Our Algodones Dentist Care was Like a Cheap Haircut

I’ve always been tempted to check out an Algodones dentist, if only for a cleaning. Almost everyone I know who’s done the “medical tourism” thing in the border towns enthusiastically gives the experience and the savings a big thumbs up. A few weeks ago, I convinced Jim to give it a try.

Algodones dentist adventure

Algodones dentist and optemetry care offers huge savings to US tourists.

But wait, before I get started, I need to confess something. I already have the greatest dentist. And he happens to be my brother in law who owns Fountaingrove Dental in Santa Rosa, CA. Unfortunately we missed our regular dental exam and cleaning last fall. And when I couldn’t find a Southern California dental cleaning for less than $150 each, a $30 Algodones dentist visit felt like a no-brainer.

For the record, even if Dr. Nelson wasn’t related to me, I would still pick him as a dentist. He does beautiful work and his team’s patient care is outstanding. And I can’t recall him putting down Mexico dental care when we’ve discussed the subject. Many Mexican dentists are even educated in the U.S. and learn the same techniques as American ones. But as Jim and I discovered last week, there are important differences in how they deliver those techniques. 

Impressions of Our Algodones Dentist Experience

Algodones dentist adventure

Crossing into Mexico is quick and easy.

Plenty of RVers have been shared great tourist information for Algodones dentists, so I won’t duplicate efforts. Our full-timing friend Cinn wrote a helpful post that helped us plan our visit, “Day Trip to Mexico — for a Dentist.” 

Finally, last Thursday, Jim and I formed our own opinions about dental care in Mexico. Those of you who have visited border dentists will have to confirm if your experience was similar to ours.

Our appointment was with Dr. Dennis Cochran, a woman with a combination dental and optical practice, a common setup in Algodones. We found her through a friend, who was happy with work she did for him. 

When we arrived, we could see that her practice looked as modern as any U.S. clinic. But after getting into the chair, we discovered that it’s more than just the cost that sets U.S. dental practices apart from their border town colleagues. 

A Quick and Dirty Cleaning

Algodones dentist adventure

Everyone goes back with squeaky clean teeth and new eyes.

The dentist jumped right in for the cleaning, after checking us in at the front desk. We discovered that Mexican dentists do everything, including the work of a dental hygienist. She was nice and spoke perfect English, but the differences between getting teeth cleaned by a Jane-of-all-trades dentist versus a career hygienist were immediately obvious. For example:

  • She completely skipped the usual periodontal exam that includes the gum pocket check.
  • We weren’t given utility glasses to cover our eyes from overspray.
  • She used an ultrasonic scaler instead of hand tools, which in my opinion didn’t seem to provide as thorough a cleaning.
  • The polishing procedure was the same, but she wasn’t as meticulous as a career hygienist. “Sorry for the shower!” she said while handing us a tissue to mop up water splashing on our face during the procedure.
  • She allowed staff and delivery people to come into the area and interrupt her work with us.

When she finished, she did a hasty “exam” with a digital camera pointer tool that projected images onto a giant monitor. And she didn’t wear any kind of magnifier glasses while doing it.

What? No X-Rays?

Algodones dentist adventure

The experience felt a little scammy.

As she pointed the camera at my teeth, the dentist claimed I had ten cavities that needed fillings. She diagnosed this without doing a single x-ray.

I almost laughed out loud! I just saw Jim’s brother less than a year ago. If I had any tooth decay, he would have seen it. When I seem him again, I’m positive he will laugh out loud too.

Curious what those ten fillings would cost, I asked her for an estimate. She gave me a hand-written figure on her business card: $300, without specifying the type of fillings. I said “Thanks!” and left. Yeah, Dr. Nelson would have charged far more for that kind of job, there’s no denying it. 

Jim had a similar experience with the dentist. We agreed that overall, the 15-minute cleanings felt rushed, a bit sloppy and just a way to get customers in the door for more expensive procedures that may or may not be necessary.

