Every day, 6,000 Americans enter Los Algodones, Mexico from Yuma, Arizona seeking affordable healthcare. With billboards covering nearly every inch of public space advertising affordable vision care and prescription drugs, what most Americans visit the border city for is dental care.
America’s “dental refugees”
Los Algodones, situated west of the Colorado River, has more dentists per capita than any other city in the world. The city relies on Americans seeking affordable healthcare to support its economy, dubbing these Americans as the “dental refugees.” The Americans fleeing to this city to receive affordable dental care affectionately call it “molar city.”
Dental work in Los Algodones costs an average of 80 percent less compared to the U.S. Part of these savings come from Mexican dentists graduating from dental school with little to no debt and just as much training. Instead of charging high tuition fees for dental schools, Mexican dentists perform one free year of service and return the profits to the Mexican government, according to NPR.
Additionally, dental work in this city can be done in a day or two. The city is home to so many dental labs that it takes just a day or two for the dentist to receive the necessary crowns, implants, or dentures.
Why is American dentistry so expensive?
Nearly a quarter of all Americans live without dental insurance, and those who have it often can’t afford the high price of dental work.
Most dental plans cover regular cleanings, routine x-rays, and fillings, but anything beyond that is usually on the patient’s shoulders to bear. If the patient needs significant work, a plan may only pay between $1,000 and $1,500 annually, a number that hasn’t budged in nearly 50 years.
Insurance doesn’t do much for dentists either. In fact, it’s such a hassle that more and more American dentists are no longer accepting it in exchange for charging higher fees.
“The number one most complicated aspect of running a dental office, bar none, is dealing with dental insurance,” one dentist told CBS News. “You wouldn’t believe how long it takes to get through to a rep, make sure the patient does have benefits, calculate a copay.”
Dental care is part of healthcare
Medicare does not cover dental care, except for in extreme circumstances. For example, if you are in a traumatic car accident and need dental work in the hospital as part of your treatment.
This leaves American seniors paying out of pocket, purchasing expensive private plans, or simply going without.
However, dental care is a crucial part of healthcare. According to Harvard Medical School, dental problems can lead to dangerous infections and heart disease. Additionally, as people age, they often need more dental work due to factors like decreases in saliva production and nerve sensation.
What are politicians doing about it?
Dental care is included in the Medicare for All packages promoted by Democratic presidential hopefuls Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MD).
The House recently passed a bill to include dental care as part of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s bill for Medicare to negotiate the prices of 250 drugs.
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