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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Dental tourism

NOGALES, SONORA, MEXICO (Tucson News Now) - Every day people cross the border into Mexico. Some go for a nice Mexican meal or to buy jewelry, but other people have an appointment to get to.

On the streets of Nogales, Sonora it was hard to find an American not in town to see the dentist.

"I was surprised when we walked into the waiting room that the whole place was filled with Green Valley people," said Rosie Kaiser.

"They have real vanilla here. It's a fraction of the cost. But, I also come here for the dentist. I go to the orthodontist. I pay $6,000 in the states and here I'm paying $1,350," said Maryann Kinzel.

A few steps from Arizona is a world of different in sights, sounds and prices for dental care.

Dr. Ernesto Quiroga in Nogales, Sonora said, "The prices in Mexico is very good deal for everybody. It's the regular price for Mexico but in United States, they charge a little bit more."

Some would say a lot more. According to the CDC, in 1999 eight percent of American adults went without dental health care because it cost too much. A decade later that number jumped to 15 percent.

Dr. Robert J. Oro from Oro Dental Medicine said, "What we're seeing is that folks are looking for ways to get dental care for what they see as a cheaper alternative."

Dr. Oro has a practice in Oro Valley. He says it's now a big business in Mexico and in the U.S.

In the early eighties everything changed.

"It went from insurance to assistance. They capped the insurance at $1,500 and that number $1,500 has not changed since 1983."

That means even patients with dental insurance may not have adequate coverage and have to pay out of pocket.

"Our dentist in Green Valley sold his business to a newer gal, who raised the prices. We decided we didn't want to pay that. We have lots of neighbors who've been coming here. We get lots of recommendations so we decided to go to Dr. Bojorquez," said Kay and Lloyd Bierstaker.

The couple crossed the border for a standard cleaning. They pay one hundred dollars less than what they would in Green Valley.

Dr. Ernesto Quiroga says when reports of violence were all over the media, and because almost all of his patients are American, his business dropped by 20 percent. Now he sees more than 400 patients a week because business is coming back.

"Most patients they have a big surprise when they see the technology we use here," Dr. Quiroga said.

Even in more modest offices Mexican dentists depend on American patients.

Dr. Ricardo Silva, a Nogales dentist said, "If they don't come, yes. I have problem. But, they come."

They come at a price and American dentists critical of this practice say their concern isn't only about safety stemming from differences in training and standards of care.

Dr. Oro said, "When you leave and you spend your dollars in Mexico. Guess what? 100 percent of it leaves the united states."

On both sides of the border there are signs of increased demand for dental work. But, American and Mexican dentists say they're not competing yet.

"Will it affect American practices? Yeah, but if they make folks realize the importance of dental care, I think you also will see the rise in American dental office use also," Dr. Oro said.  

People are living longer and want their pearly whites without breaking the bank.

Mexican dentists expect their business to keep picking up, especially as healthcare costs in our country continue to rise amid a poor economy. But, American dentists who are critical of this practice say they want people to make sure to do their research before crossing the border to see a dentist.

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