Were the cleanings acceptable? For the money, yes. The procedure cost us just $50 for the both of us. It will get us by until we see Jim’s brother in six months. But the job was not even close to the best cleaning ever.

Why Mexico Dentist Care is Like a Cheap Haircut

Algodones dentist adventure

Better than nothing, but we’re not willing to risk it.

Would we rely on Mexican dental care for everything, even if we didn’t have a dentist in the family? Not unless we were completely cash strapped and in need of emergency care. Border town dentists may have the technical aptitude for procedures, but after seeing how this one cut corners and rushed us through her clinic, I would not go to Algodones for anything other than a cleaning.

Maybe other Algodones dentist practices are better than the one we visited, but I’m not sure. The entire town feels like a dental mill, cranking patients in and out to keep the money coming in.

Skipping the complete periodontal exam and diagnosing without x-rays indicates to me that Mexican dental care is not on par with what you get from a good dentist in the US or Canada. And the key word is “good.” Once you’ve had an excellent dentist for many years, it’s easy to spot the differences in patient care between mediocre ones and excellent ones. The same thing can be said about physicians, auto mechanics and even hair stylists.

Hair Grows Back. Teeth Do Not.

Overall, the border town “medical tourism” experience left us feeling like the times we had our hair cut at cheap walk-in salons. Technically, the SuperCuts hair stylist got the job done. But the end result was nothing like splurging at a better salon with more experienced stylists.

And yeah, you can get by with cheap haircuts, but don’t ever forget: hair grows back — teeth do not. 

But Eye Care in Mexico is Another Story

Algodones dentist adventure

Mexico eye care and glasses are definitely worth the trip.

Oh and while teeth are one thing, eye care in Algodones is another. Opticians are on every corner in Algodones and I wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of this service. Exams are always “free” and included in the price of glasses, which cost at least half, sometimes less, than what they do in the U.S. (a great article by consumer reporter David Lazarus details the disgusting eye ware price gouging in America). And although the latest styles aren’t hanging on the shelves in Mexico, we saw classic frame selections and reasonable prices for single vision and progressive lenses.

So there. You may be thinking Jim and I are just snobs because we have a dentist in the family, but let me just say one thing. Even if we didn’t, we still would have noticed the big difference in the delivery of care between U.S. practitioners and Mexico dentists. There is just no comparison.

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10 Responses to “Our Algodones Dentist Care was Like a Cheap Haircut”

  1. I’m curious…if you went to a bad Doctor or Dentist within the U.S. would you then write off all US based doctors as well? Because that seems to be what you’re doing with Mexican physicians. And it’s not like you’ve been to multiple medical offices for comparison either…you had one disappointing experience and you’re ready to write off the entire country. Just…wow.

    • Well, I did title it “OUR Algodones Dentist Care,” not “ALL Algodones Dentist Care” for a reason. Yeah, I would possibly write off a geographic region. For instance the MD health care Jim and I have received in one segment of the country completely sucked. So yeah, we wrote that off, no problem there. Since we have other options as full-timers, we’ll take ’em. By the way, MD physicians are not DDS dentists, just to be clear.

  2. We got recommendations from 2 other RVers who had extensive work done. We went to the Dentist, (who is only a dentist) over 3 years, I’ve had a crown, a bridge, aand a broken old crown repaired and replaced. Each time checkups included a good cleaning, and x-rays displayed on a big monitor.

