Mexico the new dental destination

by Oscar Avila ,  ChicagoTribune.com | 2009-03-24

Americans flock to border town that takes bite out of high prices found in U.S. clinics

The sales pitches start just a few steps after you cross the border into Mexico. They come in the same half-whispers familiar to tourists who have been offered time-shares and T-shirts.

"Excuse me, sir," a Mexican man politely asks in accented English. "Are you looking for a good dentist?"

"Got one," a silver-haired American says, not even breaking stride.

This is the kind of commerce that has turned a sleepy village on the U.S. border into the latest boomtown of medical tourism, the practice of traveling abroad to get medical care. From face-lifts in Costa Rica to heart surgery in India, medical tourism has become a $60 billion enterprise by one estimate.

Los Algodones, population 4,000, is home to about 350 dentists geared to foreign patients, including snowbirds from Chicago and elsewhere in the upper Midwest. Their treatment comes at a huge discount—70 percent or more—from what Americans pay at home, a reality that many patients call an indictment of U.S. health care.

But U.S. medical authorities warn that this desert outpost is a medical Wild West, an unregulated environment where substandard providers can hang their shingle without the same oversight that exists in the United States.



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