- I traveled to Mexico and decided to whiten my teeth with a laser.
- It cost $200, which was cheaper than in the US, and I liked the results.
- Still, the experience made me wonder if I was going to pay a price for not doing it in the US.
Getting cosmetic procedures in the US can be very expensive. Even a relatively simple procedure, like laser teeth whitening, can cost anywhere from $500 to over $1,000, according to the Dental Health Society. That’s a big reason why 1.2 million Americans traveled to Mexico City for dental tourism in 2022, according to Medical Tourism Mexico.
This year I became one of them.
I didn’t go to Mexico City to see a dentist. But as I stared at years of red wine and coffee stains in the mirror, I thought, “Why not?” and made a deal to appease my perfectionism. I found the supplier by surfing Google and choosing from places with five star reviews and within 20 minutes walking distance from where I lived. But I didn’t notice that the listing I selected only had a handful of reviewers.
As soon as I arrived, I questioned my decision
When I arrived at the building I immediately wanted to cancel my appointment. It looked like an abandoned shop; I looked a few times at my phone and then at the numbers above the entrance to make sure I was right.
In Mexico, most companies communicate via WhatsApp. A man opened the office door and introduced himself as my dentist, and with no assistant in sight, I realized he had been messaging me and pretending to be his own assistant. I tried to be understanding.
I walked in, straight into an operating room with another dentist walking away by a patient’s mouth. I waved awkwardly and my dentist led me into the adjoining room. I sat in the orthodontic chair and forced myself to stop overthinking it. That would be fine; he was wearing a lab coat. But this was the only proof I had of his expertise.
Mexico is known and respected for dental tourism, so I held on to the hope that I hadn’t chosen the wrong provider. I had just had Botox for the first time there too and it was a lovely, professional experience. I ignored my stomach and remained seated.
A dentist in New York shares his tips when choosing a provider
Dr. Angela Abernathy, a general and cosmetic dentist and the owner of Boutique Smiles in New York, said there should be a guarantee of privacy for patients to meet HIPAA regulations. “If you’re in Mexico, you might have different rules, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that,” Abernathy said. “But the biggest concern is having someone who knows what to do if something goes wrong.”
She said one of the main risks of laser teeth whitening is that the product burns the gums, which can be serious if a proper barrier is not used. You also need a supplier who knows when not to operate if you go to have a cavity filled for example.
The Mexican dentist began by putting his hands in my mouth – without gloves on – to prepare me for the treatment. Abernathy said this may have been normal in the 1980s, when it was not a dental requirement. But it has become standard procedure due to illnesses, and it is done to protect the athletes as much as the patients. “I wouldn’t let anybody touch me in that regard without gloves on,” Abernathy said.
I liked the end result
After 40 grueling minutes I was done. Despite the lack of professionalism or lack of protocol, it seemed like he was doing the right procedure.
I thought it was strange that I had to go out of my way to ask him what I shouldn’t eat. He suggested “probably avoiding coffee for a little while,” but Abernathy said patients should avoid anything they wouldn’t wear a white shirt for three to seven days. In addition, she sends patients home with vitamin E capsules for sores or blisters, and suggests using Sensodyne toothpaste until the appointment and the week after.
At first I asked his “assistant” over WhatsApp how much it would cost and they said the supplier would let me know in person. I forgot to ask again and he charged me a little over $200 for the procedure, which is standard in Mexico. But it suddenly seemed expensive.
“People go overseas and they get work done, not just for bleaching, but maybe for veneers or body changes. Yes, it’s more expensive in the U.S. than in other countries,” Abernathy said. “But we also have a set of regulations that protect doctors and patients. The education we get isn’t cheap, and it costs a lot of money to train our staff to do these things.”
She said you often get what you pay for. For many Americans, however, it’s the most they can afford, especially because insurance doesn’t help with cosmetic procedures. This is where due diligence comes in – knowing how to know how to know how to properly know your suppliers and learn what to expect. The rest comes with following your instincts about who to trust, a feeling I will never ignore again.