    One year we decided not to do to YUMA, so no trip to Algodones. We instead went to a local dental clinic in Tucson advertising $79 cleaning and x-rays. They spent most of the time examimg the gum pockets assigning numbers and doing lots of poking. They took the x-rays, and after they were done, they started to explain our need for the deep cleaning of our guys because we both evidently had severe gum disease.
    They gave me a detailed estimate of $11,000. That included all the nasty cutting of gums scraping below the gum lines, replacement of the Bridge I had done in Mexico because their x-rays show a small cavity on one of the teeth below the Bridge. Also a crown.
    My wifes was not quite as bad, hers was only $9000.
    They wanted to know if we wanted to start the process, and we declined, and asked if they would do the cleaning they hadn’t done yet. They said fine, but the cleaning included in the special was just a light cleaning not a deep cleaning. They just used a manual pick, did a little scraping, not removing any tartar I could see. They polished them and we paid our bill and left.
    I’ve had many cleanings over the years, many I didn’t like, and the best from my daughter in law who is a hygenist. The cleaning we received at this clinic was the worst ever.
    The next year I went back to the Algodones dentist for cleaning and a check up and asked if they would double check the x-rays especially on the Bridge I had because another dentist saw a spot under it that he identified as a cavity. They did, and then re did the X-ray specifically on the Bridge and found nothing.

    I just feel we both went to the wrong dentist. I have no gum disease 3 years later nor does my wife. We both brush twice a day and waterpik every night.

    The dentist in Algodones charged me $475 for the Bridge, the Tucson dental clinic want $4500 to replace the Bridge.

    There are good and bad dentists everywhere, you might have found a poor one in Algodones, but we found a dishonest one in Tucson.

    • Wow Dave that is craaaaaaaazy! I’ve heard that some U.S. dentists in need of clients will use those specials to get customers in the door, same as Algodones. How ridiculous that they would hand you both an estimate like that. So sorry but good for you for holding off and not falling for it. Glad you found good dentists in Mexico!

  3. Oh, forgot. We have friends who have tried to have glasses made in Algodones without success–they could never get the prescription correct.

  4. “There is just no comparison.” I have had dental care in Nogales and in Algodones and I am in total agreement–there is no comparison. My Nogales work–a crown–was poorly done leaving too large a gap between my teeth causing food to pack into the space. In Algodones the first two crowns I had done by a dentist were done well and I liked that dentist. BUT when I saw one of his staff take a tool which had been in MY mouth, spray it with something in a bottle and hand it to the dentist to use in another lady’s mouth–I did NOT ever go back. My last experience in Algodones was awful–I thought I had made the appointment with one dentist, got there and was told, no, he only does implants, Dr. so and so will be doing your work. Oh, MY!! I should have left but we had gone to a lot of trouble to get to Algodones and so I stayed. I am thinking that dentist was a trained on the job fellow–he was rough, no finesse and my crown fits terribly. I’m thinking I am finished with Mexican dentistry. And, I totally agree with you about cleanings by Mexican dentists–the work will do in a pinch! Do you remember meeting us–we were parked at a house east of Elfrida, AZ several years ago and visited with you briefly one day. We have purchased a home near that same area, thus the blog name change.

    • Janna it is SO good to hear from you! Yes I do remember meeting you and your hubby, it was through Kelly and Al right? Congrats on the new fixer upper in AZ. We would love to see it sometime.

      Your experience in Algodones with the used dental tools almost made me vomit. EEEK! Thankfully our dentist had all hygenically sealed tools before she began on us, but who knows, maybe we were the first ones of the day who got the benefit of using them first? Yikes.

      So sorry about your existing dental work, that bites. Haha pun kinda intended. But really, hope you find a good solution to the situation, there’s nothing worse than poorly fitting crowns. You have my sympathies!

  5. Hey guys, good review. Oddly enough, in the past when we went to Palomas, Mexico for dental and eye glasses, we were pleased with our dental work, but unhappy with our eye glasses. Over the years we continued to have dental work, but stopped getting glasses in Mexico and went back to paying the high price for glasses in the USA. Of course, that was many years ago before the huge influx of both full-time RVers and snowbirds, which has impacted so many things associated with RV travel.

    • Woah good to know Larry. Maybe I’ll rethink the eyeglasses thing, thanks for letting me know. When we were in Algodones, I thought about the good experience you and Nancy had in Palomas. Knowing your background in the health care industry both professionally and personally, I know that you two have high standards of care and was hoping we would also have a good experience, but no such luck in Algodones. It was a good experience though, I’m glad we finally did it.

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