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How to Get Your Teeth Fixed in Mexico (A Comprehensive Guide)


A few people have messaged me on the forums asking me about a response I posted to a reader with dental problems, where I mentioned that I had gone down to Mexico to get my Adderall-ruined teeth fixed for way less money than I was  about to pay in the states.

So at the risk of being only tangentially-related to the theme of this site, I’m going to give you all the information you ever wanted (and more) on getting your teeth fixed across the border.

Table of Contents

  1. How Adderall Rots Your Teeth
  2. Dentistry in the U.S. is Stupidly Expensive
  3. The Increasingly-Popular Mexico Option
  4. Key Reasons to Get Your Teeth Fixed in Mexico
  5. Tips on Getting Your Teeth Fixed in Mexico
    1. You are NOT going to get kidnapped, mugged, or harassed by corrupt police that you have to bribe
    2. Don’t let people talk you out of it
    3. Don’t talk yourself out of it
    4. Research the dentist
    5. Go see Dr. Torres at Pacific Dental, like me!
    6. Budget $700-800 for plane tickets, unless you’re close to San Diego
    7. Stay at a hotel with (or near) a medical shuttle
    8. Which hotel to stay at (I stayed at the Best Western Americana on San Ysidro)
    9. How many days and nights do I need?
    10. Don’t take taxis. Rent a car from Advantage.
    11. Why Advantage Rent-a-Car kicks ass
    12. Bring a little cash for food across the border
    13. Don’t count on using your cell phone for calls/texts across the border
    14. Load up your phone with a good translator app that works when your phone is in airplane mode
    15. Don’t freak out when the dental office looks really ghetto.
    16. Don’t be afraid to get extreme work done, as long as you research the dentist
    17. Call your Mexican dentist if you have pain. Your Mexican dentist can call in a prescription for you at your local CVS just like a U.S. dentist can.
  6. My Favorite Sightseeing Destinations
    1. I didn’t do much sightseeing in Tijuana
    2. Downtown San Diego was nice
    3. Coronado was awesome, but mostly on personal level
  7. Overall Impressions of the Whole Experience

How Adderall Rots Your Teeth

Adderall dries your mouth out. The “cotton mouth” feeling will sneak up on you if you don’t keep extremely hydrated. And the higher the dose you take and the less sleep you get, the dryer your mouth becomes. To compensate for this dry mouth effect, most Adderallics keep some form of drink close by throughout the day.

Of course, water alone won’t quite satisfy your craving. Adderallics like drinks that are loaded with sugar and electrolytes (Gatorade, soft drinks, sweet tea, sometimes red bull). Because not only does a sugary drink saturate your dry mouth, it also heightens and prolongs your Adderall buzz.

This is why many Adderallics are like hummingbirds, constantly sipping sugary sap all day to keep their body racing along, their brains overclocked, and their mouths wet.

But this diet can have an unexpected and expensive consequence: namely, it can totally disentigrate your teeth.

First off, there’s the dry mouth. Your mouth needs saliva and moisture to keep itself clean. When you reduce the amount of saliva being produced (as with dry mouth), bacteria production can increase by up to ten times.

Then there’s the acid in the drink itself. Your average sugary drink contains lots of acids that can wear on teeth enamel. Fortunately, most normal people just take a few gulps when they get thirsty and then leave the drink alone for a while.

But Adderallics aren’t just drinking because they’re thirsty. They’re drinking to combat dry mouth, which means they sit their and constantly sip their drink slowly throughout the course of the day, keeping the fluid in their mouth. This basically bathe your teeth in acid all day.

Teeth are pretty strong. They regularly stand up to even the corrosive power of sipping sugary drink acids all day. The reason they can stand this abuse is because saliva also reduces pH (acid). But oh wait…you’re got Adderall dry mouth…you don’t have saliva. So you’re bathing your teeth in acid after turning off your mouth’s natural defense against acidity.

If you’ve ever noticed that your mouth gets really acid-y after a long Adderall binge (i.e., your Gatorade tastes too acidic all of a sudden), this is why: your saliva is so under-productive that your mouth can’t reduce the acid in the drink  anymore so it’s building up and making it taste bad.

Naturally, this can all lead to some serious dental problems, especially if you maintain the Adderall + sugary drink lifestyle for several years.

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Dentistry in the U.S. is Stupidly Expensive

The average human mouth has 28 teeth in it. I paid over $11,000 just to have my 8 molars crowned (crowned = capped). Granted, I needed a couple root canals too and I was seeing a very fancy dentist, but still, $1100-$1200 per tooth is not uncommon (add another $1000 if you need a root canal).

If you sign up for on one of those dental discount plans that you can find online, you can get the price down around $850/tooth, but you are limited to using only the dentists on the list that the discount plan provides you with. Most dentists on the list are “strip mall dentists” and it’s a crapshoot as far as quality goes (all dentists are not made equal…I’ve met some scary ones).

Even at the discounted $850 a tooth, when you add in all of the other little bullshit services they charge you for after telling you that you “need” them, you’re looking at a very life-affecting amount of money if you need more than a couple teeth done.

And don’t count on your dental insurance. Most plans have a $1500 maximum per year…as you can see from the above prices, that won’t even cover two teeth. Beyond that, it’s going to copay and knock the price down to about the same level that a discount plan does ($850/tooth). The dentist will not let you combine insurance with a discount plan. It’s either/or.

The markup on dental work is huge. The dentist pays the lab about $150-$200 to make each porcelain crown, then passes that fee along to you. Then he charges you $700-1000 additional dollars (above the lab fee) to spend a total of one hour actually doing the work to cap your tooth (I’m including the drilling, the temporaries, and the second visit glue-down).

