Save Big Money: Get Your Dental Work Done in Tijuana

by on October 21, 2012 · 12 comments

in Business, Health

I have been going to Tijuana for dental work for five years. In that time I’ve had two root canals, several crowns and an implant. I’ve also taken my two granddaughters down there for routine dental work a couple of times. In the process I’ve saved several thousand dollars and been completely pleased with the results.

There are probably a lot of good dentists in Tijuana and some bad ones. The problem for most people is knowing who to go to. People need referrals to good dentists so please feel free to comment on experiences that you’ve had with dentistry in Tijuana – both whom you’d recommend and who to stay away from.

Personally, I would recommend the office I’ve been going to which is Baja Oral Center. There is a network of dentists there ranging from children’s dentistry to general dentistry to tooth implants. All the dentists speak perfect English so there is no language barrier. One call to Berniece, the receptionist, whose English also is great suffices to set up an appointment. By the way it’s a local call. They have a 619 area code. So that’s two barriers out of the way: language and referral. And did I mention that they’re very friendly and accommodating to your schedule?

I blogged about my dental experience in Tijuana in 2007:

“I googled “dentistry in Tijuana” and checked out somewhat thoroughly what was available which was a lot. In fact I devoted an afternoon to it.  A lot of dentists had websites, and a ton of information was available. I had several criteria: qualifications and background of the dentist; quality of the website; location and appearance of the dental office. Some of these criteria are somewhat superficial, I admit, but I wanted a dentist with a nice office in a good neighborhood, not somebody who worked out of his house in a bad neighborhood. I finally settled on Baja Oral Center. I was impresssed with the qualifications of Dr. Martinez who did the dental implants.

I called a local San Diego number (they have an 800 number too) and set up an appointment with Dr. Martinez to see about a dental implant. Everyone in the office speaks fluent English including the office manager and phone answerer, Berniece. They cover all the bases at Baja Oral Center. The general dentist there is Dr. Garcia. I was impressed with his credentials too. Their equipment is the latest and most modern. And their offices and waiting rooms are immaculate.

“The day of my appointment at 11 AM, I  took the San Diego trolley from downtown. I allowed an hour and a half to get down there. My plan was to take the trolley to San Ysidro, walk across the border, then get a taxi to Jose Orosco St. where the offices are located in the Plaza Pacifico building, a relatively recently constructed high rise. It actually took me an hour and fifteen minutes including a fifteen minute walk to the trolley station from my apartment.  The taxi ride cost “cinco” dollars and took less than five minutes. The offices are located in the Zona Rio section of Tijuana, near Paseo de los Heroes and a huge modern shopping mall. There’s a large statue of Abraham Lincoln (among others) nearby on Paseo de los Heroes.”

There are also some good restaurants nearby.

Here is a quote and a reply I found on the web regarding dental costs in San Diego:

“I’ve been living in SD about four months now and I’ve been looking for a new dentist. It took me forever to find a good dentist where I used to live, roughly about four years if you could believe it! I don’t want it to take nearly that long here! I went in for some x-rays and a consult the other week and I was shocked to hear that three fillings were $1,300! I’m used to around $60-100 per filling (now this is for the silver and these other ones would probably be the white ones) Is it common for fillings (white ones) to be around $400 each? For that much I could save up money, fly back 2,000 miles and get a crown for $400 each. Am I getting ripped cause I have no insurance and paying out of pocket or is this the going rate here? Also I was told I may need crowns in the future which are supposedly $1,200 each here..

Reply:

“1200 for a crown sounds about right. I just paid 600 for a crown after 50% copay a month ago. 400 for a filling? A bit on the high side I think, but far from outrageous. You might be able to get $60 fillings and $400 crowns in Tijuana.”

In the above example, the guy paid $600 for a crown after a 50% copay. I recently paid $300 in Tijuana, half what this person paid with dental insurance in San Diego. On implants there are even greater savings. In San Diego they run $5000.-$6000. In Tijuana, my implant with Dr. Martinez and Dr. Garcia providing the crown cost a total of $1100.

US dental insurance is a farce. They pay 100% for the small stuff like X-rays and cleanings. But when it comes to crowns, root canals, dentures and implants, they usually only pay 50%. And then there are annual dollar limits on dental costs. Once you’re over the limit you’re screwed.

There are also lifetime limits just as with health insurance until Obamacare nixed them. And there are service limits. From my analysis of the problem I think that you are better off to cancel your dental insurance and get your dental work done in Tijuana although some dental plans supposedly cover Tijuana dentists.

If you need extensive dental work done and you’re not within commuting distance, it might be cheaper to check into a hotel in Tijuana, have all your work done at a tremendous savings and then return home.

