It costs a lot of money to go to the dentist. And with many Americans lacking dental coverage, getting your teeth taken care of is often cost-prohibitive. But a handful of entrepreneurial dentists in Mexico have stepped up to the plate, offering discount dentistry to a growing U.S. customer base.
For example, the average price of getting a porcelain crown on a tooth in the U.S. is around $945. But patients at DentiCenter, a chain of dental offices sprouting up in border towns from California to Texas, pay only $250.
DentiCenter, whose patient list is 97% U.S. citizens, was founded in 1991 by a Mexican-born, USC-trained periodontist. And as the U.S. economy headed south in recent years, more and more patients have headed south of the border for dental care.
“The recession definitely helped, because people needed to save money, and the spread the word about us,” says DentiCenter’s founder.
According to the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions research group, “dental tourism” is increasing about 20% a year. And the patients heading to Mexico for discount dentistry aren’t necessarily poor.
Says the Deloittee Center’s exec. director:
These are not the underserved… These are people whose out-of-pocket expenses hit their discretionary spending very, very hard. They are trying to juggle health care costs with groceries, transportation and housing.
And DentiCenter isn’t just a cash-only operation. The chain has also been certified as an in-network provider for Delta Dental and Aetna.
On average, the 38 dentists employed by DentiCenter earn only around 1/3 of the approximately $200K/year their counterparts in the U.S. make.
But will the eventual rebound from the recession mean the end of dental tourism? Doubtful, says the man from the Deloitte Center:
I don’t think this is going to end with the end of the recession… The cost of healthcare is becoming a major problem in every household. This is a trend, not a fad.