Even if you factor in the relatively low hourly wages of the dental assistants that hover around and help, $700-$1000/hour still provides a pretty solid profit margin. Easily enough to provide the average dentist with a very affluent lifestyle.

I’m not bashing dentists for making money. Doctors and dentist in the US are expected to make $200k+ a year. They spent the time in school, they went through the endless certifications, and they deserve their success. But try telling yourself that when you’re facing a $40,000 dental bill. It won’t be much comfort.

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The Increasingly-Popular Mexico Option (That I Took)

When you hear “Mexican dentist”, what are the first thoughts that come into your mind? Here are some that came to mine: Ghetto. Back-alley. Scary. Poor. Robbed. Cheap. Going to butcher my mouth and send me away with broken, plastic teeth and a mouth infected by the dirty water, all while not speaking enough English to understand my objections. A horrible decision. Not even worth considering.

Now let me through a few key points at you: $350-$500/tooth. The same brand name porcelain crowns used in the US. Work that is guaranteed for five years. Dentists that are trained the US, but only make a fraction of the exorbitant salary that U.S. dentists make (and they don’t need as much because the cost of living in Mexico is way lower).

Intrigued? I know I was. And I was desperate enough to try it.

My story (short version): I was quoted $12, 495 (plus tax) by my U.S. dentist for my remaining dental work (10 porcelain crowns on my lower teeth). I paid $4000 flat in Mexico for the same work (plus laser gum shaping!). And I am extremely happy with the results.

Plus I got to take two mini-vacations.

The whole experience left me with one huge regret: It went so well in Mexico that I mornfully wish that I’d found out about the Mexico option before I had spent almost $20k in the US. I could have done my whole mouth in Mexico for just what I paid for my molars in the US.

It’s also left me very bitter towards U.S. dentists. I love telling people about the Mexico option because I know firsthand how much money it can save you, what a great experience it can be, and because in my own small way I am sticking it to the type of overcharging U.S. dentist that I threw away my savings on. I think of my last U.S. dentist handing me that $12k estimate, and then I think “Hahaha. No, fuck you.”

So in that vein, here is a very detailed guide on getting your teeth fixed in Mexico….

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Reasons to Get Your Teeth Fixed in Mexico

  1. You will save a ton of money
  2. You will have a little bit of fun (or a lot!)
  3. You will meet lots of interesting, friendly people who are down there doing the same thing you are.
  4. Mexican dentists aren’t as condescendingly detached as many U.S. dentists are. They’re very approachable, human, and grateful for your business.
  5. You may well receive better work than in the states (I did)

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Tips on Getting Your Teeth Fixed in Mexico

You are NOT going to get kidnapped, mugged, and/or hit up for a bribe by corrupt police.

Everybody has a story. One friend told me that “some people she knew” used to bring two bags of pot across the border: one for themselves, and one to bribe the cops that harassed them. My shuttle driver at the San Diego airport had a “friend” who went down and got kidnapped. It’s so unsafe, everybody says. And I’m sure that unsafe element probably does exist down there. But I didn’t see any of it.

I felt more safe during my time in Tijuana than I do walking the streets of most big U.S. cities. Compared to downtown Atlanta or even downtown San Diego, there were much less people on the streets in Tijuana. In Atlanta I am accosted by at least 5 homeless guys every quarter mile or so. I didn’t get hit up for money once in Tijuana.

Hell, I only saw two homeless guys in Tijuana, and they were off in the distance, doing their own drug-fueled thing (like the “harmless” slow zombies in a zombie movie that you can just walk around).

But now, here’s the catch, and probably the reason why my trip felt so safe: Except for one trip to McDonalds, I was either in my dentist’s office or in the shuttle bus. Those are both protected places, and if you don’t want to you never have to venture outside of them (and I didn’t want to).

You may have a different experience if you try to walk all around Tijuana. I chose not to. For me it was: Hotel, shuttle, dentist, shuttle, hotel. And I think I’m happier for it.

Don’t let people talk you out of it

When I started telling people about my plans to go down to Mexico to get my teeth fixed, everybody flipped out and tried to talk me out of it.

My father emailed me a map of recent drug killings in Mexico and warned me about dirty water going into open wounds. My aunt (who resolves conflicts for a living) called and spent an hour throwing alternatives at me, trying desperately to save me from having my mouth butchered by some sketchy, impoverished amateur. My best friend said — with not a little concern and disapproval in his voice — that I was doing something dangerous (and suggested that I at least wear crappy clothes and shoes when over the border). Hell, my favorite sandwich artist at Jersey Mike’s Subs reminded me that Kanye West’s mom went down to Mexico for plastic surgery and died. On my father’s sound advice, I didn’t even tell my mother (until I got back).

Flash forward to now. My father is planning his own trip down to Mexico to get some old caps redone, and my aunt congratulates me on my perseverance nearly every time I see her. My best friend hasn’t brought up the issue again, my favorite sandwich artist at Jersey Mike’s Subs is amazed and still somewhat surprised that I didn’t die, and my mother keeps complimenting my teeth.

Also, I found that this video on medical tourism, featuring my dentist was particularly good at opening peoples minds a little.

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Don’t talk yourself out of it

Other people will tell you that you’re crazy and going to die. And you’ll have lots of arguments to throw back at them to convince them that you’re actually making a very smart decision and that they are just uninformed. But no matter how much research you do, a part of you will always wonder “What if I am crazy and going to die? What if this is just some big, desperate rationalization on my part?”

