On average, U.S. citizens can expect to spend around $1,400 to get their wisdom teeth removed.
Screw that. I’m poor.
My dentist had made a comment (about a year ago) that my wisdom teeth didn’t look so good, and a consultation alone would be $80. I put it off until eventually three of them came in, and the fourth was on it’s way soon. Maybe I was lucky, but it only hurt like fire for a short while when they came in, and none of my teeth ended up crooked. But I didn’t want to risk infection or potential future crowdedness, so I looked into dentists in Tijuana.
I’d heard of medical tourism before, and it seemed like the only viable option for my bank account. After doing about 5 minutes of google research, I quickly found a site that appeared to be professional, English friendly, reasonable prices and had a enough positive reviews to make me feel comfortable. Another plus – they only took walk ins, so I wouldn’t need to worry about not being able to book an appointment, I just had to get there early enough.
So one Monday at 5:30 AM, Marcus and I, who coincidentally enough also had to get his wisdom teeth dealt with, drove down to San Diego where my friend Dani then shuttled us to the border. I had never crossed a border by foot before, so I had no idea how much time to allow or what to expect. Turns out, it’s exactly like going through border control in an airport. Only here, on an early weekday, there was no line. Zero humans. We walked straight up to the counter and got through immediately. Neither of us had ever been to Mexico – though most people will tell you Tijuana isn’t the authentic Mexico experience. But we still chose to walk to the clinic since it was less than a mile. It only took about 10 minutes to be offered drugs.
Classic move, TJ.
We passed countless dental clinics on the way, each more run down than the last, causing us to grow a bit nervous wondering if the one we were headed to would be just as dodgy. Our fears were lifted as we found the address – it stuck out almost as much as we did with it’s modern storefront and clean appearance. Abel the Administrator (that’s a fun one to say) was incredibly helpful and communicative and made me feel even better about the process. No one else was there, so the only wait time was for them to prepare the rooms. In the meantime, we were able to enjoy the free coffee, soda (at a dentist?), water, and cookies they had available. I felt like dental royalty.
They took me back to the room and ran quick x-rays. It only took a few minutes for Abel to come back in with an exact price – $420 to pull all four teeth and get a cleaning. I was sold immediately. When I inquired if I would need to be put under or not, his response, almost verbatim, was “American dentists only do that so they don’t have to deal with the patient.” Well shoot. I wouldn’t get my viral YouTube video of waking up after the dentist, but that was okay with me if it meant I could recover quicker and drive home later.
After being numbed AF with local anesthesia, the dentist came in to get to work. He wielded what looked like a pair of pliers which I speculated he bought at a Wal-Mart. My nerves spiked for a moment but I willed myself to quickly relax. I’m sure he’s done this before. Right? I wonder if he saw me crossing my fingers in the chair.
Suddenly, and without much notice on my part, he dropped the first tooth into a container. There was no pressure, no pain, and he had barely started working on my mouth a few seconds ago. As it went on, I occasionally felt a sense of compression, but it never hurt. That included the tooth that was still buried under my gums which they had to cut open. The whole process took 20 minutes and I was out – albeit numb and bloody.
This was the dramatic process of wisdom teeth removal people feared? I’d heard people needed days to weeks to recover, but I felt just fine. Well, aside from the fact that I couldn’t talk due to not feeling my face and the gauze stuffed in my cheeks. Marcus followed shortly after, and we tried to communicate through the gauze but just ended up sputtering out nonsense and blood. We hadn’t been drugged, but it sounded like we were. The clinic paid for our taxi back to the border as their offered service for each client (they would have refunded a taxi to get there, but we chose to walk) and we bid them a thankful farewell.
The healing was somewhat standard, and I took advantage of it as long as possible by being a vegetable in front of the TV, and surviving on bowls of pudding, frozen yogurt, and mashed potatoes. Not to brag, but I gained about 2 pounds during that time. Yet I was still confused because of the comments that other people made. It seemed like everyone expected me to be bedridden for days just because I got a couple of teeth pulled.
It makes me question the difference between not only American and Mexican dental practice, but medical as well. How many useless steps are we forced to take because of legal regulation? Or, does it even have to do with regulation at all? As far as I’m aware, not only do American dentists unnecessarily put people under, but they also go to town when cutting open people’s gums to access the teeth. Granted, this is all just speculation, but I’ve never heard anything otherwise.
All in all, I came out of the day feeling exceedingly grateful to live so close to another country. I certainly hope to go back under different circumstances, but for now my only memory of Mexico will be the cliche: returning home more beat up than when you arrived.
(Author’s note: It’s really difficult to write about an oral surgery without it sounding dirty, but I did my best and chuckled along the way.)