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Mexican Dentists Filling American Health Care Gap

Above: Dr. Bernardo Magaña and his assistant examine a foreign patient in Magaña's office in Los Algodones, Mexico. Dr. Magaña opened his practice in Los Algodones in 1969.

Audio

Aired 2/9/11

While escalating costs may characterize the American health care system, a different trend is playing out in the Mexican border town of Los Algodones. There competition is so fierce, dentists will outbid each other to attract American patients. And now some American insurance policies are following suit and American dentists are not happy about it.

You probably know someone who goes to a dentist in Mexico. Dental visits have become a booming industry in some border cities. And while Tijuana dentists used to be attractive mainly to San Diegans without dental insurance, now some US insurers are extending their coverage to dental practices south of the border.

A series of reports from the Fronteras desk, a regional public media project, is examining how cross-border dental care is making dentistry more competitive in the border states and creating big questions for US insurance companies.

Guests

Devin Browne is a reporter with The Fronteras Desk at KJZZ in Phoenix.

Jude Joffe-Block is a reporter with The Fronteras Desk at KNPR Nevada Public Radio.

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. You probably know someone who goes to I dentist in Mexico. Dental visits have become a booming industry in some border city, and while Tijuana dentists used to be attracted mainly to San Diegans without dental insurance, now some U.S. insurers are extending their coverage to dental practices south of the border. A series of reports from the fronteras desk, a size regional public media project is examining how cross border dental care is -- making dentistry more competitive in the border states. And creating big questions for U.S. insurance companies. I'd like to welcome my guests, Jude Joffe-Block is a reporter with the fronteras desk, at KNPR, at Nevada public radio. Good morning, Jude.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: We're also hoping to welcome Devon Brown, a reporter with the fronteras desk in Phoenix, we'll see if we can't get Devon thickening the line. Jude, [CHECK AUDIO] the main reason for Americans to go to a dentist in Mexico is the price. So how much cheaper is dental work in if Mexico.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Well, we heard evidence that it could be as much as 70 percent cheaper. [CHECK AUDIO] root canals, bridges, and the estimate he got in the U.S. was $20,000, and in Mexico, he paid about 38 Monday dollars. And like a lot of people we met, Mike only had limited dental insurance in the States, and so he was actually -- I mean this would have been paying out of pocket, so that was the -- the price was a really big deal, and a lot of the folks we met really talked about not having dental insurance or being thickening Medicare and having only very, very limited coverage.

CAVANAUGH: Jude, why is it so much cheaper to have your teeth fix indeed Mexico?

JOFFE-BLOCK: Well, that's a lot of reasons. It's cheaper to do business in Mexico because the cost of living is lower, Mexican dentists don't have to make as much money to live well, and they don't want have to pay their employees as much relative to a dentist in the states. And they also don't have some of the same over head costs that American dentists might have. We talked to a dentist thickening the other side of the border in Yuma, and he said that about 70 percent of his business went into over head, and that's not only about employees and rent, that also includes his dental school loans issue I mean, going to dental school in the U.S. is significantly more expensive than in Mexico where higher education is publicly subsidized.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

JOFFE-BLOCK: He also talked about having to pay for malpractice insurance, which our legal system where we can sue a dentist is different. You don't quite have those same rights in Mexico. So malpractice insurance doesn't come into play as much there. And then the Yuma dentist talked also about compliance with safety regulations like insuring that he was in compliance with like OSHA, that that also cost him money.

CAVANAUGH: Devon brown is on the line with us now. [CHECK AUDIO].

BROWN: Hi, good morning.

CAVANAUGH: Your series profiles a Mexican town across the border from Mexico, it's called Los Algodones. [CHECK AUDIO].

BROWN: There are thousands -- 400 dentists in eight blocks. And it definitely did in not always -- it was not always this way, and many of the long time dentists that we first interviewed said when they first arrived, in the rate 60s and '70s, the streets were lined with cantinas and brothels.

CAVANAUGH: Now it's lined with dentists.

BROWN: Now, it's lined with dentists. And there are all these other factors that people are willing to feed the boom. You had Americans on the other side of the boarder who were willing to advise for these Mexican dentists. The [CHECK AUDIO] and you also have this really sort of unique situation that the such one Indians, their reservation is on the other side of the boarder, and they built this [CHECK AUDIO].

CAVANAUGH: Wow.

BROWN: Park their car, and they don't have to worry, they don't want have to worry about Mexican car insurers and they can just walk right across the street and get their teeth cleaned, and feel safe that their car is protected and fine.