That fear…that “what if?” was not fully resolved for me until a month after I had gotten back from my trip and the last of my gum pain (from the laser gum shaping) had finally subsided (just as the dentist said it would), and everything was suddenly fine, confirming for me that I did, in fact, make a very awesome decision that worked out swimmingly for me and that I was not crazy or going to die.

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Research the dentist

I’ve been pretty complimentary of the dental industry in Mexico so far. I keep telling you that the stereotype of the uneducated, impoverished mouth-butcher isn’t remotely accurate. But the thing is, that sketchy mouth-butcher probably does exist in Mexico. And you do not want to go to him. I’ve seen a lot of dentists over my life. All of them are not created equal. I’ve had a top-end, plastic surgeon-esque dentist, I’ve had middle of the road dentists, and I’ve had a bottom-end dentist who talked about “the porcelain conspiracy” while filing down a tooth I had chipped (he refused to use anything but those ugly gold caps…in 2008).

Because you’re flying into this blind, do your homework on any dentist you’re thinking about seeing. Check out their website. Call them just to see what they’re like on the phone. Search for videos of them on YouTube. Hell, Google Images search the dentist’s name. If you get a sketchy vibe, move on to somebody else.

It is for this reason that I didn’t go to the absolute cheapest dentist I found (Sam Dental). Their website looked great and their prices were rock-bottom, and when I called I spoke to an american who ran the business remotely…all good signs. But I kept finding places where they’d apparently spammed blogs and forums with fake testimonials. As a web guy, that shit turns me off. The final death knoll to my Sam Dental plan was when I found a video of the Sam Dental dentist on Youtube (at least I think it was him, based on the description), and he was everything I had been afraid of. Broken English, cheap suit, weird backdrop….no. Maybe this was all mistaken identity on Sam Dental’s part. They could actually be a great office. But after two red flags I was ready to move on.

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Go see Dr. Torres at Pacific Dental, like me!

If you’ll take my recommendation, I am extremely happy with the dentist I went to: Dr. Oscar Torres at Pacific Dental. I happily and enthusiastically recommend him. At $400/tooth he’s not as cheap as some others (like Sam Dental @ $360/tooth), but he’s not the most expensive either.

Here’s some info on Dr. Torres…

  • He has two websites. An old blue one, and a less old orange one. They are both the same guy, despite appearances.
  • Dr. Torres speaks better English than I do. He gets empathy-based jokes and idioms without missing a beat. Very bright guy. You’ll get the impression “Well, he sure sounds like he knows his shit pretty well.” And as an example, if you said that to him, he would probably laugh.
  • Dr. Torres is the same dentist that the blogger who turned me onto the whole Mexico idea by writing “HOWTO: Get your teeth fixed in Mexico” went to see (the blogger doesn’t list the dentist’s name in his article, but I emailed the author and got the name…it was Dr. Torres). Incidentally, the author of that article said that after 7 years he is “extremely satisfied” with the work Dr. Torres did and that “It was one of the best things he ever did for himself”.
  • Dr. Torres’ Pacific Dental is the office featured in that great Channel 8 news special I linked to earlier (notice his crappy blue website on the monitor in the news report!)
  • He uses purified water in all his equipment. He adds that it doesn’t matter anyway because all the water in Tijuana is now up to US specifications, but he purifies it anyway just to make Americans feel safe (he’d show you the filtration system if you asked him, but I took his word for it and I didn’t get sick at all).
  • He takes US insurance (although most of them do)
  • He gives a 10% discount for using Debit Card/Cash instead of Credit Card. This blew me away, and saved me $400.
  • His credit card machine and/or bank account is located in the US, so you don’t get charged the 3% fee normally charged by your bank for out-of-country purchases. This was the most thoughtful touch of all, I thought. He really has every base covered.
  • He’s younger than you expect (mid-to-late-thirties), which means he still has plenty of passion.
  • He explains everything he’s doing in detail, much moreso than a U.S. dentist. Probably because he knows that he needs to alleviate the fear of his US patients.

Tell him “Mike from Atlanta with the 10 crowns on his lower teeth that came to see you late last year” sent you. Maybe he’ll hook me up when I go back later this year to get my uppers redone with him!

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Budget $700-800 for plane tickets, unless you’re close to San Diego

If you’re going to go to a dentist in Tijuana (right across the border), then you’ll be flying into San Diego.

Registering through Expedia, I paid $350-$400 per round trip from Atlanta. Just like getting crowns in the US, it takes two visits: The first visit he files your teeth down and puts temporary crowns on them. Then the lab spends 5 business days creating  your beautiful porcelain permanents. Then your second visit he cements the permanents on.

You could theoretically go down their on a Sunday, do your first visit on Monday, then stay down until the following Tuesday/Wednesday if you really wanted to. But the extra hotel nights are likely going to even out with the airfare you’d pay for on two trips, plus that’s a lot of time off work. It’s not really practical to stay down there until your crowns are ready. Better just to do it in two short trips, in my opinion. But hey, if you want a nice vacation and/or you’re taking somebody else with you (making airfare more of a cost) , go for it.

So that’s $700-$800 for plane tickets after two trips. Less if you buy on the right day and/or are more of a discount hound than I am.

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Stay at a hotel with (or near) a medical shuttle

You do not want to deal with the hassle of crossing the border all by yourself. The walking line is over a mile long in the mornings, and forget about taking a taxi or going in a rental car. A taxi would be crazy expensive, and you do not want to try and drive in Tijuana’s chaotic, structureless traffic that I can only describe as “like the running of the bulls but with beat-up cars and angry drivers”.