Another reservation many Americans have about going to Mexico for dental work is that they’ve heard media reports about drug violence. I think these reports are considerably overdone especially with respect to Tijuana. This is taken from an extensive dental website at which this problem is addressed:

“Don’t let exaggerations and rumors alarm you.  Tourists are not in any extraordinary dangers. Tijuana is not like Juarez nor like the Texas border. Things are fine here. The government in Tijuana has things very much under control. Most patients tell us that they feel safer here than in many large US cities.  In the nearly five years that Sam Dental has been operating, there have been several thousand of patients who have come here for treatment, and no one has ever reported that they have ever felt in danger. We will pick you up at the San Diego/Tijuana border, and transport you to and from your hotel, doing everything we can to take care of you. Everyone who has come to our clinic has been surprised at how laid back things are in the city. We want you to feel at ease and to enjoy your trip to Mexico.”

Dental care in the US is in crisis mode. Most health care insurance doesn’t include it. According to the LA Times, hundreds recently turned out for free dental care at the LA Sports Arena provided by Care Harbor 2012. This is from that report:

Julio Rivera leaned back in a dental chair and closed his eyes. He hadn’t been to a dentist in nearly four years. After 30 minutes of intense cleaning, Rivera, 50, said his mouth felt completely different.Rivera and hundreds of other residents from throughout Southern California flocked to the Los Angeles Sports Arena on Thursday for a massive annual free clinic put on by Care Harbor. Patients received an array of health services, including blood pressure checks, mammograms, vision screening and HIV testing. They could also meet with specialists such as cardiologists and podiatrists.But, like previous years, the demand was greatest for dental care.This year there are 100 dental chairs available for patients to receive cleanings, extractions, fillings and root canals -– up from about 80 last year. But dental hygienist Laurel Bleak said it still wasn’t enough.

 “We try to do the best we can with limited resources,” Bleak said. “We could easily spend five hours on each patient.”

Here are some practical tips about getting to Tijuana. There are two ways to get down there: 1) drive your car or 2) take the trolley, walk across the border and take a taxi to the dentist’s office. For your initial visit if you don’t know where you’re going, walking across and taking a taxi is a better bet.

In either case you need a passport to get back. A driver’s license used to be sufficient, but not any more. You can get a credit card sized one that fits right in your wallet. Children need birth certificates. The agents have asked me for those when I took my grandchildren with me. And they will question the children as to who you are. This is all on the way back. No one asks you for any identification on the way in.Whether or not poor people could afford dentistry even in Mexico is an open question, but in the US, the richest nation in the world, poor people either go without or, if they’re lucky, get free dental care.

If I drive, it takes me about half an hour travel time from my house in El Cajon to my dentist’s office. The problem is getting back over the border. That can range from 10 minutes to an hour and a half.

If you take the pedestrian route, it’s easy to catch a taxi for the ride back to the border. There is usually one waiting outside the Plaza Pacifico building. Tell the taxi driver you want to go to the border. He will drop you off at the end of “La Linea,” the line. As a pedestrian crossing the border your wait will vary from no wait at all to one and a half hours. It’s best to go on a Wednesday. There are many more people waiting either in the auto line or the pedestrian line on Mondays and Fridays. There are advantages and disadvantages to going by auto or by foot. Waiting in the auto line, you can turn on the air conditioning and listen to the radio.

On the other hand you’re subject to breathing the exhaust from the vehicle right in front of you and surrounding vehicles. If it’s a long wait, I find it more pleasant to be a pedestrian where at least you have fresh air and can get an ice cream at the Thrifty stand on your way up the line. I have experienced long auto lines while at the same time there was absolutely no wait in the pedestrian line.

However, driving is quicker (at least getting across the border) and cheaper. You can park right in the Plaza Pacifico building for about a dollar an hour. Driving directions to Baja Oral Center are as follows:

Baja Oral Center is located at 10122 Jose Clemente Orozco Street. If you cross the border by car bear to the right and follow signs to Tecate. Don’t take the Centro or Zona Rio turnoffs. After going around several turns you will find yourself on Via Rapida Poniente. Get over to the right so that you’re on the local road and can make a right hand turn. You will go past a huge parking garage on your right and a shopping center. You will see a “Cinepolis” movie theater. After you pass the second set of parking garages get ready to make a right turn. You will see a 7-11. Don’t turn there, but turn just a few feet later on the very next street. That will be Jose Clemente Orozco, but it’s not marked. Then on your left you will see the Plaza Pacifico building which is marked. Go up the entrance to the parking garage. Then take the elevator to the fourth floor where Baja Oral Center is located.

