If Your Mouth Goes South

November/December 2003
Escapees Magazine
Sharing the RV Lifestyle
By Betty Mulchahy

Guidelines and Questions

“I’ve seen a lot of bad dentistry from Mexico,” says William Helfert DDS, who practices in Mesa, Arizona. “But I’ve seen a lot of that from this country, too,” he concedes.

More than in the United States, dental treatment in Mexico can be hit or miss, according to Thomas J. Balshi, DDS, founder of Pi Dental Center in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, and a partner in Pi Dental Center in Mexico. “During my time of teaching course in Mexico City,” says Dr. Balshi, “I have learned that there are a variety of levels of dental professionals.”

Often, Escapees in need of dental work have crossed the border to save money, and many have been pleased with the quality of care. “This past winter was my first and only experience with a Mexican dentist.,” says Kit Carter, “and I’d go back in a New York minute!”

Kit asked for references from friends before heading to Algodones, Mexico, to visit the office of Dr. Rogelio Ramos. “He accommodated me right away,” says Kit, “and in less than an hour, and 50 bucks later, I departed, one less tooth from my collection.”

Satisfied Snowbirds

Wally and Patsy Cook also headed for Algodones after Wally was diagnosed with $2,000 worth of dental work at a dentist’s office in Reno, Nevada. Dra. Celsa Salmeron identified the same problems the Reno dentist described and completed the work in a timely manner, according to Patsy. “I had my teeth cleaned and was cavity-free,” she says, “and our bill was just under $500 for both of us.” While in the waiting room, Wally interviewed five people who had patronized Dra. Salmeron for years. “All were snowbirds, says Patsy, “and all were satisfied with the dentist’s work.”

Two more Escapees relate pleasant experiences with Mexican dentists — again in Algodones. Dra. Ana Maria Gutierrez impressed Joyce Fuhrman by explaining the steps of her procedure and treating Joyce in a gentle manner. “All in all,” says Joyce, “I had four crowns done within a few days at a cost of $150 each. They seem to work very well.”

In the offices of Dr. Armano Parra, another dentist prepared and seated a crown for Mary Lou Brown for $200. “I watched her like a hawk,” says Mary Lou, “but had no problems. I know many, many others who have gone to other offices (in Algodones). Everyone has been satisfied.”

Dr. Thomas Balshi and Glenn WolfingerEvery dentist in Algodones, Mexico, performs quality work, according to Dra. Parra. “I have done part of my preparation in the USA,” she says. “The materials I use come from the United States.”

In Tijuana, Max Corona, DDS, advertises personalized attention in his practice, as well as the same quality care as any well-managed general dental office in the USA. “Periodontics is a specialty performed in may dental office,” he says. “And I have my own dental ceramics laboratory.” An on-site laboratory can speed delivery of permanent prosthetics, and Dr. Corona claims to adhere to sterilization procedures and to comply with rules and mandatory regulations of the dental profession in Mexico.

“Some quidelines that might help to determine the quality of practice,” says Dr. Balshi, “include asking questions of the doctor before permitting treatment.” Such questions as:

Where the doctor received his/her dental education and what is the doctor’s specialty.

Ask if disposable sterile gloves and masks are worn by the doctor and his staff.

Question the office sterilization methods to ensure instruments are autoclaved after each patient.

Confirm that x-rays are available and that local anesthetics and other materials used are equivalent to those approved by the FDA for use in the United States.

For Fillings, ask if bonding material is used.

For prosthetic crowns and bridges, ask if an on-site laboratory technician is available.

If contemplating implant prosthodontics, a specialty with Dr. Balshi, inquire where the doctor received his implant training and the number of years he has been working with implant prosthodontics.

Ask for the brand name of the implant system employed,” says Dr. Balshi, “and how long it has been in existence.

For further guidance with implants, refer to: “A Patient’s Guide to Dental Implants,” Addicus Books, publisher.

Is Everyone Satisfied?

But not everyone who visits Mexico to save money on dental work has been pleased. While Jaimie Hall was happy with the work done by a dentist in Algodones who had trained in San Diego, she was not pleased with her experience in Tecate. “The dentist is an excellent artist (he sells his work in his office),” she says. “But I question his dental abilities. I had a crown put on an incisor and he cut off a bit of gum, causing a gap between the crown and the gum. It’s a food trap.”

Sue Cobun merely visited Mexico for a cleaning. “They don’t polish,” she says, “so your teeth feel rough for a few days. I am not sure I would have major stuff like root canals done across the border, but for those on a tight budget, Mexico is the way to go.”

Caution is advised in selecting a proficient, reliable dentist in Mexico. Over 50,000 dentists are registered to provide clinical treatment in Mexico City alone, according to Dr. Balshi. “High-quality dental care begins with an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment planning,” he says. While many Mexican dentists use the latest equipment and methods and avail themselves of continuing education provided by U. S. dentist, others provide only rudimentary care.

Costs vary depending on the level experience, office environment and quality of laboratory and materials used. Since salaries for office personnel and laboratory technicians are generally much less than those in the United States and insurance and some materials are less expensive, for the most part, dentistry in Mexico can amount to considerably less than in the U.S. Certain materials, which do not come under the scrutiny of our Food and Drug Administration, can be obtained at bargain prices.

“For the dental consumer,” says Dr. Balshi, “on the surface these products can look white and bright and even have the capabilities to bite, but the underlying fit may lead to slow deterioration.”


Ken and Joan Tarkin now use Mexican dentist as primary care dentists. “We go as ‘walk-ins’,” says Ken. He listed three dentists he endorses, two of whom practice in Algodones. Dra. Celsa Salmeros re-cemented a crown, and Dr. Gonzalo Figuero re-cemented a bridge for Ken. Dra. Valvonis of San Felipe re-cemented crown for Joan.

“We were impressed by the equipment, technique and explanation for expectations,” says Ken, “and they’re still holding. No pain.”

Bob and Ann Tirk visited a dentist in Progresso, Mexico, for work that would cost five times as much in the U.S. They plan to return next winter for additional care.

Anyone seeking value in their dental work might travel to Mexico. But they would be advised to request referenced, become informed and ask questions.

Special thanks to Dr. Balshi and the Escapees members who assisted my with this article.

Betty Mulchahy

Read about Dental Tourism

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Pi Dental Center, Fort Washington, PA