A medical shuttle makes your trip across the border a total breeze. You wake up in the morning, get your continental breakfast, walk to the front of the hotel, find the friendly shuttle drivers and say “Pacific Dental” (or whomever you chose). Then you get on the shuttle at 9am with a bunch of other Americans and Canadians going to various types of doctors and dentists, chit chat with nice people across the border (popular question: So what are you getting done?), and the shuttle takes you right to the door of your chosen dentist.

Then when you finish getting your work done at the dentist, they call the shuttle for you, and the shuttle comes and gets you, takes you back across the border (faster, because you get to go though the shorter “buses” line at customs), and drops you at your hotel.

I cannot imagine my trip without the shuttle. God knows how many mistakes I would have made and delays I would have encountered trying to find my way across the border and to my dentist all on my own.

Plus, the shuttle is where you meet all of the cool people! Each shuttle trip introduces you to a new group. You’re going to meet tons of nice people of all types. I actually got to know one couple well enough that I hung out with them one night back at the hotel.

Taking a medical shuttle takes all the stress out of crossing the border.

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Which hotel to stay at (I stayed at the Best Western Americana on San Ysidro)

There are several hotels within walking distance of the Tijuana border. I stayed at the Best Western Americana on San Ysidro because that’s where Dr. Torres, my dentist, suggested (since they have shuttle service to his office).

I paid the $79/night “Clinic Rate” which includes the shuttle. You have the option of paying the $59/night “internet prepay rate”. But if you do that you have to pay $40 for the shuttle. If you’re staying for 2 nights, it’s the same money (so just pay the higher clinic rate…otherwise you have register for the shuttle manually). If you’re staying for one night, the clinic package actually saves $20. If you’re staying for more than 2 nights (which you don’t need to unless you want to sightsee…see blow), then maybe you should consider taking the “cheaper nightly rate + $40 shuttle option”.

While driving around, I did notice hotels advertising cheaper nightly rates, but I’m not sure whether they had shuttles. And I’m not sure if you could stay at one of those and use the Best Western’s shuttle.

Bonus: the Best Western Americana San Ysidro has free wifi and is in the same parking lot as a great 24 hour diner (Denny’s-esque but slightly nicer) and a Burger King. Practically, what this means is that you can come back to the hotel from your first dental visit (which is when they really beat you up), get loaded up on pain killers, stumble 50ft to the diner, order a bunch of indulgent food, take it all back to your room, and watch movies on HBO while chewing your food delicately until you pass out. Because, hell, what else are you going to do right after getting ten teeth drilled and your gums cut up with a laser?

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How many days and nights do I need?

Ok, there are three ways to do this: crunched, normal, and extra day.

Option 1: Super-efficient/Crunched

  1. Fly in on Sunday night
  2. Check out Monday morning and leave your bags at the front desk
  3. Take the shuttle to the dentist after checking out
  4. Get back from the dentist
  5. Pick up your bag, go to the airport
  6. Fly back Monday evening
  7. Sleep a few hours (or a full night, depending on how far away from you)
  8. Go into work on Tuesday.
  9. Miss only one day of work per trip
  10. Pay for only one night at the hotel

Option 2: Normal

  1. Fly in on Sunday night
  2. Take the shuttle to the dentist on Monday morning
  3. Get back from the dentist
  4. Take it easy. Rest. Eat.
  5. Wake up lazily on Tuesday
  6. Dick around, get breakfast.
  7. Two options here…
    1. Pack up, take a Tuesday afternoon flight back
    2. Check out, put your bags in the rental car, go sightseeing in the California sun all day, then fly back Tuesday evening.
  8. Go into work on Wednesday
  9. Miss two days of work per trip
  10. Pay for two nights at the hotel

Option 3: Extra recovery/vacation day

  1. Fly in on Sunday night
  2. Take the shuttle to the dentist on Monday morning
  3. Get back from the dentist
  4. Take it easy. Rest. Eat.
  5. Wake up lazily on Tuesday
  6. Dick around, get breakfast.
  7. More resting. More relaxing. More recovering if you need it (implant patients, I’m looking at you).
  8. Go sightseeing if you want.
  9. Go out Tuesday night if you want.
  10. Wake up Wednesday morning and do what you want until your flight.
  11. Fly back Wednesday afternoon/evening
  12. Miss three days of work per trip
  13. Pay for three nights at the hotel.

Notes:

  • Always fly in on Sunday if you can, and schedule your appointment on Monday morning (try to hit close to 9:30-10pm, because the shuttles are at 7:30am and 9:00am). That’s by far the most efficient way to do it (I didn’t take my own advice on my first trip and regretted it). Otherwise you’re just wasting your off-work vacation days traveling.
  • If you take the hotel’s clinic shuttle (which you really should), you’re going to get back to the hotel from the dentist at like 12-1pm (I got back at noon even after having ten teeth worked on). So you’ll have lots of day left usually. That’s why a “recovery day” isn’t really as necessary as you may think it is. Although it might take longer if you’re getting implants or something, and in that’s what you’re doing you may want a recovery day.
  • If you need a recovery day at all (as in the extra day plan above) you will only need it on the first trip, not the second.
    • You probably don’t need a full recovery day if you’re just getting crowns. Getting back from the dentist at noon and taking it easy for the rest of that afternoon and night until the next morning — it’s plenty of rest.
    • If you’re getting implants or root canal(s), you may well consider the “extra day” option above, but only on the first trip, when the brunt of the work actually gets done.
  • For what it’s worth, I did the “extra day” plan on my first trip and felt like the extra day was a waste, so I did the “normal” plan on my second (with sightseeing option) and it was perfect…especially for the second trip when there was no harsh work to recover from (you’re just getting your permanents glued on).

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Don’t take taxis. Rent a car from Advantage.

