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Carol Tekavec, RDH
Hygiene Consultant
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Dental Report from Puerto Vallarta
By Carol Tekavec RDH

From November to March the resort area of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico is filled with tourists from all over the world. Canadians, Europeans, Americans and Mexicans from other parts of the country come to spend time in this warm and friendly coastal region. The beaches are not too crowded, but nevertheless tourists often strike up conversations and possible friendships with other travelers while sitting and soaking in the sun. 

I traveled to Puerto Vallarta last month. While speaking with a group of fellow tourists on the beach, I discovered that several people were there not only for a vacation, but also for dental treatment. The local English language newspapers are full of ads for plastic surgery and dentistry. Apparently people are quite willing to receive both during their vacation time, and several people told me of the savings they were receiving.

Medical and dental care in foreign countries is popular, primarily because of the cost. People perceive that they can have a nice trip, plus dental or medical treatment, for less than just the cost of their care in the United States. In Puerto Vallarta, physicians and dentists often speak English or other languages in addition to Spanish, and offer quick treatment and replacement fabrication. Worries about possible subsequent dental problems or concerns about quality do not seem to trouble the tourists who come for treatment. It appears to be a given that the care will be the same as what is available in the United States. Just much less expensive.

One of the people I spoke with was a lovely woman who told me she was having extensive dental treatment performed while visiting. She was staying for a week and had two dental appointments scheduled. She had discovered the practice because her mother received dental care from this same dentist previously and had gotten along well. This dentist was not located in the tourist-oriented area of town where many are, but rather was in the older part of the city. Instead of responding to advertising, this lady had learned about the dentist from word-of-mouth from her mom, who in turn had just come across the dentist during a trip.

The woman told me that she had “two partial crowns, two full crowns, some fillings, teeth whitening, and a cleaning” accomplished that morning. She had already completed another appointment earlier that week, which I interpreted to possibly be for the crown preps. She showed me the full crowns, which appeared to be of a type of metal, not stainless steel or copper, but I did not see the “partial” crowns, which I took to possibly be three/quarter restorations. (Many “window” type crowns are seen in Mexico where the facial surface of a tooth in the anterior is preserved and visible, with a posterior and mesial and distal surround of metal. But this was not what she had experienced. Her anterior teeth appeared to have been restored with resin at some point.)

She was very happy with her treatment, and even happier to tell me what the total cost had been. She said that she had paid the dentist $495.

She was amiable to my questions, so I asked for some details. She said the dentist got her fully numb and the shots had not been painful. She said the crowns felt good and she was not sore. She explained that the “cleaning” was accomplished with an electric diamond, (perhaps an ultrasonic scaler?) rather than “scraping with the old-fashioned instruments” her dentist at home used. She did not say if she had ever had treatment by a dental hygienist in the United States. She said that her dentist at home had caused her to have a worsening of what she called “TMJ” and her jaw hurt a lot. Plus, she said that as a child she had ineffective orthodontic treatment that “didn’t do anything and was the cause of her TMJ” in the first place. She said her teeth had “gone back to the way they were” and it was true that her teeth were not completely straight.

She was going home the next day and was very happy she had her new crowns and whitening and would not have to face the “over-priced dentists” at home.

Here are the things that occurred to me:

• The number one complaint patients seem to have is that dentistry is too expensive.  They perceive they are not receiving a good value for what they pay. The cost alone seems to be driving many patients to seek treatment in Mexico, although it is not the only issue.

Another subject is that they perceive treatment in Mexico is just as good, or even better, than the United States. Hence her comment that the “electric diamond” was better than the “old-fashioned instruments” used by her home dentist.

• Fast, effective treatment is valued by patients and she was very happy to have all of her treatment done quickly.

• Advertising is not the only thing fueling foreign treatment. So much care is being accomplished that word-of-mouth is just as effective.

Dentists in the United States have many concerns that may keep them up at night. This perception that foreign dentistry is just as good and more cost effective is another problem. At the very least, we need to help our patients pay for the treatment they need with easy to understand payment plans and financing options, such as CareCredit, and we need to try to get their treatment accomplished as quickly as possible. Patients who need dental treatment but can’t afford the money or time are easily lured to foreign care.

Carol Tekavec RDH is the Director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office.” Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department?  Email hygiene@mckenziemgmt.com.

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