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Saturday, April 13, 2024
Ross’s Ramblings: Going to Mexico to avoid Canada’s overpriced dental cartels
Ross Robinso, here wearing a straw sombrero on his trip to fix his teeth in Mexico. FILE

So many of us have inaccurate ideas about life in other countries.

For example, it is easy to believe there are murderous cartels in Mexico, often controlling the illegal drug and arms businesses.

Perhaps true along the borders, but so inaccurate when describing most of that wonderful country and its fine and peaceful citizens.

I just returned from Chapala, in central Mexico, after 19 days of dental treatment.

The cost was less than half what I would have paid in Canada.

Why did I get 16 crowns, six root canals and two plates in Chapala instead of Niagara?

Back in October, I went to a highly regarded dentist’s office here in Niagara-on-the-Lake to get a quotation for required dental work.

One of the receptionists was a total professional and enthusiastic about my plan to improve my fairly pearly whites.

The other receptionist? Not so much.

A technician spent about 30 minutes taking X-rays and photos of my teeth and then the dentist spent about 30 minutes surveying the situation.

As promised, I received an email quote the next morning.

Wowzer! The price!

Now, I have always thought that dentists earn every penny that we pay them: looking into mouths every day and instilling confidence in nervous, frightened patients.

Such exacting and expert work – certainly not just “drill, fill and bill.”

I would rather be a proctologist than a dentist. The dentists of our world earn their money, eh?

The quotation I received was way out of my financial comfort zone, so I crafted a gentle and somewhat humorous email requesting another plan and price estimate.

I mentioned that at my age, I had no hope of becoming a male model. I didn’t need a Rolls-Royce or Ferrari smile. A Chevrolet or Kia would do just fine.

I wanted to be able to eat corn on the cob comfortably and talk without my teeth chattering.

I asked them to have another look at my situation. This was a reasonable request. Similar to looking at home renovations, a car purchase or other large expenses.

After no response for five days, I called their office and was curtly told they would try to respond to my email within a day or two.

No response after five days, so I dropped into their office and spoke to the receptionist.

“Yes Ross, your email arrived, and frankly, I found it a bit ridiculous.”

Taken aback, I responded, “That’s the way I try to communicate, with the facts and a bit of humour.”

“Well, I found your email to be a bit ridiculous and we’re probably not going to respond.”

Biting my tongue, I responded, “I find your attitude a lot arrogant. I paid for the X-rays and photos, so please email them to me. I’m going to forward them to a friend of mine in Mexico. She is a highly trained and well-experienced dentist and tells me she can do the work for less than half the price.”

I forwarded the scans to my friend, Dr. Cotty Salas MacDonald in Mexico, and within two days had a detailed and firm quotation.

I would need to be in Chapala for 19 days. Why not fly down on Boxing Day? Make it a bit of a holiday, including New Year’s Eve.

So, because we allow dentists to be paid a huge lot of money for doing their work, I was chased to central Mexico to spend some $11,000 on dental work.

Combining airfare, and accommodation insurance, this totalled about $14,000 — less than half what it would cost in Canada.

Sixteen zirconia crowns, two lower plates, six root canals and some other stuff. Hardly a pleasant vacation, but what a cultural and worthwhile adventure.

Fast-forward to Boxing Day and I flew from Toronto to Mexico City to Guadalajara with Aeromexico, and a 45-minute drive to Chapala.

Cotty’s office had arranged a modest apartment for my 19 nights.

I paid $40 per night and was located near the lake and the beautiful Malecon and convenient to the public buses and countless eateries.

El Burrito and El Patio and Pancho’s were great, and the nearby American Legion served cold cerveza at reasonable prices. Karaoke every Thursday afternoon and happy hours most days.

Plus, I read six books from their lending library.

Cotty’s team of Marlene and Gloria had my schedule organized, and I spent a total of 21.5 hours in the chair over those 19 days.

Six hours the first day, then a day of rest. Then four hours, then two days of rest. Then one hour, then 30 minutes.

And so it continued.

The dental work was superb, almost totally pain-free. Granted, I requested double or triple freezing, because, like most men, I have a very low pain threshold.

The office of specialist dental care in the Ribera del Rio section of Chapala was relaxed, punctual and pain-free.

Modern equipment, a nice little apartment with two Mexican chihuahuas to keep me company and friendly smiles in all the neighbourhood shops and eateries.

One day, I took the public transit buses up to Guadalajara for a professional baseball game.

The Mexico Pacific League has about 5,000 enthusiastic and knowledgeable fans.

On the buses, polite people offered me their seats and assisted me with my bag.

Eventually, and a bit depressingly, I realized that not only are Mexicans polite, but I have become a silver-haired senior citizen.

Que sera, sera, eh?

So, we Canadians have allowed our dentists to earn amazing amounts of money. Again I will say, they earn it.

But should we let them charge what they do? In Niagara, a crown costs about $1,400. In Mexico, about $350.

It’s hard and detailed and stressful work, but it’s not magic. Surely the fees could be reduced.

Now, our NDP and Liberal political leaders are singing the populist tune of free dental care for hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

What a brilliant vote-getting promise.

Shockingly, by talking to three dental industry friends, I have learned there has been a total lack of communication between the federal government and the various dental associations.

The new national dental program is due to be rolled out within a few months. Hello? How about giving dentists and their leaders some information? The confusion and frustration is going to be bad.

I happily went to Mexico to have my teeth modified. I saved about $12,000, so let me make a bold suggestion to our federal government.

To save Canadian taxpayers billions of dollars, why not send many of us to Mexico if we require substantial dental work? Half a million times even $3,000 would be a whole lot more than a billion dollars.

Given the free trade agreement and all that, what an opportunity to save big money and to foster international goodwill.

My, but haven’t I rambled on about a subject I don’t know much about? We have allowed Canadian dental professionals to charge shockingly high prices for their services.

Let’s study our Spanish, learn about the Mexican people and save our wonderful country big money.

Viva Mexico dentistry.

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