If the Tooth Hurts…

photo credit: deviantart.com

photo credit: deviantart.com

On our last day in Panama as we were waiting for our plane to Mexico City, I bit into a hard candy and broke a tooth. It was the first molar, top right – or to borrow from the technical terminology of the dentistry profession, tooth #14.

dentistI cannot fault the hard candies of Panama, which are actually quite yummy. This dental fracture was an accident waiting to happen. The filling in this tooth was probably 40 years old, and as you will learn as you get older, nothing lasts forever. I knew I was going to need a crown for this broken tooth. I have a few of those already, so I know from experience what is involved. Armed with this knowledge I did the logical thing. I put off going to the dentist for as long as possible.

Our deadline for departure from Mexico is looming, and I know medical and dental costs are less here than in the U. S. So I finally made an appointment based on my friend Jim’s referral. The dentist (orthodontist, actually) fit me in the following morning. He looked at my tooth, cleaned it up a bit, and as cheerfully as one can deliver this message he said, “You need a root canal.” He then took an X-ray of the tooth to take to Dr. Martinez, who he assured me, was the finest dentist in town when it comes to root canals. Dr. Martinez scheduled me for two days later.

Maybe I should have brushed more with Ipana when I was a kid.

Maybe I should have brushed more with Ipana when I was a kid.

I had never had a root canal before. Call me a wimp if you must, but based on all the root canal stories I have heard, I was seriously averse to this dentist visit. But I went anyway. Just like with any dental work she first numbed my mouth. Ha – I did not feel a thing! She was good with the needle, but how about with the drill? All I can say is the orthodontist was right. Dr. Martinez was the best. I caught a glimpse of her dental school diploma on the way out. She graduated from dental school in 1988 – twenty-five years ago. She did not look old enough to have twenty-five years experience, but she certainly performed like a seasoned professional! I was impressed.

Dental expenses in Mexico

The consultation with the orthodontist including the X-ray: 400 pesos ($33)
Root canal and filling on my broken tooth: 3,200 pesos ($264)

I looked up the cost for a root canal in the U. S. Figures range from $700 to over $1,000. Many insurance programs cover only 50% of a root canal, so I think I did pretty well. We will see what the crown ends up costing.

20 comments on “If the Tooth Hurts…

  1. I had a root canal once. I’d rather slide down a razor blade a mile long and land in rubbing alcohol than go through that again. At least for you the price was right. 🙂

    • Mike Lince says:

      And here I was trying to avoid vivid imagery that would make people cringe. I know, I missed the mark as soon as I wrote ‘root canal.’ Even though this skillful woman dentist was superbly gifted in avoiding inflicting pain, this is not an experience I wish to go through again.

  2. I give you credit. I would have been very afraid to have dental work in another country. (I am, of course, terrified of having it done in the US where I am somewhat comfortable with my dentist!) I am completely shocked by the difference in cost. Wow. There’s definitely something broken in our own system. Glad it worked out for you!

    • Mike Lince says:

      While I had some tongue-in-cheek fun (left cheek only) writing this story, you picked up on the underlying message that medical costs are simply out of reach for a huge segment of the U. S. population, including me and my wife. This is one of the reasons we do not live in the U. S., and our pay-as-you-go health care is still cheaper than the cost of insurance premiums. My heart goes out to the ever-increasing segment of the U. S. population who, in my situation, simply would have had no option but to eventually pull the tooth with a pair of pliers.

  3. I’ve had one root canal – it took over 3 hours!! I don’t think that’s normal. The dentist seemed frustrated, like my root canal was a challenge. Then, 4 or 5 years later, the tooth I had the root canal in started hurting again. I went back to a new dentist and he found that the dentist who did my root canal missed one of the roots. Ugh!! This was actually a pretty easy fix, however. Or maybe the second dentist was just better.

    By the way, you got an awesome deal Mike!! My root canal cost a heck of a lot more than yours did!! I suppose that’s why one of my friends who lives in San Diego is going to a dentist in Mexico for her braces.

    • Mike Lince says:

      Celeste, your friend who is crossing the border for dental work is part of the growing medical tourism movement where people are taking vacations to other countries to seek affordable medical care. The fact that foreign medical care plus the vacation costs combined are cheaper than the medical care alone in the U. S. are indicators that there is too much wrong with our health care system.

      In this post I take a lighthearted approach to just one aspect of healthcare, and for me the outcome was both favorable and affordable. However, not everyone is so fortunate. Whenever I read or hear someone comment that the U. S. has the best healthcare system in the world, I have to take exception. My experience which I have written about, is that without a comprehensive (and expensive) healthcare plan, good healthcare in the U. S. is beyond the reach of many, and I find that disturbing.