CAVANAUGH: Right now, Devon, there are actually now generations of Mexican dentists competing with each other in this town, Los Algondones, but it pales in comparison to how much the U.S. dentists are competing with this dental tourism to Mexico.

BROWN: It's true. We've spoken with a number of dentists in Arizona who are yeah, not so happy with watching an American exodus over this. They've made a lot of efforts over the years to say, [CHECK AUDIO] down falls of Mexican dental tourism, and probably the most notable in 2008, in conjunction with Delta Dental of Arizona, they put together this brochure, it was called trouble in pair days, the untold story of dental tourism. And it kind of, you know, sort of lists all these things that Mexican dentists found very offensive. [CHECK AUDIO] mesh dentists have, and it ended up and we have a clip from him [CHECK AUDIO] [CHECK AUDIO].

NEW SPEAKER: It was a bunch of lies they were just telling over there. I know they're just loosing their customers, but when they're compete with lowering their places or giving a better service, that's the way to [CHECK AUDIO].

CAVANAUGH: Delta dental here in California covers some dental practices in Tijuana, and I'm wording why and, is it the same in other states Devon?

BROWN: It's the same in other states. We talked to Delta dental, there are different delta dental its, [CHECK AUDIO] Arizona, so I know is this confusing and complicated. But we spoke to all of the delta dentals that operate along the border. Actually, California is delta owned Texas's [CHECK AUDIO] their response was, we're trying to offer this service to people, maybe Mexican marshals that live in the United States, or maybe that you feel more comfortable seeing a dentist in Tijuana, or in a setting that fools [CHECK AUDIO] we are putting together a package for the American tourists. That was not what we found. And they were quite unhappy, California's delta was very unhappy with the brochure. The man that I spoke with California's delta said they had to quote disown it. [CHECK AUDIO] we had nothing to do with this, we want to put a lot of distance between ourselves and Arizona, and one of the reasons is that the CEO of delta of California actually owns a separate insurance company in Mexico called Dentegra, and that's -- so they're kind of creating a whole 'nother model down this.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

BROWN: For Mexicans mainly in Mexico City, etc. So --

CAVANAUGH: One of the things that the delta dental organization in Arizona is railing against is the fact that some public employees in Yuma are getting insurance coverage for visiting Mexican dentists. And I know that you have a little -- a bite from Kevin Earl of the California dental association.

NEW SPEAKER: That concerns us. First of all, we're talking about public moneys that are being extended to the benefit public employees for services that may be provided by a provider that doesn't meet the same standards in the United States.

CAVANAUGH: So Jude, are people expecting this dental tourism to keep growing?

JOFFE-BLOCK: Well, we essentiality talked to some experts who thought it would. You know, that as the baby boomers grow older and need even more coverage that this could be something that we're seeing increasingly maybe for specialized services like dentistry or other kind of one off kind of services where it would make sense to travel. I mean, I think that having your primary care doctor, that's something that can't be replaced, I mean, unless you do live in hay place like San Diego, right there by the border, and certainly the Baja California government is trying to do everything it can to draw more Americans, and actually they have a new directory coming out this month that's really going to Los Angeles all of the licensed doctors and dentists in Baja California to make it that much easier for Americans to find medical practitioners they can trust.

CAVANAUGH: That's fascinating. I want thank you both so much, Jude Joffe-Block, and Devon Brown, two reporters from the fronteras desk. And I want everybody to know that their series on cross-border dental care continues tomorrow on Morning Edition right here on KPBS FM. If you'd like to comment, please go on-line, KPBS.org/thesedays. Coming up, veterans are getting training as sustainable farmers. That's next as These Days continues here on KPBS.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Jesse Thomas'

Jesse Thomas | February 9, 2011 at 12:10 p.m. ― 3 years, 10 months ago

My kids and I have on occasion gone to dentists in Tijuana and have never been disappointed. Prices are very reasonable, and are well-staffed with enthusiastic and friendly folks (almost always attractive ladies, but I digress).

I suspect the dental industry near the border is feeling that competition and will probably be looking at government as their protection racket as usual. The avocado industry has done it, just as an example.

Of course the annoying US Customs inspectors will ensure that they cause tremendous delays and thus ruin opportunities for all of us to have choices in the marketplace. That's their job, right?

