Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct information on the cost of crowns.
Spending time in a dentist’s chair south of the border may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but a dental-related travel concierge service says it may be able to take some of the pain out of the pocketbook.
Beyond Borders Dental was formed to help clients in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, especially those who say they can’t swing the cost of extensive dental work in the U.S.
Beyond Borders’ CEO Ralph Grosswald said the dental concierge service handles all the scheduling and grunt work so clients can access affordable and quality dental care in Palomas, Mexico, a town of 5,000 people and 14 dental clinics. There they find dentists who speak English, are often trained in the U.S. and offer low prices for everything from a cleaning to implants, all on a cash-only basis.
Grosswald and partner Terri Heeter, who used to operate an international tour business, have packaged dental visits, lodging and roundtrip transportation from Santa Fe and Albuquerque to the border. The cost of the service is $250 and $210, respectively, from both cities. That doesn’t include the price of the hotel and meals or the dentist’s tab. Medical tourists travel in a 12-passenger van and usually stay overnight at a Deming motel before heading to Columbus where clients cross the border. Patients are escorted by Grosswald and Heeter to the clinics and picked up following appointments.
Once people get their teeth fixed, they have time to visit bootmakers, jewelers and other shops before heading home.
Since launching in June, the company has taken two groups down and is planning as many as two trips a week as word of the business spreads.
Even with the best of dentists, things can go wrong. Fillings fall out. Crowns come loose. If something goes wrong after you return home from dental travel, you have two options: get the problem fixed at home or hit the road again.
Dr. Tom Schripsema, an Albuquerque dentist and executive director of the New Mexico Dental Association, emphasized that consumers traveling to Mexico for dentistry should proceed with caution. Know what you are signing up for and do a lot of research before you go, he said.
While he wasn’t familiar with the service offered by Beyond Borders Dental, he’s aware that New Mexicans have been traveling south of the border for a long time.
“However, we’ve encountered patients that had really dismal work done (in Mexico), resulting in more serious problems when they come home,” he said.
Grosswald said all the clinics they work with in Palomas are vetted by a four-step quality evaluation process, such as sterilization procedures. Not only are the dentists highly trained, but they also guarantee clients will be fully satisfied with their treatment. “If a client is unhappy, the dentists will modify, adjust, or redo their work as necessary,” he said.
“We spent many, many months researching” the viability of the dental concierge business, said Grosswald, who received care in Palomas on the recommendation of friends in Las Cruces. “I needed three crowns,” he said, adding he received a quote of $4,000 for the work in Santa Fe. He had the crowns done in Palomas for $700.
The cost of dental care has spiked in the past two decades and continues to increase at a rate of five percent annually, but insurance benefits have stayed flat, said Grosswald. Many dental plans have high deductibles and don’t offer extensive coverage. Also, dental care is not covered by Medicare, and seniors often require the most costly dental work, like crowns, implants and false teeth.
On average, patients save 50 to 80 percent by going to Mexico, according to Grosswald.
Schripsema acknowledges that employer-paid dental benefits have not keep pace with the cost of care, especially for those needing lots of work, but he recommend that people explore all the options with their local dentists. Most offices have payment arrangements that can be made if money is an issue, he said.
The idea of cross-border travel for dental care isn’t new. A group called Patients Beyond Borders estimated that 400,000 Americans crossed international borders in 2012 for dental care, and it projected growth rates of 20 percent a year.