and the cost of living in the country is lower than that of America. She adds that education in Mexico is much more affordable, which allows dentists to be able to offer their services at reasonable rates.

    “The cost of insurance and health care in the USA is very high for the average American,” she says. “In Mexico, the medical costs are between 20 to 30 percent of the cost of U.S. health care. The process to claim your benefits is time-consuming and deductibles are high.”

    While the low cost of dental care in Mexico may be attractive to many Americans, the question remains: Is it safe to receive treatment there?

    Up next: Low cost, high risk? Not necessarily...

    Kristen Mott
    Kristen Mott is the associate editor for Dental Products Report and Digital Esthetics.

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