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Avatar for user 'clarissa84'

clarissa84 | February 10, 2011 at 1:17 p.m. ― 3 years, 10 months ago

I live on the border...between Juarez and El Paso TX. My goal is to become a dentist. I understand why doctors in the US have higher prices, school in one of them... becoming a dentist in the US takes 8 years! and of course a lot of money. Taxes, wages, are other reasons why the price they have is what it is. I have a bachelors in the US and because of how expensive and probability of getting into dental school in Texas i decided to study in Mexico. I know Juarez is very dangerous but i dont care I cross the border everyday because that is what I want.
Ive met and worked with doctors in Mexico and in the US and sincerely doctors in Mexico come out from school with much more experience (this means less mistakes with their first patients) however, that does not indicate they are better ...its all about the Doctor ...it could and awful crown here in the US or an awful crown in Mexico.
And, Delta Dental of AZ needs to remember that its whole point is to serve the MEMBER and not the Dentist. They need to stop taking sides and think of what is best for their member.

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Avatar for user 'Kimw'

Kimw | February 11, 2011 at 6:36 a.m. ― 3 years, 10 months ago

We are working very closely with the government to help promote the licensed and certified medical and dental specialists in the Tijuana area. We are very big believers in our Doctors as they are all more affordable and offer a better quality service to our Mexican and American patients than can be offered by Doctors in the US due to insurance restrictions and red tape. Yes, Mexico is a third-world country, but Tijuana is home to world-class, cutting edge technology, effective alternative medicines and excellent dental work. This spring, we will be hosting a conference where we will feature the many different medical and dental services available in Tijuana, Rosarito and Ensenada. This conference will be held in California (San Diego areqa) at a destination to be determined. We want to bring Baja Medical and Dental services to the American population as this could be the best options for many with unsolved medical and dental challenges.

Mexico has answers for people and can offer more effective and healthier avenues to a long and prosperous life. An alliance between the insurance companies and the MX doctors could open the doors to a healthier world. We at Frontier Doctor support Mexico's certified and licensed Health Care professionals 100%!

Thank you KPBS for this broadcast, and look at Tijuana as more than just a party town. The Dental and Medical professionals in the Tijuana area can create a solution for many and this will help. :)

Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have about the health care professionals in Tijuana, Baja California.
/>kimw@frontierdoctors.com / 619-800-DOCS(3627) / skype ID: kimberly.wherley

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Avatar for user 'Sandy'

Sandy | February 1, 2012 at 7:38 a.m. ― 2 years, 10 months ago

I took my child to Tijuana to have orthodontic treatment. Dr. Daniel Cerillo Lara of Tijuana destroyed my childs teeth. My child lost 10 teeth to this man and now needs dentures or implants to replace teeth. I dont recommend anyone take there child to this man or any orthodontic dentist in Tijuana. It was not worth the cost to my family. There is no medical malpractice insurance for doctors. There is no way to find out complaints against doctors. There are over 300 complaints of Medical Negligence as of 2011. Tijuana's Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado de Baja California ( PGJE) needs to investigate and get rid of bad doctors. That would reduce the cases of medical negligence in Tijuana and make a safer community of honest Dental Practices. There is no transparency and it is a great risk as my family found out. Americans are safer getting work done in America, at least you know you have options if Medical Negligence is ever involved..

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | February 1, 2012 at 9:27 a.m. ― 2 years, 10 months ago

I've had the same dentist since the 80s in the downtown area. He's a little on the conservative as far mercury-free fillings and things of that nature, but he's a very good dentist. An alternate lady dentist that I've used when he's not available, is generally more careful with her work, from a cosmetic point of view, I guess yo can say.

Also the governor's brother, a periodontist, the one time I had to use one, did good work, before he got more involved in politics.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | February 1, 2012 at 9:36 a.m. ― 2 years, 10 months ago

SAFEGUARD. Lousy insurance plan. They don't seem to cover much.

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Avatar for user 'Sandy'

Sandy | February 11, 2012 at 6:56 p.m. ― 2 years, 10 months ago

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Sandy | February 21, 2012 at 11:58 a.m. ― 2 years, 10 months ago

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Sandy | March 1, 2012 at 7:18 p.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

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Sandy | March 2, 2012 at 5:27 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

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Sandy | March 3, 2012 at 2:53 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

