By Greg Niemann
When asked recently about dental care in Baja, I had to admit I was stumped. I had not been to a Mexican dentist in over 20 years, and back then that Rosarito area dentist did not do that great a job. Thereafter I got my “ivories” checked stateside, paying ever-increasing prices. But even in California I’ve had some hit and miss experiences too: having to redo a root canal, having a crown break within weeks, etc.
So I was ready to try Baja again, especially after learning more about Los Algodones. Following a personal recommendation, we were able to go online and set up appointments with a dentist in that border town dedicated to medical tourism.
Los Algodones (population 5,474 in the 2010 census) is unlike any Mexican destination you’ll encounter. Almost everyone in town seems to speak English; and they use the U.S. Dollar way more than the Peso. In fact, most prices are posted and/or quoted in dollars. But most striking – the small town is home to over 40 dental offices, over 900 total doctors, 50 dental laboratories, and a goodly number of pharmacies.
Much Lower Dental Costs
For roughly one-third to one-half of the price you would pay in the U.S. you can get everything in the way of dentistry procedures, prescription glasses, prescription drugs and other types of medical procedures and supplies. As Medicare and many private health plans do not include dental care, seeking lower costs is especially important to many seniors.
Near the extreme southeast corner of California, Los Algodones is less than 8 miles west of Yuma, AZ. And it is only a half-day drive from either San Diego (165 miles) or Palm Springs (162 miles). Part of the municipality of Mexicali, B.C., Los Algodones is the northernmost town in Mexico, and all of Latin America for that matter. An obelisk by the boundary fence that runs along the north end of town commemorates that fact.
I was surprised to see only one Los Algodones hotel listed on the internet. The Hacienda does have several on-line recommendations. Curious, we checked it out. They have a swimming pool, an improved newer section, and it looks private and inviting. It’s on the east edge of town but still a short walk to everything. Hotels are not that demanding as most people stay in the U.S. where a large fenced parking lot (inexpensive) is designed for day-tourists. They simply walk across the border from California.
Some visitors opt for the closest stateside hotel, the Quechan Casino Resort, Winterhaven, California. It has a restaurant, pool, and of course the casino. Prices are decent and some of the dental clinics offer discounts at the Quechan Resort. Nearby Yuma has about every type and price range of accommodation and we had made reservations there. So following our initial mid-day dental appointments we crossed back to the U.S. and headed for Yuma.
An Easy Border Crossing
It was a pretty simple process driving across the border as most people walk across. Once in the little Mexican town you can park on the streets everywhere. There are also a couple of parking lots if you’re antsy about leaving your car on the street. As Los Algodones relies on the Yankee dollar and Canadian Loon, there are hawkers everywhere, leading you to a medical service if you have not lined one up. Billboards, for example, advertise $20.00 teeth cleaning and all types of prescription drugs.
Stores and shops are full of typical Mexican souvenirs: serapes, sombreros, carved items, ceramic art, paper machẻ flowers and birds, t-shirts, and more. Those items did not entice us as we see that stuff all too often in our Mexican travels. But some of the day-crossers enchanted by the novelty items were dragging lots of it back to California.
We found a couple of great little open-air restaurants where fish and shrimp tacos came with all the trimmings. We especially liked Taqueria Molcas where you could almost fill up on the chips and appetizer platters. Mariscos El Paisa also looked appealing.
The town is so small (just several blocks in each direction), it is easy to find your doctor or dentist. We had been referred to Dr. Jorge Jimenez DDS, of Circle Dental Group. We made a right on the first street after crossing into Mexico and it was on the next corner. My wife got her teeth cleaned, but I had some major work done that afternoon. We returned the next morning for the impressions and crowns.
No Waiting For Crowns
One thing that I found commendatory is the promptness of the labs. Where stateside dentists take a couple of weeks to get a crown made, the dental demand in Los Algodones propagate numerous labs which all create crowns in less than an hour. Along with Dr. Jimenez, I was attended to be a seemingly very young dentist, Dra. Ana Fajardo. She had a very gentle touch and friendly no-nonsense mannerisms.
I was impressed with the workmanship, and even more impressed with the price, about a third of what I was quoted in Palm Springs for a simpler process. To give you an idea, Circle Dental charges $30.00 for teeth cleaning, $50.00 for a filling, $190.00 for a porcelain crown, $70.00 for a tooth extraction, $220.00 for a root canal, and $800.00 for an implant. See www.circledentalgroup.com.
There are larger and smaller clinics and every type of dental specialty is offered including teeth whitening, orthodontics and endodontics. The doctors and dentists are for the most part highly trained and have completed their studies at major universities and medical schools in both the U.S. and Mexico.
What Border Wait?
I’m always apprehensive about the long lines often encountered driving from Mexico back to the U.S.. Thus, we have Sentri cards which simplify and speed up the process. We didn’t even need the Sentri leaving Los Algodones! The first time we crossed there were about six cars ahead of us, and the second time, only three. Sometimes you’re the only one in line. I really like that border crossing!
As mentioned many people don’t even take their cars across. For that matter, many people don’t even bother to drive to that remote part of California. There are organized day trips from the Coachella Valley and San Diego areas that are very popular with seniors.
Los Algodones doesn’t have a lock on Medical Tourism. There are numerous pharmacies and dentists in Tijuana, Rosarito and Ensenada. One, called My Baja Dental offers free transportation across the San Ysidro border. Their listed prices appeared just a little higher than Los Algodones, but still way less than the U.S. There’s also Pacific Dental Tijuana, Baja Dental in Rosarito (firstname.lastname@example.org), and Clinica Dental del Puerto in Ensenada.
For us, we’ll go back to Los Algodones. We figured that the money saved on just two teeth cleanings alone would pretty much pay for the fuel and night in a hotel. Plus, not only do they have great tacos at Taqueria Molcas, but I love that simple border crossing!
Greg Niemann, a long-time Baja writer, is the author of Baja Fever, Baja Legends, Palm Springs Legends, Las Vegas Legends, and Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS. Visit www.gregniemann.com.