A taxi or shuttle from the airport to San Ysidro (which is where most of the hotels with medical shuttles are) is about $50 plus tip. That’s like $100-$120, depending on what kind of tipper you are, just to get to and from the airport. For the same money you could rent an economy car for 48 hours from Advantage.

You can probably subsist on the food within walking distance of your hotel, but if you’re the type who likes to go exploring and you’ve left yourself a little extra time to sightsee, then you’re quickly going to approach $150-$200 in cab money (when combined with what you spent to/from the airport). Save it. Just rent a car. Even if you never use it except to & from the airport, you’re still paying the same money and giving yourself the the option to drive somewhere cool.

As for driving, everything is along one central highway. Your hotel is one exit, Coronado beach is another, then the airport, then downtown San Diego. It was all very easy and I did it with minimal use of my iPhone’s GPS, and that’s considering I am horrible with maps.

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Why Advantage Rent-a-Car kicks ass

For some reason that I still don’t fully understand, Advantage rents cars — fully insured — for about half the daily rate of all the other big rental care agencies. I had a long layover on my second trip, and decided to use the time wisely by pricing out rental cars. Since I had all the time on the world (6 hours), I took the shuttle to the nearby “rental car pavilion” and visited probably 5 of the big names (Hertz, Budget, etc.) to get a price quote on “the cheapest car you have” for 48 hours.

I soon decided, much to my dismay, that renting a car was going to be way to expensive. I think it was close to $180-$240 for 48 hours in an economy car (fully insured), and that just didn’t make economical sense. Taxis would be way cheaper.

As a last ditch “what the hell” effort, I wearily walked into the Advantage office and got a quote on economy car for two days, fully insured…

“$78”, said the sardonic teenage girl behind the counter.

“No.” I said. “For two days, not one.”

“Um…yeah. That is the price for two days.” said the girl.

“Wow. That’s like half of what all the others quoted me. How come you guys are so much less expensive than everybody else?” I asked, still a little incredulous.

“Um…because we’re awesome?” replied the girl. In time I grew to accept this answer as highly accurate.

Of course, I ended up still paying $198 for 48 hours, but that’s because I upgraded to a brand-new Mustang convertible with Satellite radio and iPod dock. For reference, an upgrade like that at one of the other big name rental companies would have cost me close to $400 for two days.

Incidentally, upgrading to that Mustang was one of the my favorite decisions ever. It made the trip a vacation. Plus San Diego was 75 degrees and sunny in November…the kind of weather that convertibles were invented for.

I still don’t know why Advantage is so much cheaper. They are owned by Hertz (or somebody like that). But hey, ride the wave while you can.

There’s a shuttle at the San Diego airport that will take you to the Advantage office right by the terminal, so it’s easy to return your car on the way back and take the shuttle to the airport. You can do the whole trip without taxis.

And with the MPG on modern cars, you don’t even have to factor gas into your budget. I think I spent $25 on gas and I drove everywhere in that Mustang.

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Bring a little cash for food across the border

In case you have to do any waiting while you’re at the dentist’s office, you may want to get close by food at some point. If you take my advice and go to Pacific Dental, there’s a McDonalds down the street. They don’t take debit card, but the do take US Dollars.

And they only speak Spanish. So be prepared to interpret all standard questions directed at you in Spanish with a bunch of people standing in line behind you: “Make it a combo? For here or to-go? Add coffee? Up size for only 500 pesos more?”

All I managed was “desayuno especial” and “por aqui”. Besides that I just kept saying “lo siento” and trying to hand the annoyed young cashier my money.

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Don’t count on using your cell phone for calls/texts across the border

The instant you cross the border into Tijuana, you’re going to get a text message. This text message is going to say something like “Roaming charges apply. Data rate is $19.95/MB”.

$19 per Megabyte?! I just put my phone in airplane mode. It’s easy to hit 1MB these days, especially with all the apps checking for updates in the background.

So if you’re going to add a translator app (iPhone, Android), make sure that it works when your phone is in airplane mode (with the wireless radio turned off).

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Load up your phone with a good translator app

Besides a possible trip to McDonalds, you’re not actually going to need to speak Spanish at any point. But the medical shuttle drivers are really nice guys and they’re all working on their English. You’re going to spend a lot of time with them on your way back through the US border, so it’ll help with your mutual efforts to converse if you have a good translator app to resolve the words you can’t explain through hand gestures and reference words.

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Don’t freak out when the dental office looks really ghetto.

Tijuana is poor. Really poor. There are no big, tinted-glass office buildings or well-kept chain stores. Even though the roads are paved, everything kind of feels structureless and dirty. Your dental office may be no different. In the US I was accustomed to a very clinical experience with dentistry. Sealed offices. Carefully regulated air temperature and quality.

My dental office in Mexico was located on the second floor of one the hundreds of shabby buildings lining the Tijuana street. Inside, it’s technically configured like any other dental office, with nice equipment and a reception area. But the space itself is still…poorer. The floors are concrete. The walls are concrete. If the weather is nice they’ll just leave the doors open and let the outside air circulate through the office and lab. It’s like a dental office without any of the pomp you’re used to having. But that’s how everything in Tijuana is…no pomp. It’s a different way of doing things that you just have to get used to.

This was very unnerving at first, and climbing up the rusty metal staircase to the dental office I damn near turned around and went back to the hotel. I kept hearing the objections of all those people who told me that this was a bad idea. I kept hearing my own objections. But I persisted. And I am glad I did. He may not have the fancy digs, but Dr. Torres has the equipment, the skills, and the team to aptly compensate.

