CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- My 74-year-old mouth is half-full of dental implants, root-canaled teeth, crowns and bridges. It remains a work-in progress. About 60 percent of those repairs were done by dentists in Colombia and Mexico. Why? Because they do high quality, professional work at about 15 to 30 percent of the outrageous fees here. Some of their excellent treatments were to correct horribly expensive botches by American dentists.
In the United States, 1.9 million medical workers and 27 percent of all doctors here were born overseas. How many dentists in America were trained or even born elsewhere? Very few. Why? Because those born here and their American Dental Association do all they can to protect their lucrative turf and in most cases, exorbitant, monopolistic pricing schedules under the umbrella of state laws which often do more to promote patient gouging than to protect us from the incompetent and apathetic.
Several Gazette articles have deplored the condition of many children's teeth in West Virginia. Yes, self-care is a factor, but so is professional care. Some families just can't afford the exorbitant fees, but the dental-industrial-complex has them over a barrel -- pay up, suffer or send for a neighbor with pliers.
Don't laugh at the pliers option. In February 2013, a 63- year-old man, trained as a dental technician, was arrested in Dallas after many years of practicing low-cost home dentistry without a license in his very poor neighborhood (a 10-year felony sentence in Texas). He told the press, "I charged just enough to pay my bills." His neighbors want him back.
No one begrudges those who have paid several hundred thousand dollars and studied much of a decade for a professional education. After all, this is a capitalistic society that supposedly rewards effort. But it is also a society that has laws against monopolies, price gouging and similar atrocities against the public, aside from such aesthetics as humanity, compassion, ethics, morals and simple common decency.
The past year, partly because of failed dental work, plus 66 years of gnawing, chomping, crunching and munching foods I love, many tired old teeth quit their jobs. As to replacing my worn-out ivories, I can afford much better than false teeth, which I bitterly resist. But I also guard myself from monetary outrages. Experience has made me wary of dentists who will not pull a tooth nor trouble themselves to learn various more complicated oral repairs -- who must "refer" me to "associates," compounding the fees.
That dentists in West Virginia charge much less than "big city" practices is fact. So I kept my research local. Here are the lowest quotes I obtained:
* Dental implant (anchor screwed into the jawbone with abutment mounted for a crown), $2,150.
* Crown (white porcelain over titanium), $950.
* Root canal (remove nerves from tooth, insert titanium rod to hold crown), $1,000.
* Extract four teeth, (under local anesthesia in one visit, $900.
* X-rays and incidentals were in the hundreds of dollars.
All the work I want done totaled $27,750 here plus X-rays.
Medical reasons currently prohibit me from flying so I can't go back to Colombia where root canals have cost me $100, crowns $150 and extractions are $20. Implants are $700. So I vetted dentists in the nearest Mexico city -- Ciudad Juarez.
You vet in a foreign country just like here. You ask doctors, nurses, business people, "What dentist do you use?" Then I looked at their locations on Google maps and satellites, checked credentials. I chose Dr. Julio Gutierrez, 40ish, offices in the ultra-modern Star Medical complex in an upscale section of the city. It is next door to a Holiday Inn, across from a huge mall anchored by Sears, among others, only two miles from the border by six-lane boulevards.
He, far from being the cheapest in town, quoted in writing to the above specifications: