#15 from SE Asia — Dental tourism in Thailand
SiaYuan, Phuket Island, Thailand
This is what it looks like when they grind down your front teeth for crowns Now is this UGLY OR WHAT?
So, I am getting older, and my teeth are wearing down and starting to chip away and crack. I have done my best to take care of them. I brush 3-4-5 times a day and I floss at least as often.
In 2007 I noticed that my 4 front lower incisors had really worn down.
They had lost at least 1/3rd their length. They looked just like my dad’s
teeth when he was in his 60’s. I asked my dentist in Bloomington what to
do. He said I needed four crowns. $3200 total. (Today this estimate might be closer to $4500) But he was so busy that he could not get at them for 2 months.
TWO MONTHS? I want them now.
A few weeks later, I am in San Diego on a previously planned trip. I bite into
some hard fruit and one of my lower incisors breaks partially away. And there it is. Undeniable. THE GAP. When you are missing a front tooth, it looks like your IQ has just dropped 30 points. I start walking around with my lower lip deliberately covering my lower teeth. I cannot go on like this.
So I take the train to San Isidro, at the California-Mexico border. I
walk over the border. First of all, I find that there is virtually no customs whatsoever in entering Mexico. I walk by one sleepy guard, turn the corner, and then I am on the chaotic streets of Tijuana. I speak good Spanish and I am confident I can find a good dentist. I see DENTISTA signs and I start knocking on doors. The first three I run into all seem like quacks. Bad facilities and unimpressive staff. I quickly exit. Then I see a sign advertising a dental lab. I walk in and the waiting room is filled with Mexicans. No one here speaks English. I notice a crucifix and religious images on the wall. Then I talk with the dentist, Jesus Rodriquez (his real name). Yes he does porcelain crowns on
noble metals. He has a laboratory next door where his staff makes the
crowns. He has been doing this for 25 years.
How much would these crowns cost, Dr. Rodriquez?
Per tooth? That is not much cheaper than the USA.
No senor. About $450 for ALL FOUR teeth.
Can I see some of your work?
Come with me.
We walk into the waiting room, and Dr. Rodriquez asks if any of his patients
here would like to show this man any crowns he may have done. Several
volunteer. I look, and the work looks good to me.
We go back to his office.
Well, when can you begin?
He looks at his watch.
I am sorry, but it will have to be this afternoon.
Yes. That is what THIS afternoon means in Spanish too.
At 5 pm on that same day, I am back in San Diego with 4 decent looking
temporaries. A week later, I have 4 good crowns on. I must state that I
did rush Jesus into finishing the work because of a non-refundable scheduled
flight. I am so happy with his work that I give him a $50 tip. He was a
kind, dedicated dentist working under an unreasonably tight schedule.
Three of those crowns have been without problems. I did have one replaced.
I attribute part of the reason to my rushing him to work faster than he
wanted to. So what were my total savings? About $2000. And I am happy
with my teeth.
My friend Clifford has recommended a dental clinic here. So I show up unannounced. All the dentists and assistants are women. As an aside, they were quite beautiful too. I show them my five worn and cracked front teeth. Yes, they can begin in a few days.
How much for five baked porcelain-on-palladium crowns?
okay. Let’s schedule the appointment.
I get there on Saturday, February 5th at 9 am. They have me down in that
chair straight for 3 1/2 hours without a pee break until they are done
putting on the temporaries. They are clearly perfectionists. Again and
again the two dentists check and measure and then work again. I see that
there is a master/apprentice relationship here.
Half way thru, they have finished cutting down my front teeth to posts for
the crowns to fit on. I ask to look at the posts. And what I see truly
frightens me. I have FIVE VAMPIRE teeth. This is the ugliest I have ever
been. And believe me, I have been ugly before.
I put my hand involuntarily over my mouth.
Then the younger dentist says “Oh sorry. But drill break now. Cannot work
anymore. You go home. Come back next month.”
They watch the look of horror spread on my face, and then they all start
laughing, probably at the expression on my face. I finally laugh with them. Oh do I love smart, funny women. Smart-assed funny women too. They are the VERY best.
On on February 12th, I go in to get my permanents put on. The dentist says that the teeth are the wrong color. I look at them and they are yellowish. Like I have been smoking cigarettes a long time. She is truly disappointed and sorry for having inconvenienced me. She says she wants to send them back to the lab. Of course it will not cost me, but we will have to wait another 5 days. I agree.
I go in on February 17th and they finish the work in an hour. The dentists thoroughly check my bite. They give me a written two-year guarantee.
So here is the current accounting:
1. For five porcelain on palladium front upper crowns, $1340
2. Teeth cleaning $30
3. Tooth protector, to prevent grinding while sleeping $30
What are my risks?
1. Most seriously, if something goes wrong, I am NOT returning to have it fixed. I must state that I have had crowns break in the US within a year and the dentist refused to honor his work and charged me full fare for the replacement.
2. Inferior work. I have no evidence of this. My three Mexican crowns have 5 years on them and they are wearing fine. Making dental crowns is a mature technology. No country has a ‘leading edge’ on this.
And what are my potential rewards?
1. This is simple. I most likely have just saved myself well over $4000.
2. Personally, I am delighted not to be held ransom to the extortionist rates of the US medical system. I am voting with my feet. If you want to pay those rates, you go right ahead. But not me. But there are other options, if you are willing to research into them.
If you are thinking about having serious dental work done overseas, I would allow for a minimum of 2 weeks. Get started on day one of arrival, and allow for extra time for adjustments and such. We should do this for any major medical procedure.