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Don’t be afraid to get extreme work done, as long as you research the dentist

I had ten crowns placed on precariously decayed teeth. Whenever you’re drilling down teeth with thin spots, there’s a risk that you can drill through a thin spot and necessitate a root canal. I figured I would need at least one for sure. But I didn’t. I didn’t need a single root canal because Dr. Torres was precise with his x-rays and drilling. I should add here that he didn’t charge me anything for the x-rays, whereas U.S. dentists charge $200+.

I knew crowns would probably be OK, but I was a little worried about the idea of getting a root canal in Mexico. Well it turns out, people go to Pacific Dental specifically for root canals because he has a chemical root canal method that doesn’t beat you up so badly. I spoke with an older couple who was down there for one of those. The wife had Lupus, and thus a compromised healing ability, so a normal root canal would leave too much bruising. They were repeat customers and very happy with the treatment.

Here’s a crazy story I heard while I was down there: A woman I met, who we’ll call Susie because I don’t remember her real name, went down to Mexico to get her wisdom teeth removed. When the Mexican dentist went in to extract one of Susie’s wisdom teeth, he found that the nerve of the tooth was wrapped around her jawbone. So he drove her, free of charge, down the road to a specialist, who delicately removed the nerve from around the bone (taking a small amount of bone in the operation) and stitched her up. No additional charge. She had pain for a few months (hey, bone pain is the worst) but then she was fine.

That story convinced me that a run-of-the-mill root canal would probably have gone just fine.

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Call for script if you’re in pain. Your Mexican dentist can call in a prescription for you at your local CVS just like a U.S. dentist can.

Gum pain hurts. When you get all your gums lasered and then you get temporary teeth that are not nearly as good-fitting as your finals will be…you can have some pain. I made the mistake of just popping half a bottle of Advil per day to keep my gum pain down after my first visit, assuming all the while that my Mexican dentist couldn’t just call my local CVS and write me a script for something more powerful than ibprofen.

The pain didn’t get any better. I knew he had screwed something up. I was terrified. I Googled my exact pain. According to the internet, the temporary teeth weren’t allowing the gum to heal against the bone. Damned Mexican dentist…doesn’t know what he’s doing.

And then I go back for my second visit to get the final crowns put on. One of the first questions he asks me is “Have you been having any pain?”. Yes, I said. A lot of pain. Accusing glance. He frowned and said “Yeah, see, what’s happening is that you have pain because your temporaries aren’t fitting very precisely which is preventing your gum from healing to the bone. You should have called me. I could have phoned in a prescription for you. But that doesn’t matter now because your permanents will fit much better, and the gums will heal very quickly.”

I felt dumb. He’s a doctor. Of course he can right prescriptions from anywhere.

But still, I thought bitterly. You rushed those temporaries and the fit was wrong. Are you going to be as imprecise with my permanent crowns?

And then he put my permanent crowns in. If you’ve had crowns before, you know that the next step after they’re done gluing down your permanents is to do a bunch of bite testing: “Ok, tap tap tap together for me….Ok now grind your teeth on this…” and then they make little adjustments with their drill until the bite is correct.

Usually, at my U.S. dentists, it always took 2-8 drill adjustments to get the bite perfect.

The permanent crowns designed by Dr. Torres’ in-house lab required no adjustments. They fit perfectly and they bit perfectly as soon as they were cemented in. He got it flawless on the first try.

I was blown away. As a programmer, I know the feeling of executing a script for the first time and having it work exactly as expected without error…it doesn’t happen often, and it requires lots of concentration to produce.

When I got back, I was raving about this. “He got the bite right on the first try!” Everybody just looked at me funny. But I thought it was one of the most convincing parts of the experience.

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Recommended Sightseeing Destinations (filtered through my own, very limited biases)

I didn’t do much sightseeing in Tijuana

I’m big on exploring new areas. I love it. But in Tijuana I just wanted to get back across the border to my hotel in San Diego. Maybe this would have been different if I spoke Spanish fluently, but I think it was more related to how dirty,  compressed, and foreign Tijuana felt to me. I’m kind of a snob like that I guess. But it’s part claustrophobia too. I didn’t like London either for the same reason (give me a city view, but not a city commute). For contrast, I loved Switzerland specifically because it was so open-aired and clean. And I like New York too, because it has enough character and familiarity to overcome it’s own dirty & compressed feeling.

There’s a mall close to Pacific Dental that I thought about going to, but instead I just called the medical shuttle when I was done and went back to the hotel in San Diego. In retrospect, I’m glad I did. Screw trying to get around in a busy, foreign town where I don’t speak the language and I’m on my own.

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Downtown San Diego was Nice

Downtown San Diego is like a 30 minute drive from San Ysidro. I got bored one night and took my rented Mustang convertible up there for some sushi. They have all the standard trendy places there. So if you’re in a bar/club/nice dinner mood, that’s where you want to go (at least that’s the only place I found for that stuff, natives could probably tell you different).

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Coronado was Awesome

I had a day to kill on my second trip, and took a top-down drive in my rented Mustang along the coastal “scenic route” to Coronado and Coronado beach. From what I gathered from the Ferrari’s, Aston Martin’s, and high-end Mercedes’ that I kept seeing, I got the impression that the little city of Coronado Island is pretty upscale. There are tons of cool shops there (candy, bakeries, neat stuff like that), and if I go back I might venture out of the car and look around.

But I had other priorities.

When I was much younger I was hell-bent on becoming a Navy SEAL (and had the workout schedule to prove it). Coronado is where they train the SEALs, so I had idealized the town’s name and held it as sacred for much of my early teens. So to actually be there in the town I had so revered was very cool for me.

