Camping Tips for Living Aboard

Los Algodones | Visiting the Dentist (Part One)

Saturday, May 28, 2016S.V. CAMBRIA

I've been putting off visiting the dentist for years, too many years in fact, using excuses like it takes months to get an appointment and I'm never in one place long enough. That's true; but when you get right down to it, I was just being a big fat chicken: I knew there was a problem with one of my teeth and I was afraid it was going to mean a root canal, something I really, really wanted to avoid . . . so I did.

I didn't initiate the visit. It was David. There were several issues he needed to address for himself and the estimate he received in the US was way over budget. So, we decided to look south of the border for more affordable options. I started with a simple Google search and read through some RVing blogs. One place kept popping up in my research – Los Algodones, Mexico. Meanwhile, David discovered a company called Dental Departures (more on that in the next blog).

Los Algodones is a small, 5-block town that sits on the border of Mexico and California, approximately 10 miles west of Yuma, Arizona. Until the 1980s, it was a popular tourist destination for shopping and dining but as the need for inexpensive prescription drugs and medical care in the US grew, so did the number of pharmacies, eye doctors and dental offices in Los Algodones. The town shifted its focus from tourism to medicine and today most of the shops and restaurants have been replaced by more than 300 dentists who deal in every specialty from basic cleanings to dental implants.

We actually made our first trip in early December after visiting family in Las Vegas. But it wasn't until March that I mustered the courage to make an appointment for myself (okay, so David made it for me before I could wimp out again). And, after an amazing week camping in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, we moved on to Yuma, Arizona and a hotel for a few days to start the next leg of our journey: getting me to the dentist.

Why Los Algodones?

The answer's simple: logistics. If we were going to seek dental care outside the US, we wanted to be able to access it easily by car and Los Algodones fit that bill to a 'T'. The border is conveniently located off I-8 and day-parking is available on the US side in a large lot professionally run by a local Indian tribe ($6 fee). Walking across is straight-forward and easy (though some people drive) with only a 20 to 30 minute wait on return during the busy season (there was no waiting when we went in December).

Los Algodones also promised to be less expensive. I'm not sure if it's true or not, but most clinics claim a savings of up to 70% over US prices. In my situation, it was closer to 80%. When it comes to the work David had done, it's difficult to know. He chose an entirely different option than the one he was quoted for in Washington but the savings were in the range of 73%, possibly more.

Safety played a role in our decision as well. In 2007, we spent nine months in Mexico and experienced a couple of incidents that left a bad taste in our mouths, primarily an encounter with the local police which resulted in paying a bribe. But everything we read online claimed Los Algodones was a safe option, free from the corruption we'd encountered previously and our experience confirmed that. There's a relaxed attitude on the streets and people are friendly and eager to help. The only nuisance we encountered were the dozens of men hawking for dentists but, honestly, they were more amusing than annoying and all part of the local colour.

This blog post is starting to get a little long, so I'll stop there and pick up the rest of our story next week (we're off to an area without internet or cell coverage for a few days – yay, us!). In the next post, I'll write about why we chose the clinic we did and our personal experience. But before I go, I'll leave you with this little interesting geographical tidbit: no matter which of the four cardinal directions you travel from Los Algodones (due north, due south, due east, due west), you end up in the United States. Pretty cool, huh?

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  1. Wow, 300 dentists in 5 blocks! Sounds a little like hell :-)

  2. I recently found out about this kind of tourism, called health tourism. I saw it on a review form from the airline I flew with, and have noticed it on immigration or tourism sheets when entering countries. I have known about people traveling to India or Mexico for dental care, so it isn't a new thing, just more recognized now, I assume. I looked into this a bit when I needed a tooth implant, but plane costs and hassles included, I decided to go for it in Belgium, which was cheaper than the US.

    1. we approach our medical needs the same way. It's not an ideal situation, but the cost of insurance in the US is too high. It's another reason we're ready to move on.

  3. I'm glad I'm not the only one who doesn't like going to the dentist and puts it off. I've read about people crossing the border for dental care. Seems like a great low-cost solution especially as dental isn't usually covered by medical insurance.

    1. We were a little concerned about it at first but met so many people who had been coming down for 15, 20, even 30 years that it helped reassure us. I'd definitely go back.