Before we left San Diego and while I still had my good dental insurance from my last company, I had my semi-annual dental cleaning and checkup. Turns out my poor old fillings are getting to the point where almost every checkup I have one or more small cracks or something that needs fixed, and sure enough in September 2015 I had three fillings.
Months tick by, fun is to be had, no more dental insurance so I keep putting off the next cleaning, but I still have a goal to die with all my own teeth (even if they are all capped and crowned stubs of their former selves), so I finally hauled my butt to the local dentist a couple weeks ago.
Right outside the marina entrance is a small dental office, one guy, one chair and a small outer waiting room. No receptionist. No office manager. No dental assistants. No billing specialist. Just a nice, young dental dude.
I walk into the waiting room one morning to make an appointment. Hm, no receptionist, no bell to ring, should I knock on the door to the inner sanctum? Within a minute, out comes the dentist himself, Dr. Alexander Mejia. Turns out the big mirror hanging on the wall is a two-way, just like on the cop shows. I ask to make an appointment, he pulls out small calendar book and we decide on a date and time for cleaning. He pencils me in.
The next week I go back for the cleaning. My first surprise? He came out personally and asked me to wait a few minutes while he got ready. Based on the noises I heard, he was sweeping the office and emptying the trash. No cleaning staff.
The second surprise was – no dental hygienist or assistant, the doctor himself does the cleanings. And it’s every bit as good as the ones I used to received in the U.S. Equipment just as new and gleaming, I even got to wear the funky giant glasses. But ick, I had four small areas that needed to be addressed. He even had that stick thing that he pokes around in your mouth so he took the pictures to prove it to me. Appointment #2 was made for the first two fillings.
Surprise #3 – he writes his cell phone number on the business card and tells me to call if any problems arise. Really – his cell phone number. Then he asks for my number and – hold onto your hat – he puts it in his contact list on his cell phone.
Appointment #2 comes around, fillings done, again no dental assistant so that mysterious mixing that goes on behind you and handing stuff to the doctor over your head – the doc did it all himself on the back of his left hand while the right hand was working its dental magic.
Appointment #3 comes around, I walk in and he comes out to profusely apologize – he had an emergency patient who is leaving the next day for the U.S. and needed about 2-3 hours, so we rescheduled.
The next day, he calls – yes, my cell phone rings and it’s Dr. Alex himself on the line. He apologizes again, but he was having trouble getting the materials he needed to restock his supplies, so we reschedule again.
Finally we finish up the next day and all is well with my teeth.
Cost for all this? For the sake of example, let’s say I was paying $15/month for dental insurance back in my days of employment. Exchange rate at this writing is 19 pesos to one U.S. dollar.
Annual insurance – $180
Cleaning co-pay – $0 every six months
Co-pay for three fillings – $120
Total cost: $300 U.S.
Annual insurance – $0
Cleaning – $500 Mex ($26. 32 U.S.)
One filling – $500 Mex ($26. 32 U.S.)
Total cost – approx. $131 U.S.
My mom doesn’t have dental insurance, and she just paid $160 U.S. for a filling. Using that guide, my bill would have been over $640 U.S.
Bottom line – dental work is inexpensive compared to the U.S., the doctor has more interaction with you (to be fair, a large urban dental office in Mexico may operate more like a U.S. office), and the most important part: the equipment and techniques are just as good as in the U.S.
And the cell phone thing? That’s how it works here. Doctors go by their first name (Dr. Victor, Dr. Alex, Dr. Consuela). They routinely give you their cell numbers. And when you call them on the phone – they answer.
Pretty cool, eh?