NEGLIGENCIA MEDICA TIJUANA, DR. DANIEL CERILLO LARA Mi hijo fue dañado por un ortodoncista en Tijuana doctor Daniel Cerrillo Lara Reg. IMSS A08-79850-10-3 alemán Gedovius No.10489-306 Zona Río Tijuana .. Me tomó dos de mis hijos a este médico en el año 2005 para el tratamiento de ortodoncia. Mis hijos tenían 15 años y mayores de 13 años al comienzo del tratamiento. Él dejó a mi hijo con daños permanentes en los dientes superiores 6-11 Y 22-27 daño a los dientes de los dientes inferiores. Todos estos dientes están cayendo 7,8,9,10. Ahora mi hijo necesita implantes para sustituir los dientes. Me informó que el doctor PGJE en Feb.10-2012 y la oficina envió a nuestra familia a CAME. El médico se reunirán en esta oficina en Feb.24-2012 a las 11:00 horas para explicar su negligencia médica. Necesito ayuda para decirle a la comunidad de Tijuana acerca de este médico y su negligencia médica grave

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Avatar for user 'Sandy'

Sandy | March 8, 2012 at 8:39 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

NEGLIGENCIA MEDICA TIJUANA, DR. DANIEL CERILLO LARA Mi hijo fue dañado por un ortodoncista en Tijuana doctor Daniel Cerrillo Lara Reg. IMSS A08-79850-10-3 alemán Gedovius No.10489-306 Zona Río Tijuana .. Me tomó dos de mis hijos a este médico en el año 2005 para el tratamiento de ortodoncia. Mis hijos tenían 15 años y mayores de 13 años al comienzo del tratamiento. Él dejó a mi hijo con daños permanentes en los dientes superiores 6-11 Y 22-27 daño a los dientes de los dientes inferiores. Todos estos dientes están cayendo 7,8,9,10. Ahora mi hijo necesita implantes para sustituir los dientes. Me informó que el doctor PGJE en Feb.10-2012 y la oficina envió a nuestra familia a CAME. El médico se reunirán en esta oficina en Feb.24-2012 a las 11:00 horas para explicar su negligencia médica. Necesito ayuda para decirle a la comunidad de Tijuana acerca de este médico y su negligencia médica grave

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Avatar for user 'Sandy'

Sandy | March 10, 2012 at 10:38 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

Dr. Daniel Cerrillo Lara, Doctor Daniel Lara Cerrillo,Medical Negligence, Medical MalpracticeI , Negligencia Medica Tijuana. I took my child to Tijuana to have orthodontic treatment. Dr. Daniel Cerrillo Lara of Tijuana Reg. I.M.S.S. A08-79850-10-3 address 10489 - 306 German Gedovius Zona Rio CP 22320 destroyed my childs teeth. My child lost 8 teeth to this man and now needs implants to replace teeth. 16 teeth were damaged with root absorption from orthodontic treatment. Front Teeth 7,8,9 and 10 need implants for replacement. I dont recommend anyone take there child to this orthodontic dentist in Tijuana. It was not worth the cost to my family. There is no medical malpractice insurance for doctors. There is no way to find out complaints against doctors. There are over 800 complaints of Medical Negligence as of 2011. Tijuana's Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado de Baja California ( PGJE) needs to investigate and get rid of bad doctors. That would reduce the cases of medical negligence in Tijuana and make a safer community of honest Dental Practices. There is no transparency and it is a great risk as my family found out. Americans are safer getting work done in America, at least you know you have options if Medical Negligence is ever involved..

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Avatar for user 'Sandy'

Sandy | March 22, 2012 at 8:46 a.m. ― 2 years, 9 months ago

NEGLIGENCIA MEDICA TIJUANA, DR. DANIEL CERILLO LARA,DOCTOR DANIEL CERRILLO LARA,DANIEL LARA CERRILLO,MEDICAL MALPRACTICE
Mi hijo fue dañado por un ortodoncista en Tijuana doctor Daniel Cerrillo Lara Reg. IMSS A08-79850-10-3 alemán Gedovius No.10489-306 Zona Río Tijuana .. Me tomó dos de mis hijos a este médico en el año 2005 para el tratamiento de ortodoncia. Mis hijos tenían 15 años y mayores de 13 años al comienzo del tratamiento. Él dejó a mi hijo con daños permanentes en los dientes superiores 6-11 Y 22-27 daño a los dientes de los dientes inferiores. Todos estos dientes están cayendo 7,8,9,10. Ahora mi hijo necesita implantes para sustituir los dientes. Me informó que el doctor PGJE en Feb.10-2012 y la oficina envió a nuestra familia a CAME. El médico se reunirán en esta oficina en Feb.24-2012 a las 11:00 horas para explicar su negligencia médica. Necesito ayuda para decirle a la comunidad de Tijuana acerca de este médico y su negligencia médica grave

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