As a Dental Tourism advocate, I have long viewed Mexico as a great potential marketplace for U.S. travelers.  It is nearby and has many alluring characteristics: a rich culture with delicious food, mountains, beaches, ancient ruins, etc.  But over the past few years it has added one more thing to the mix which is making some people think twice about visiting this otherwise beautiful country for vacation or dental care: Homicide…and unfortunately, it is becoming a more frequent occurrence.

Yes, Chicago and Baltimore may be the killing fields in the U.S., but these cities may be considered relatively safe compared to countrywide statistics in Mexico – which is reported to have had between 1000 and 2000 murders each month so far in 2017.  While this is not an ‘apples to apples’ comparison, it is still worthy of mention.  Many of these horrors are committed in centralized areas where criminal elements target people (mostly nationals) for kidnappings, torture, and death.   I know this is likely difficult for many to read and think about, but it should be considered, especially before traveling to arguably un-safe places.

When you schedule an appointment to see a Dentist, there is usually some anxiety involved.  That is normal.  Where there are Dentists, there are often needles, drills and other unpleasant things to which you may be subjected.  There may be bad breath (patient and the practitioner), broken teeth, bleeding gums; or with really-unlucky patients, all of the above.  There may be much worse than that.  There is the bill at the end of the day, which most people dread as much as the dental work itself.  But there are a few things we should all have when going to the Dentist – including the level of confidence and peace of mind that we will arrive at the dental office, safe and sound, and return home alive after receiving our dental care.

Dental TourismYes, security is a concern everywhere these days.  Bombings, shootings, stabbings…the world and its citizens are truly up against some serious challenges in the 21st century.  And we are paying the price – at the airport, the commercial centers, and at our dinner table as we are forced to watch tragic scenes, and recount horror after horror on tv.  Many of us contemplate what may be next, and spend plenty of time praying that it won’t.

Dental work is tough enough without the threats of war, terrorism, pathological crazies and drug cartels.  We can only fear so many things at one time; faced with a myriad of madness and endless bad news, life becomes unenjoyable, perhaps even untenable. Especially for those who can’t afford the top-notch surgeon, they want locally and choose to cross borders for treatment.  Or those who can’t even afford treatment in their own country and must look to foreign Doctors for help. Dental tourists need to contend with foreign exchange rates and languages, fear of flying, the TSA, etc., and that should be enough.  Having to deal with the prospect of being kidnapped or killed is just more than most can process.

Over the past few decades, every time I went to Mexico, I was warned do not drink the water.  Period.  It has become a given.  Standard operating procedure…drink bottled water, or tequila.  Avoid ice. If you clean any wounds out with (unbottled) water, make sure antibiotic or antiseptic gels or creams are applied immediately.  But a new warning arose about 10 years ago: Beware of gangs and violent criminals.  And now:  Beware of murderers.  It has been a long, slow decline from the stereotypical days of overworked/drunken men sleeping under sombreros in sleepy towns, mariachis at every turn, and lively dancers with beautiful dresses spinning merrily in the streets.

Today if you travel to Mexico, you may be well-advised to bring one very important thing…a body guard.  Yes, this may sound nuts, but so does 2000 murderers in one month.  And alarming statistics are being published, month after month.  Low-cost dental care has its allure, but what price are people really prepared to pay to save a few bucks or a few teeth?  Is it worth your life?  Or the fear of losing it?  Or the threat of losing it? It apparently is to some, as there are still many people traveling to Mexico for care.

Why people are doing so confounds me.  I can begin to understand, to a certain extent, the people who live across the border, within driving distance, but for others, I am completely dumbfounded.  It literally blows my mind.  Why?  Because Costa Rica is just as close a flight as Mexico for most in need of dental services.  And most people would consider Costa Rica to be one of the safest places on the planet.  And their Dentists are world renowned.

Beautiful Costa Rica.  The “rich coast” as its name in Spanish explicitly states.  The “Switzerland of Central America.”  Home of the Tico and the Tica, Imperial Beer, nature beyond compare and the adorable Oso Perezoso.  A country filled with great coffee, tropical fruits, and chocolate beans.  Sports fishing that sets the bar for anglers.  A gentle people with no Army, and few armed forces (as they are not urgently needed).  Costa Rica, a country which is synonymous with Peace on Earth and pure life – pura vida.

I do not know what Mexico holds in store for its people nor its Dental Tourists anymore.  I can only say this: If you need dental care, there are options.  You can go to your local dentist or one in a neighboring town/city.  If they cost too much or are not up to the task at hand, there are alternatives overseas in beautiful countries like Costa Rica, Thailand, and Vietnam.   You don’t need to look too hard as the industry has become rooted and is growing at a good pace. My advice, don’t put your life at risk just for some dental care in any foreign country you do not believe to be safe.  Just seek care elsewhere.

Dental tourism is fantastic in as much as it affords many people the opportunity to receive the dental care they cannot afford in the U.S., and it helps others find some of the BEST Dentists/Doctors/Surgeons in the world at a fraction of U.S. costs.  If you seek care abroad, great!  It makes sense for many to do so.  Just make sure you use common sense.  Plan your travels out well. Consult ex-pats who know where to go, what to do, and which areas and types of people to avoid.  And if there are clear-cut options for staying safe, like avoiding gang-ridden or war-torn countries, do so.

Know that you are not alone.  Many people have dental problems for a variety of reasons.  How you got to such a point is not the issue today and should not be your focus.  Getting treatment as soon as possible before more damage is done and you lose the options you have should be your biggest concern.  Once you are in good dental shape again, there will be time to adjust your diet, change your bad habits and reflect upon why you ended up in the dental chair – at your local dentist, or hundreds or thousands of miles away from home, hopefully in a place where you can enjoy your stay, free of the worries of today’s troublemakers.