The high point of the trip for me was going for an intense 3 mile run on Coronado beach as Navy SEAL helicopters were thundering across the sky above me. That felt very hardcore. I thought to myself “You’re welcome, younger me. Isn’t this cool? We’re running in Coronado!” And my younger self replied “Fuck you. Why didn’t you do it? You could be up in that helicopter but instead you’re running below as a fanboy, then going back to your soulless desk job.” But I digress.

Even if you didn’t have SEAL aspirations as a youngster, it’s still worth a trip to Coronado Island and Coronado Beach if you have a day to kill.

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Overall Impressions of My Trip

I have become a huge advocate for the whole Dental Tourism thing. Literally, if people tell me they need dental work done, my first question is “how many teeth?”. If they answer more than two, I start raving about Mexico and urging them to go down. If they stay in the US I call them dumb and tell them they’re throwing their money away, which in my opinion…they are.

Dental Tourism in Mexico is one of the few things in my life that I am absolutely militant about recommending, because it was such an overwhelmingly positive experience.

What’s more, I kick myself every day for blowing so much of my savings on overpriced U.S. dentists before I tried Mexico. I wish so hard that I had known about Mexico five years ago when I started getting work done. I would have so much money leftover right now, and I’d be much happier.

Am I happy with the dental work I got done in Mexico?

Extremely. The crowns I got in Mexico look and fit better than the crowns I paid thousands more for in the states.

Would I go back and do it again, knowing what I know now?

Would I? I’m planning on it. I am not happy with the job that my last U.S. dentist did on my front uppers, so I’m going to go back down and see Dr. Torres to get them re-done properly.

You should do it

If you only need one or two teeth capped…maybe just stay in the U.S., since with travel costs it won’t really be worth it for you.

But if you need more than two dental crowns (or three if you have dental insurance), don’t you dare go to a U.S. dentist. Spend 1/3 the cost and get a vacation out of it.

In conclusion

Going to Mexico to get my lower teeth crowned was one of the best decisions I ever made for myself. I’m so happy I did it, and I wish I’d done it sooner.

Questions?

As you can tell from the length of this guide, I love talking about this. So if you have questions, feel free to leave a comment, make a post on the forums, send me a private message on the forums, or email me: mike at quittingadderall dot com. Note that these options are ordered according to my preference. Whenever possible, I like keeping questions & answers in the public view via blog comments and forum posts instead of behind the scenes as PMs and emails.

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29 Responses to “How to Get Your Teeth Fixed in Mexico (A Comprehensive Guide)”

  1. Kevin says:

    Mike is there anyway I can get in touch with you via email to discuss some questions I have. Thanks for any input.

  2. Mike says:

    Note to other readers: I replied to the PM Kevin sent me on the forums instead of this comment. If you need to ask me a question, do it here or send me a PM like Kevin did. Happy to answer any questions you have.

  3. Kevin says:

    Thanks Mike for the quick response I will stay in touch.

    Kevin

  4. Sboo says:

    I live in San Diego and have been across the border several times. This was way back before I was old enough to get into clubs and before there were rumors of mafia killings. I would have never considered going to Mexico to see a doctor, but your article reminded me of how easy it is to get caught up in stereotypes. Asides from hearsay, I have no reason to believe that all water in Mexico is contaminated with E. coli, or that the doctors there are less efficient than American doctors, or that the mafia will chop my head off and hang my body from a freeway underpass if I visit. My grill is in pretty good shape, but I’ll keep the dentist referral should something come up. Thanks for the great article!

  5. ERIN says:

    Mike,

    I just got my tooth crowned yesterday. I think the adderall abuse definitely had something to do with the bonding I had popping off. Thanks for this article! The dentist looked shocked the bonding had come off within a years time from the last time I saw him.

  6. kerry says:

    i couldnt agree more, i go to yuma every yr and have dental work done when i need it the last trip just a couple of weeks ago i cracked a front tooth so i had 6 new crowns put in… they look great and the cost 1,900 in canada where i live after my insurance it would have still been about 5 or 6,000 and like one said they are very aproachable. next vist i will get the bottoms done…. 6 crowns and a root canal for 1,650. i talked one gentelman he flew down from alaska had 28 crowns done and they look perfect his bill was just under 10,000.

  7. parker says:

    can I go down there for invisaline? does he take walk instead or would I have to make an appointment how if so. thxx

  8. Rena says:

    Email me Kev I have a few questions dimples300dimples@gmail.com

  9. InRecovery says:

    Mike, I loved this article. I hate the dental industry – the prices are totally outrageous!!! I was seriously considering going to Mexico – what an awesome idea. I needed two dental implants (which is equal to about six crowns) The cost of getting it done came to like over $6000!!! rediculous!! Fortunately, I found a deal on Groupon and am able to get my procedure done for $20000, about $4000 less. But still $2000 is an outrageous price for any dental work.

    Anyway, thanks for the info. And anyone who needs crowns – also check out Groupon as another source. They tend to constantly run deals on crowns and implants – at least in my area…

  10. Spygirl says:

    You rock!!! I just moved to arizona and have been so depressed. 3 years ago I got 6 dental implants. Noone told me it would cost 14,000 to crown them. I payed 12,000 for implant surgery alone. They never even gave me temperary crowns. I have been suffering wearing a ill fitting partial and low self esteem from not being able to afford to crown them. Do you have an idea of what dentist you went to would charge? Is he still in buisness? I have been searching for months and you are the first person who listed info on dentist with a name. Please get back to me !!!!!!!
    Xoxo ann

  11. Mike says:

    @Spygirl – When I was there, he charged $450/crown (plus a 10% discount for paying cash…so around $405/crown). But with implants you need abutments too. Still, it’s going to be way, way less than $14,000. Figure like $6-7000k. The other good news is that in Arizona you’re pretty close to the border, so your travel costs are going to be less than mine were. Also, he’s definitely still in business.

