Let Me Tell You About My Vacation (My Dental Vacation)

by Evelyn Garcia

Beth! Recently you went to Algodones, Mexico to get dental work done. How did you find out about Algodones?
Since November 2012, my husband Forrest and I have been semi-nomadic: living in a series of vehicles, drifting between Idaho and Arizona. We don’t have trust funds or a huge bank account so we live frugally in order to be able to stay on the road and adventure.

Most of the people who spend a lot of time traveling are considerably older than us. (I’m 28, Forrest is 31.) The people we hang out with aren’t typically traveling in expensive Class A motorhomes and are also on budgets/fixed incomes.

Many of them go to Algodones for dental work, glasses, and prescription medication because they either lack insurance or coverages on those things aren’t very good.

Forrest has been procrastinating on a load of dental work for a long time so we started asking around whenever we were with someone who’d been traveling awhile.

The quote we got in the states for three crowns and no root canals was around $7,000.

Turns out he needed three root canals and three crowns. Total cost in Mexico=$2,100.

Much better.
Plus, they were more than happy to give him Valium before his appointments for no extra cost. No fee for his initial exam or x-rays. No office fees. Just flat numbers on the crowns and root canals.

Does Forrest have any kind of dental coverage in the U.S.?
None. Even if we did though, most of the cheapest dental plans cover 100%
preventative, 50% minor, and 30% major dental. While we were there, I got my teeth cleaned and x-rayed for $30.

I pay $50 for every cleaning and I have insurance. Ha. So what is the town like? And where is it?
There is a tribal casino located about a mile and a half from the border. We stayed in the camper there and walked (or hitched) down to the border for appointments. (And to just drink tequila.) The Quechan Casino is located about 5 miles west of Yuma, Arizona near Winterhaven, Calif.

There’s also a parking lot run by the tribe right *on* the border but they charge $6 a day to park there. We did a combination of hitching and walking. Heading into Mexico, you just pass through the gate, no questions asked. There’s a steady stream of American and Canadian medical tourists in their 50s, 60s, and 70s headed into Mexico.

They also seem to be completely befuddled that they’re going into Mexico. Direct quote: “Oh, this is SO INTERESTING!”

Once you pass through the gates, there are a handful of guys handing out business cards for dentists and offering to direct you to pharmacies.

Like they’re coffee shops in Amsterdam! Is that how you set up your appointments?
Nope. We took recommendations from those other travelers. The office we went to didn’t seem to have street hawkers. They also charge 15–25% more than a lot of the places with street hawkers. We made an appointment about two days in advance for Forrest. I just walked in for my cleaning. While I was waiting, I saw them take some walk-ins but their office is a little off the main drag so I don’t think they get too many.

I think I would feel fine paying a little more. Like getting the second cheapest appliance at Target.
That was exactly Forrest’s thought.

So your cleaning, standard?
Exactly like in the U.S.

Forrest was having some really gnarly work done, to say the least. What was his experience like?
I think our biggest takeaway was not being nickel-and-dimed. It was a set price and they did it.

Important: did he get any cool drugs?
Well, they gave him Nimesulide, which isn’t approved in the U.S. We did stock up on amoxicillin, cipor, and cephalexin while we were there like the backcountry users we are.

That’s just good sense. Did you pay with a card? Did you have to pay beforehand?
We paid in cash. I think they take cards but there might be a foreign transaction fee. Everyone takes checks because they deal with old people. The dentist we went to referred Forrest to an affiliated endodontist for the root canals. For those we paid after each. The crowns we had to put a deposit on so they could make them, and we paid in full after they were put on.

Does the city have a weird Myrtle Beach vibe, like no one lives there and it’s just a commercial concept?
The town is crawling with these doddering Americans and Canadians being sold lawn ornaments, t-shirts, sunglasses, jewelry. There is one main cantina thing directed at gringos. We hung out there because the people-watching was good. Once you wandered outside of the four block tourist center though there were taco stands frequented only by Mexicans and then town just ENDED. One of the hygienists told us that all the doctors live in San Luis or Mexicali.

Were there any Mexicans getting dental work done?
There were some, but I suspect the majority of them would do it in the spring or the fall. Apparently Algodones shuts down in the summer and the majority of Americans and Canadians go in the winter.

One night Forrest’s appointment ran pretty late (5:45 or so) and it was dark when we left and all of the tourists were gone. But I was starving and we both wanted food, preferably of the taco sort. So we found the remaining food trucks on the edges of town that were serving locals and devoured some delicious food. After they realized we were making an effort to speak [horrible] Spanish they were super nice to us.

Awesome. What did you get?
I had al pastor tacos but Forrest’s mouth hurt so he was stuck with a quesadilla.

Where are you guys now?
Just north of Yuma. The only warm place in the country so we’re stuck for a while. It’s been 80 degrees fahrenheit here.

Yeah, I don’t need that info!

Evelyn Garcia blogs at A Cup of Shit and her molars started hurting when she runs? // Beth can be found at 3upadventures.com