But the truth of the matter, commonly pointed out in the ongoing health care debate, is that mixing profit with patients is a recipe for disaster. As long as insurance companies are able to make billions by fleecing their customers, and as long as dental clinics and drug companies are allowed to set their own prices, the general population is going to be cavity ridden and kind of ugly.
For now, it seems dental tourism may be the best option for people with normal-to-low incomes and chronic problems. Two months after my visit to Mexico, my teeth feel much better and I'm back on solid food. But this kind of travel isn't for the fainthearted. The weather and food in Los Algodones are great. But getting your teeth ripped out and reconstructed in a foreign country with no legal recourse is dangerous and scary, especially during the high-traffic winter season when the tendency to rush through patients escalates.
My triple root canal, for example, took a mere two visits. The doctors hacked away for 10 hours straight, let me heal for one day, and then stuck on the crowns and pocketed my check. I stumbled out of Dr. Lopez's office a few days before New Year's, in a Novocain-induced daze, with blood on my shirt and pieces of rubber molding stuck to my cheeks. My jaws and head ached as I shuffled through the mile-long border-crossing corridor, sweating and dry-heaving.
As I approached the checkpoint, I wondered if I had made the right choice.
Then I remembered that I hadn't actually made one. It was this or nothing.
Emma Lierley contributed to this report.
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