      As always, I thank you for your thoughtful comments.

      • I absolutely agree with you our health care system is faulty. I find it hard to believe that anyone would believe that we have the best healthcare system in the world. Despite the fact that my husband makes a great salary, the health plan we have through his work is poor. We actually put off or avoid going to the doctor to avoid the excessive out-of-pocket expenses we have to pay for anything but routine doctor’s visits. Despite this, I have no doubt that our insurance plan is much better than average.   I think we have much to learn from other countries about health care, but I doubt we’ll learn easily or even at all.   This is an interesting topic Mike, and I like the lighthearted approach you used in this post.   Celeste:)


  4. nantubre says:

    I’m glad your experience with dentistry was positive. I have had an aversion to dentist visits all of my life. Praise God, I didn’t get my first cavity until I was 57 years old! How many people do you know break out in a blood, sweat, and tears over a simple cleaning and check up?? That’s me. My dentist is very good, painless even. Her prices are exhorbitant and she always leaves me with a snide remark….”let us know if you want us to whiten those teeth”…..”You’re not getting any younger, you better get this $150 electric tooth cleaner before it’s too late”…..

    • Mike Lince says:

      Wow – no cavities before the age of 57? That is amazing! Congratulations on not being a dentist’s best friend.

      I used to make light with my dentist that my visits were making the payments on his new sailboat or that I just paid for his family’s Hawaiian vacation. We would both chuckle, me because I was joking about the cost, most of which was covered by insurance at the time. Him because it was pretty much true.

      Modern chemistry has led to a shopping list of tooth products, including ceramic-like crowns in a choice of white hues. Those who can afford them can now have brilliantly white teeth for most of eternity. Imagine having radiantly white smiling teeth should anyone find your remains thousands of years from now, on sale now for only $30,000! I could only afford two.

  5. jimhornnews says:

    Lucky you took care of that before you got to Scotland! The crown with Dr. Andreas is 12,000 pesos…a bit steep but half the cost of the US. Next time stick to canals in places like Venice…better than the root kind…I’d give my eye teeth to be there rather than in a dentist’s chair.

    • Mike Lince says:

      Looks like I’m going to have to save up for the crown. Do you think it is called a ‘crown’ because you need to inherit the crown jewels to be able to afford one?

  6. Wrenfoe says:

    Great Blog, Mike. Exotic & fun at the same time 😀

    (I’ll pop a link to your blog on my blog as well)

    Safe travels!

    • Mike Lince says:

      High praise coming from you! Thank you. I love your writing. I am now sharing links to your blog posts on my Facebook page for the benefit (or corruption) of my friends. 🙂
      Thank you for your comments and for following. – Mike

  7. Hey Mike. I’ve had a few dental mishaps in my travels, but so far no root canals. All my RCs have been in the US, at considerably higher cost than Mexico. But, I did get a major chipped tooth repaired in Amsterdam. It worked out fine, but the weird thing was that the dentist had all his chairs and patients in one room!! If was strange hearing all the drilling, spitting, moaning and groaning at the same time. The really good news was that there was a pot bar next door. ~James

  8. Informative and funny blog! Two years ago when I was living in Guadalajara, I had a permanent dental “bridge” made. A native Spanish speaker accompanied me on the first consultation to make sure I understood what was involved, as it took 2 more visits to complete. With my relatively basic Spanish at the time, I made it easily through those visits (and future cleanings) on my own. The cost was equal to $300 US while the dentist here in Alaska charged $3000! I told him I was going to have it done in Mexico because if I paid him the $3000, then he would be vacationing in Mexico and I’d have to say in Alaska!
    We now live part time in Oaxaca, and I have had other medical treatments, such as a small bone fracture, and have always been very pleased with the care, the attitude of the doctors or dentists, and the price. Like you, we just pay out of pocket.
    It’s pretty sad that in the US so many people just have to go without care they need, even if they are working, and it doesn’t seem to be improving.

    • Thank you for sharing your story, Marilyn. I hope lots of people see it and benefit from your experience. Florence and I love the United States, and we believe it is still one of the best places in the world to live. However, our country does not have the best of everything.

  9. All of this has me clenching my teeth! Ugh… I could not do it!

    • Well, my alternative was an abscessed tooth or an extraction at some point in the future, so this was a no-brainer for me. And since I do not have insurance, my teeth clench mostly when I learn how much it costs to fix them.

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