I’m Part Mexican Now
I’ve been self-employed for 12 years now. Since
retiring becoming self-employed 12 years ago, I’ve been carrying health insurance, and throughout half that time I carried dental insurance. I moved to Portland in 2007, and for one reason or another, good dental insurance for the self-employed is a bit more difficult to come by up here, despite my being more than willing to pay for it.So I’ve been paying for regular dental work out of pocket since. Which is fine, it’s tax deductible. Except for the fact that I keep having shitty luck when it comes to dentists here. I keep finding people who I think might actually be used car salesmen masquerading as dentists.
Recently, after breaking a tooth, and attempting to get it fixed at my — now former — local dentist, I learned I also needed another tooth behind it filled, and was handed a laundry list of things he had to do and what it was going to cost. About $800. It is what it is, but the dentist rubbed me the wrong way, and it didn’t make me want to give him money. So I figured I’d go another route. But I wasn’t sure what.
A few weeks after a failed trip my local
used car salesman dentist to get my tooth repaired, I had a trip booked to LA during X Games. Two days before I was leaving, a light bulb went off. Dental Tourism. It’s something people joke about in this part of the country. But a lot of people really do it. To Americans in border regions like Arizona, Texas, and California, jumping the border to Mexico for dental work is not uncommon. I knew this from my time living in Orange County, CA, and since I had half a tooth in my mouth, I figured it was a good time to go down there with a camera and see what happened.
I emailed a dentist I’d researched in Tijuana, and quickly got a response with an appointment at the last minute. I changed my return flight, in favor of a drive South for Churros and fillings. Tijuana is the closest and easiest city to access from where I was in Southern California. It is ratty, and in recent years the drug cartel wars have made it much more dangerous. Like anywhere else, go there knowing where you need to go, and go with a plan. If you wander around looking like a lost tourist, you’ll wind up in trouble quickly. There have been a lot of American kidnappings in recent years, and once you’re on the other side of the Mexican/US turnstile, you quickly realize that things are different. American pride is great, but keep that shit to yourself when you leave the country. People aren’t necessarily as stoked on us as you think they are globally.
If you’ve ever crossed the border you know that dentistry and pharmaceuticals are a huge part of their tourism industry. There are billboards everywhere, as soon as you cross over. But I didn’t want to just head somewhere as a walk-in. There are some really shitty places to chose from. I did some research online and found a place that was dialed in, in a nice office building downtown, and they have a driver that picks you up and returns you to the border.
The most nerve racking part of the trip was waiting for the shuttle on the Mexico side of the border. I called them from the US side to tell them I was on my way, but I had arrived early for my appointment, and wound up standing on the corner for about 20 minutes. So when the white mini-van showed up to get me it was a bit of a relief. Despite being a Saturday morning, when we arrived the waiting room was full. I knew a large percentage of their clientele was American, and most of the staff I dealt with spoke English really well. Again, I was considerably early, so I had to wait a while, but the more people I saw come out of the treatment areas, the more I realized what I was doing was not out of the ordinary. I was definitely not the only one there from the States. Seinfeld played in the waiting room. In English.
When I was called I sat down in the chair and the dentist asked me what I wanted done. It was clean. To my eye I could have been in an office in Portland, or Tulsa, or Newark. I was there with specific fillings in mind, so outside of an X-ray I don’t think I even got charged for, he got going. He gathered supplies, and explained that since he had to remove the old amalgam fillings in both teeth first, it was slightly more expensive than the usual $50 fee as it was more time consuming. Fair enough. An all-inclusive price of $100 each was still a bargain.
About an hour into the procedure something happened that I never expected. I was not under the influence of any sort of laughing gas, but all of a sudden “Bad Boys, Bad Boys, Whatcha Gonna Do” started playing out of my dentists pocket. Yes, the theme song to the American TV show cops by Inner Circle. I sort of started laughing despite my mouth being held open by instruments. “It’s my girlfriend” he chuckled. About 15 minutes later it happened again. All-in-all the whole procedure took about an hour and a half. Bad Boys was the highlight.
They prefer cash. I knew this ahead of time, so I paid $200 and they took me back to “La Linea” or as we call it, the border. This was the downside of the process. Since I’d gone on a Saturday, the pedestrian line back to the US at about 2pm was outrageous. It wound down the street and around a few corners for what seemed like a mile. It took just over three hours to get back through.
Was it worth it? I think so. In hindsight, I’d probably not go on a Saturday again if I could avoid it. But I would go back. My entire trip to SoCal including the flight and rental car along with the Mexican fillings cost less than I would have spent if I’d gotten the fillings at my Portland dentist initially. And it was a much more direct transaction. It sounds odd, but I felt like I was getting swindled much less in Tijuana than I did in Portland. It’s a shame really. I should note that many Mexican dentists accept American insurance, at least according to what I’ve read. So it’s not just for the uninsured.
I flew back to Portland the next day, and so far so good with the fillings. If nothing else, it’s a story, and some photos below.
Driving South on I-5, parked at the last exit in the States and walked across the border.
They know Americans love their guns.
There is a new footbridge from the parking areas to the border on the US side.
You could also take a pedicab from the parking areas to the border, but it’s a short walk.
If you have to go the bathroom it will cost you $.25.
Mexico from the footbridge.
You won’t wait in line going into Mexico.
This McDonalds is the landmark they gave me to wait for the shuttle/van.
Those buildings back there are covered in dental billboards. Also there are payphones in Mexico.
Tijuana streets from the van.
The Tijuana Arch.
The van that dropped me off/picked me up.
The elevators in the dentist’s office building. More modern than my Portland dentist.
The full waiting room on a Saturday.
Seinfeld, in English. I can relate.
The supplies for my filling.
Me in the hot seat, with my dentist working on my teeth. This was well before “Bad Boys” started playing from his pocket.
Receipt for services rendered.
Hand painted signs are commonplace in Tijuana.
How many pallets can you fit in your car?
Here’s the very end of the line I saw about a mile back from the entry point, which I saw upon getting out of the shuttle.
Border line entertainment.
This guy was playing toward the end of the line. He wins the tip cup placement award.
Midway through the line back to the US. Finally on the home stretch.