  12. spygirl says:

    Thank you Mike for answering me so fast! I am going to give him a call. maybe he can make me a better partial to wear while I am saving up cash for crowns. I forgot about needing the hardware with crowns. If you are ever in AZ give me a shout!

  13. localroger says:

    Hi Mike, I wrote the HOWTO guide on kuro5hin that you linked. I just ran across this doing some holiday old-stuff googling. You have done a WONDERFUL job of updating my own report, and if I ever need to go back I’ll be making use of some of your suggestions. If you don’t mind when people write me in the future asking after Dr. T I will send them a link to this report as well. (I still get those emails once or twice a month.)

  14. Victoria says:

    I live in San Diego and am researching TJ dentists and came across this site. I just want to add a couple of factoids. You can always use the San Diego trolly from Downtown San Diego to go right to the border and walk over then take a taxi wherever you need. Also, I have used other services in TJ such as doctors, veterinarians (Dr. Alexander located adjacent to the Caliente Race Track is the best), pharmacies, welders, etc. TJ has shopping malls and upscale offices in Zona Rio. Many people use the cosmetic surgeons in TJ and they do awesome work for much less. Be streetwise and you will be fine (avoid Revolution Blvd after dark when you are drunk) …I have yet to hear of a kidnapping of a U.S. tourist. The kidnappings happen to rich Mexican targets for ransom or political killings. Police can get you for bribes (hasn’t happened to me before but has happened to people I know) however, in the end it costs a lot less money and time to pay the bribe and be on your way than when you get a ticket and a court date north side of the border. You can also get cheap flights out of the TJ airport to exotic destinations at good prices and without the TSA porno-scanner and molestation rituals of US airports.

  15. I have changed my teeth in Smile Tijuana and it gives me the same feeling like my natural teeth.
    It increased my lack of confidence and they are also comfortable. Dental implants Tijuana in a
    great number but you have to find the best like I did.
    Tijuana Dentista

  16. Samantha says:

    Hey Mike couple of questions- do we need passports to enter Mexico? My husband needs to get the rest of his bottom teeth pulled he wears dentures on top but wants to get implants for both bottome and top. We have a 3.5 year old we would love to take and maybe while he goes and gets it done my son and I can have a nice relaxing day in San Diego. Do you have a direct number for his office so we could speak to him? Also do you know anywhere else in Mexico i would like this to be a little vacation as I haven’t had one in so many years and after 2013 being the worst year of my life we are in need of a vacation. I was pregnant most of 2013 had a beautiful healthy baby girl nov 9th and the day before thanksgiving she passed away from SIDS- so getting my husbands teeth done while taking a vacation sounds amazing to me. This is something we have been talking about for years and with his teeth getting worse each day we need to do something quick- I dnt know how a 33 year old man has such bad teeth but they need to be fixed because I feel so helpless when he has a toothache. We live in Reno nevada so I’m not worried about airfare especially since my mother-law works for united but is there anywhere else in Mexico I guess further down where it can really be a nice vacation with really warm weather? My personal email is Samanthaleigh767@hotmail.com I’m worried I won’t see your replie so if you could post it and send me your answers via email I would greatly appreciate it.
    Thank you,
    Samantha Logan

  17. David L says:

    I would like to emphatically agree with Mike’s recommendation of Dr. Torres and Pacific Dental. About 2years ago I was in need of major dental work that here in the US was going to cost 10 grand. Since I live in Orange County I started researching Tijuana dentist what I found was Dr.Torres’s name coming up. So I decided to try him and I m so glad I did. The guy is very good not only with the dental work but he has away of making you feel very at ease while you sit in the chair. He explains everything so well and more than happy to answer any questions you may have. Mike’s description of the visit is spot on. Both my wife and mother have now been down to see him all very happy customers.

  18. Jerry says:

    I got a lot of work done pre-9/11. After that the crossing became unbearable (1-3 hours coming home). Recently they updated the vehicle crossing and it’s taking everyone I know less than an hour to return to the US. BRING YOUR PASSPORT. You can leave no problem. Not so fast coming home. I live in SD as well and need to go back down for another round of work. Just a funny anecdote. I told my periodontist (who has since retired) that people in the US thought I was crazy coming to TJ for dental wokr. She said ‘I know! We think people who go to Guatemala for dental work are crazy too’. Ditto everything on the trolley down, the crossing, and don’t jump in the firstt yellow cab once inside. Also, get the rate from the driver before jumping in any taxi. For Zono Rio (north area where a lot of dentists are) it was $5-7 and should be close to that still. Truth be told I haven’t been to the dentist for a long time and all their work held up beyond expectations… 13+ years now. (It’s other teeth I have to fix… arrgh). In any case thanks!

  19. John says:

    Thank you for this article, Mike! I live in San Diego but I wasn’t too sure how I felt about crossing the border. It was something that had been on my mind though for some time. (I’ve heard of some people really pleased with their dental work over there!) This article was extremely informative and I think I may do the same and go over there! Very helpful! Thank you!

  20. eugen says:

    A dental implant helps you rediscover your natural smile and boost your self-confidence. A dental implant is an artificial tooth that replaces a former natural tooth. It is placed into your jaw to hold a replacement tooth or bridge.Most dental implants treatments in Mexico have abutments included and the implantology experts have also included the crowns cost, in some cases even all inclusive services.
    how much do dental implants cost in mexico

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