Crowns in Cozumel: Know the risks associated with dental tourism in Mexico
Every year, thousands of Canadians head south to Mexico to soak up the warm sun – and make a quick stop at the dentist, getting procedures done for a lot less than they would cost back home. But what are the risks when seeking dental treatment abroad?
Dr. Vikram Grewal, owner of Okanagan Smiles Dentistry in Kelowna, B.C., has seen both good and bad work done in Mexico. He says some patients come home having received quality care at a lower price, but others end up paying more in the long run.
One of his patients, for example, flew to Mexico to get her teeth capped. While the teeth themselves look good, he says the dentists created another problem: they didn’t adequately remove the leftover cement used to bond the crowns to the teeth.
Not only is the grey cement creating an unsightly line around the top of the teeth, the cement will irritate the gums.
"And now the gums will recede," Dr. Grewal explained.
Dr. Bruce Ward, spokesperson for the B.C. Dental Association, recalled one of his patients who travelled to Mexico for a root canal -- only to have it performed on the wrong tooth.
The patient ended up needing to see a second root canal back in Canada to deal with the original tooth problem, leaving him with more expenses to pay off – not less.
"What's he going to do? Go back and demand his money back?" Dr. Ward noted.
Dr. Valorie Crooks, a health geographer at Simon Fraser University who focuses on medical tourism, says not all dental tourism ends in disaster. She has visited Los Algodones, a small, Mexican town near the U.S. border that’s been nicknamed “Molar City” for its proliferation of dental clinics serving foreigners.
She says while the horror stories of dentistry done in Mexico get a lot of attention, many patients are more than satisfied with their care. But she says it’s difficult to get a full picture of the success rate for Canadian dental tourists because no one is keeping track how many people travel there for dental work.
For some Canadians with no insurance and no means to pay for necessary but pricey dental work at home, Dr. Crooks says travelling outside the country might be their only option.
While many users of Mexican dentists post reviews online, Dr. Crooks says there is a lack of reliable objective information, which makes research a must. She also warns Canadians to be careful of services that offer to book a dental appointment for you.
“If you're going to be using a broker or a third party who are going to be booking for you, understand who they are, what their interests are,” she advises.
She also recommends having a plan in place if something goes wrong and you need to extend your stay to get follow-up care.
With a report from CTV Vancouver's Maria Weisgarber