Four thousand dollars can buy a lot of stuff: a car for a teenager, a Caribbean cruise, quartz kitchen countertops, or a one-inch dental appliance. After a failed dental implant, I was faced with spending four thousand dollars on a three-crown bridge if I wanted to keep enjoying steak and gummy bears.
The prospect gave me the same anti-thrill as buying tires or a new roof.
Domestic dental work is expensive. After five strenuous minutes of internet research, I determined the high costs are due to things like insurance, overhead, supplies, and other things that make my eyes glaze over.
My wife and I were familiar with dental and medical tourism, which allows for the combination of a fun holiday and lower-cost healthcare services, and my toothless situation reawakened our travel bug.
So in December 2018, I traveled to Cancun, Mexico with my wife and two teenagers to get my teeth fixed in the midst of an incredible vacation. And the whole thing cost a thousand dollars less than the quote provided by my hometown dentist.
If you’re facing an expensive dental dilemma, a trip south of the border could be an option. With a little research and planning, your newly-minted smile will be even wider when you think of all the money you saved.
Here are some items to consider along with details about how we pulled it off.
Sounds like an odd prerequisite for an international vacation, but if all you need is a basic cleaning, stay home. Implants, crowns, and bridges are all expensive here in the U.S., but savings of 60-75 percent are a reality in Mexico.
In our Cancun Dental office waiting room, we made friends with a gentleman from Minnesota who had replaced most of his teeth with implants. Back home he was quoted a price of sixty thousand dollars for this work, but he had it done in Mexico for twenty thousand – he was extremely pleased, and his teeth looked fantastic.
OK, let’s get this out of the way. In the weeks before our trip, friends and family treated us like we were heading off to Mexico to meet our demise at the hands of drug lords who would surely torture us to the brink of death before feeding us to the sharks circling in the turquoise waters.
Mexico has its share of bad headlines that strike fear in the hearts of tourists, but no more than other places around the world and even our own cities. The world is a dangerous place. There are drunk drivers out there, poisonous snakes, and recidivists lurking on the street corners – what’s a dentally-challenged tourist to do?
Simple – be smart. Plan ahead and know where you’re going. Stay in well-populated areas. Come home at a decent hour. Dress modestly, and keep your cash out of sight.
During our time in Cancun, we were never afraid, and we met lots of gracious people who were glad we were visiting their country. We returned to our loved ones safe from the perils of the Mexican Underworld.
Finding a Dentist
Now that we were committed to dental tourism, and Cancun was the agreed-upon destination, I needed to find a qualified dentist. I sat down at the computer and initiated a Google search: “dental work Cancun”. The first result was “Cancun Dental”. Whew, that was easy – I hate research.
The reviews for this practice were positive and impressive, so I initiated contact by email and the next day, I received a phone call from Manuel, a great guy who remained my dental concierge up until the day we left for Mexico.
I sent Manuel my x-rays obtained from my local dentist, and he returned a quote for a three-crown bridge for $1,200, which included all examinations, scans, impressions, lab work, procedures, airport transfers, and even transportation to and from the office for appointments. I accepted.
My wife is a sorceress when it comes to collecting and managing travel points, and through her prowess, the four of us were able to fly from North Carolina to Cancun for eight hundred dollars round-trip. The airlines offer discounted prices throughout the year based on travel trends and seating deficiencies, and it’s worth using services like Skyscanner to search for current deals.
Traveling to Mexico with just my wife or by myself would have been less expensive, but we wanted to go as a family. After many years of domestic RV trips and world travel, our family thrives on the road, and it’s more fun to embark on an adventure with boon companions.
The Hotel Zone in Cancun is a fifteen-mile stretch of sandbar chock full of lavish resorts, smaller hotels, restaurants, clubs, shops, and many other establishments that can provide distraction from time spent with the dentist’s drill. Saving money provides all the distraction we need, so we opted for an Airbnb reservation in the downtown area – a twenty-minute taxi ride from the beach.
For three hundred dollars, we spent six nights and seven days in a comfortable well-equipped two-bedroom condo located in a quiet neighborhood. A security guard posted at the complex gate kept us safe from the perils of the aforementioned Mexican Underworld. And a pool right outside our patio door kept our minds off the swim-up bars and massages we were surely missing in the Hotel Zone.
We’ve lived in Airbnb accommodations all over the world, and we enjoy staying in neighborhoods and districts that put us in the middle of the local vibe. Our Cancun condo was located one block from a convenience store and several inexpensive restaurants, and a large supermarket was a quarter mile away – perfect for an evening stroll past honey-colored buildings and walls laced with bougainvillea blooms.
I had four dental appointments scheduled during our week in Cancun: upon arrival Friday afternoon – paperwork and impressions; Monday – heavy duty work and temporary crown placement; Wednesday – bridge installation; and Thursday – follow up.
The days in between were wide open: exploration time.
The food in Mexico is…well, Mexican, and it’s fabulous. An inexpensive ferry ride took us to Isla Mujeres where we spent the morning in a private cooking class led by a delightful senora in her kitchen. We learned to make chicken and cheese empanadas, guacamole, and pico de gallo. The dog did not eat our homework – we did.
My wife negotiated a two-day car rental for twenty-eight dollars, and we took a three-hour drive to Valladolid, where we spent the night in this picturesque town full of markets, historic buildings, and great food. We swam in the cenote right across the street from our twenty-six dollar Airbnb apartment and enjoyed an evening walk through the streets of the town.
While in Valladolid, our proximity to Chichen Itza allowed us to arrive early in the morning at this World Heritage site where we spent several uncrowded hours immersed in Mayan history before the fleet of tour buses arrived from Cancun.
Then there’s the beach. Cancun is world famous for its seashores lapped by clear azure waters. We spent much of our free time splashing in the surf and sipping libations full of fresh fruit and crushed ice.
Hecho in Mexico
All of the fun things almost made me forget my time in the dentist office, and that wasn’t so bad either.
The waiting room was well-appointed, and the front-desk staff, who spoke perfect English, was helpful and friendly. The examination and treatment rooms were equipped with the most modern machines, and the landscape murals painted on the walls helped me go to my happy place while my teeth were being drilled down.
The dental staff was efficient and compassionate, and my comfort was their main concern. The only pain I felt during the whole process was during the installation of the bridge, but I was given fair warning that “Thees might hurt a leetle beet.”
My follow-up appointment went well, and the staff took great care to ensure that the bridge was well seated and my bite was aligned properly. After I said adios to the wonderful group at Cancun Dental, their driver took my family to the beach one last time.
So we’ve been home over two months now, and I’m at my desk writing this article while munching almonds aided by my Mexican bridge. It feels completely natural, and I’ve had no issues.
I paid Cancun Dental $1200 for the bridge. Air fare for the four if us was $800, and lodging cost $300. We set a budget amount of $600 for food, excursions, and tips, and we came in right on the money. The grand total was $2900. Wow – brand new Mexican teeth and an amazing family trip for $1100 less than the same dental work would have cost at home.
My family loved Mexico, and our adventures there still come up regularly during dinner-table conversation. I wouldn’t wish any serious expensive dental procedure on the members of my family, but the turquoise waters of Cancun are firmly imprinted on my mind.
Come to think of it, my daughter still has all of her wisdom teeth. Hmm…she does love to travel.
Michael is a painting contractor who lives with his family in North Carolina. After many years of domestic RV travel with an emphasis on national parks, the family took a ten-month around-the-world trip chronicled in his book World Travel with Teens. The next adventure awaits…