One of the challenges of living on the road is taking care of medical and dental needs. Our plans are to get back to our old Seattle-area home base at least once a year for annual physicals and the like with our long-time doctors. Doing that will also give us a chance to see family and friends in that area. But, what about our regular teeth cleanings? We’ve always been on an every-six-months schedule and we didn’t want to start going 12 months, or longer, between cleanings. So, we’d briefly thought that going to a dentist in a Mexico border town might be the way to go. If chosen wisely, they can be as good as a US dentist, but with much lower fees. When one day in March Kathy sudden exclaimed that it felt like a part of one of her molars had broken off, the need for a dentist visit suddenly became much more urgent. The next day, neighbors in the Fountain of Youth (FOY) dry camp mentioned they had gone to Los Algodones, just across from Yuma, Arizona, for dental work, and we knew that’s what we should do.
I was surprised to learn that Los Algodones is relatively close to FOY, only 99 miles away. That would make it an easy day trip from our location. When I called a highly reviewed dentist, it turned out she could see us two days later at 10 am. Then we learned that other FOY neighbors would be driving to Los Algodones the same morning we would be, for their own dental visits. They’d done it in years past and would be happy to have us follow them. Wow, things quickly fell into place, and we knew God was watching out for us again.
Up bright and early on the appointed day, we hit the road in our Honda. After a 1.5 hour drive we were at the border and paid $6 to park in a lot on the US side that is run by the local Native American tribe that also runs the nearby Quechan Casino Resort. It was less than a five minute walk to cross the border, through an unmanned Mexican customs facility. Just like that, we were in Los Algodones and on our way to our dentist only a couple of blocks away.
Los Algodones is interesting on a couple of different levels.
First, it’s nearly entirely devoted to medical and dental tourism, with the opportunity to buy typical tourist knickknacks and enjoy some Mexican food and drinks thrown in for good measure. Everywhere you look there are optical shops, dentists and dental specialists such as endodontists, periodontists, etc., pharmacies, and even cosmetic surgery clinics. (I wouldn’t be surprised if there were other medical specialties available there, but we didn’t see them.) And, everywhere you walk there are men (predominantly) on the streets asking if you need a dentist or if you need glasses, etc. (A simple “no, gracias” answer would quickly make them turn to someone else.)
Second, at least during the winter, Los Algodones is packed with Americans and Canadians there to receive those medical or dental services. We happened to be there on a Wednesday and the US parking lot we used was packed and Los Algodones was very busy. We were told it’s like that nearly every day during the busy winter season.
Walking back into the US was a much longer process. We had read that the wait could be 1.5 hours if we waited until the busiest period of 1 to 3 pm, so after our dentist appointment we walked right back to the border and got in an already-long line of people waiting to clear US customs. It still took us just over an hour. Fortunately, there are benches along, and shade built over, the line area and there were lots of interesting people around us to talk to or overhear. The two couples in front of us were from Quebec and had delightful French Canadian accents. When we reached the very weary looking US officer at his desk he wanted to know what we’d bought (“nothing”) and if we were carrying any pharmaceuticals (“no”). He was satisfied with our answers and within several minutes we were back in our car and driving into Yuma for lunch.
Oh, and our dentist experience? We saw Dr. Maria Fonseca and as we’d hoped she was excellent. Dr. Maria, as she introduced herself, spoke very good, slightly accented English and her two staff members also spoke easily-understandable English. Her office was modern and well-appointed. She turned out to be a Christian. And her care seemed high quality. Each of our teeth cleanings—mine done by Dr. Maria herself, which I understand is not uncommon in Mexico—lasted about 45 minutes and were very thorough. Dr. Maria even cautioned me about how I’ve been brushing poorly in a particular area (something my regular dentist has also mentioned in the past, I’m a bit ashamed to admit). Our teeth looked great afterwards.
After Kathy’s cleaning was completed they took three x-rays of her damaged tooth and Dr. Maria discussed treatment options with her. She recommended a crown, which would take two days, but said it could be put off for a year if they removed the damaged filling and replaced it with a larger new one. Kathy chose the latter option and that work took about another hour. Dr. Maria was meticulous in making sure the filling was comfortable and worked well with Kathy’s bite (about six weeks later it’s still fine).
The total price? $160. We plan to see Dr. Maria next winter.