Coming back as you exit the parking garage take a left, then a quick right onto Paseo de los Heroes. Go to the first traffic circle, and make a right. You will see signs to San Diego. Go over a bridge and there will be two possible left turns right next to each other. Take the second one. Then follow signs to the border. As you near the border you will see several lanes with walls lining the sides. Whatever you do, do not get in the left hand lane. That will take you back to Tijuana, dump you off at an unnerving traffic circle, and it will be difficult to find your way back to the border. Don’t get in the far right hand lane either. That one is just for buses and people having a Sentri pass. Stay in the middle lane right under the I-5 sign.

avatar The Real Tijuana October 22, 2012 at 7:28 am

You really don’t need a passport to visit Tijuana. The U.S. authorities have to allow U.S. citizens into the country even no identification at all. We’ve been watching the border crossing regularly: the BCP currently reacts to a California driver’s license in one of three ways. (1) They accept it without comment. (2) They accept it and tell you to buy a passport card. (3) They send you to Secondary for ten minutes while they check the DMV database. We have a whole FAQ on the question at
http://www.xomba.com/you_don’t_need_passport_visit_baja_california

You might also be interested in our suggestions on how to select a dentist:
http://realtijuana.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-to-choose-dentist-in-baja.html

avatar Judy October 22, 2012 at 10:35 am

I am quite the believer in you get exactly what you pay for. Services are just like automobiles or diamonds…there is the economy version and the luxury version. If you think dentistry is any different, you are fooling yourself.

avatar Patty Jones October 22, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Dental care, like health care shouldn’t be a luxury. In fact, it’s my opinion dental care should be part of health care and covered by the same health care policy.

avatar The Real Tijuana October 23, 2012 at 8:38 am

Patty Jones makes an important point. We have interviewed several dentists who all made the same observation: that dentists are the front line of health care because they see patients before the physicians do. Dentists can often diagnose internal problems based on the condition of the patient’s mouth and breath and claim to have saved a few lives by recommending a visit to the M.D.

As to getting what one pays for, we also know a vascular surgeon who practices in both Hospital Ángeles (our most expensive hospital) and the Hospital General (our cheapest). He brings his “A game” to both operating rooms, of course, but the same operation in the first hospital costs about five times what it does in the second. What is one paying for at the first hospital? Why, the beautiful building and the huge marketing department, of course. Likewise, there are several dentists in Tijuana who also practice in San Diego County at significantly higher rates.

avatar Judy October 23, 2012 at 1:08 pm

It is indeed difficult to generalize across the board when it comes to health care and dental care. Health care, should not be a luxury but is it all the same and equal? I do believe that an MD doing surgery will use his or her skill in the same manner whether they are in a clinic or a luxury hospital. Are there any other differences? I would imagine so regardless of what we intuitively think or want to believe (aside from the building and marketing program). As far as dentistry goes, would a crown manufactured in say, China be of the same quality as a crown made in America? Is there a difference in a dental implant made by Company A that costs $200 versus a dental implant made by Company B that costs $75? You can also extrapolate that thinking out to what a provider learns in school. If only XYZ is taught in Medical/Dental School A and only XY is taught on Medical/Dental School B, do the providers all possess the same talent? Food for thought, come to your own conclusion.

avatar John Lawrence October 24, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Judy, we already know that the US medical/dental system costs more than any other advanced country in the world with far worse outcomes overall. The conclusion I draw from that is that US services are way overpriced and outcomes worse than other advanced countries. For instance, 25% of US operations go awry due to errors by the operating doctor. Such things as leaving sponges in the patient after he’s been sewn up etc. You can’t conclude you are getting what you pay for in terms of US medical and dental services, and you can’t conclude that, just because you are paying more, you are getting better treatment.

Also if you read “The Real Tijuana”‘s blog about selecting a dentist, you will find out that Mexican dentists undergo training as thorouch as American dentists and are held to standards as great or greater then American dentists.

The American system sa far overpriced and results are not as good as most other countries.

avatar Bob December 10, 2012 at 6:34 pm

What are the dental standards for sterilization of tools, syringes, etc.? Are they required to clean and autoclave their instruments and use disposable syringes for sedation purposes? Are there any differences from American Dentistry Standards?

avatar Tara June 27, 2013 at 9:36 am

@Bob- Yes they are certainly required to do all of the above. You’d be surprised actually how modern a lot of parts of Mexico are!

avatar Mike August 25, 2013 at 9:24 am

I’m a retired veteran and live in Playas de Tijuana because this is an amazing place. Some Americans just live by the typical stereo type of Hollywood movies of what Mexico is all about. If many Americans took a chance and visit not only Tijuana but other parts of Mexico they would be gladly surprised. Not only does Tijuana have great dentists but cosmetic surgeons, dermatologist, etc. There are great and bad doctors every where, you just have to inform yourself. Believing that the more you pay the better dental work you receive is foolish.

avatar Victoria September 4, 2013 at 10:33 pm

Mike, you are absolutely right. I had breast augmentation surgery here in the US and the surgeon turned out to be a butcher. I cannot explain in words what a horrible experience that was…and,,, I paid top dollars for it!
I ended up having to get implants removed, scar tissue removed from around the nipple, and the new doctor also had to achieve more symmetry between both breasts etc etc.. Now,, guess where did I go to get breast reconstruction? Yes, Tijuana. I chose an amazing plastic surgeon and the cost was about half the price I paid to this butcher from San Diego. Best decision I ever made. Now I’m getting dental work performed in a dental office down there as well, great dentist, ethics, very high tech equipment. I lived it, that’s why I’m in total agreement with your statement…’there are great and bad doctors everywhere and believing you pay more and get better work is a fantasy’. Amen.

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