As violence falls Americans cross border again to save on dental care

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by Angela Kocherga / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on March 31, 2014 at 8:01 AM

Updated Monday, Mar 31 at 9:09 AM

Ciudad Juarez—With drug violence down sharply, Americans are once again crossing the border for low cost dental care in Mexico.

“My dental insurance does not cover a lot of the things I’m having done, “said Megan Ahmed, a patient from Austin.

So she caught a flight and crossed the border into Ciudad.

“I know people who have done medical tourism in the past are really, really happy with it so I checked it out,” said Ahmad as she sat in the waiting room of Rio Grande Dental.

Three other patients in the Ciudad Juarez waiting room were also American.

“I had some appraisals done in the states and then found out that they could do it here for about a third of the cost,” said Mike Bowyer, from Phoenix.

Bowyer has been seeing his dentist in Ciudad Juarez for seven years. He says for the “cost, convenience and the quality of work.”

All the doctors are in the same building. You have a root canal specialist, oral surgery,” said Dr. Jessica Nitardy, a dentist at Rio Grande Dental clinic.

“We charge $380 for one veneer and it can be done on the same day. In the U.S., it averages $1300 to $2,500,” said Dr. Nitardy.

Her brother is also a dentist.

Another brother drives the courtesy van that shuttles patients back and forth across the border from their hotels in El Paso.

“Patients come from Phoenix, New York, Chicago, Houston; everywhere,” said Nitardy.

But many stopped coming.

When drug violence escalated in Ciudad Juarez, dentists in the Mexican border city saw a sharp decline in business.

“Many, many Juarez dentists did not survive,” said Robert Guerra, manager of the Washington Dental Clinic’s Juarez office.

Washington Dental Clinic, the largest in Ciudad Juarez, is located about a block from the border.

Guerra said the number of patients dropped by 70 percent.

But things are picking up again.

“The violence we had previously is down to normal levels like it would be in any major city; El Paso, Houston, New York City,” said Guerra.

The clinic has seen a 20-percent increase in patients since last fall.

Other clinics that cater to Americans are also slowly starting to see patients return to Ciudad Juarez.

“Still some people have reservations about it,” said Joe Andel, owner of Rio Dental.

The drug violence of the past few years has scared many Americans away.

“The victims are not tourists who come over to see a dentist,” said Andel.

“I feel safe myself,” said Andel, an American.

The updated U.S. state department Mexico travel warning now recommends people to “exercise caution” when traveling in the business and shopping districts in the northeast area of Ciudad Juarez. But still advises that people defer all non-essential travel in the rest of the city.

Andel said the dentists at Rio Dental see patients from just about every state.

Three patients recently traveled from Hawaii and 20 from Alaska, where Andel said dental care is expensive.

A new patient set up an appointment to get nine crows and 10 implants. Andel said the cost of a crown can run as high as $1000 in the U.S.

Rio Dental charges about a $400 per crown.

“We have to have super good quality,” said Andel.

But savings are not enough if patients do not feel safe crossing the border.

“I was initially kind of nervous about that, but they did an excellent job of making me feel safe, walking me through it and holding my hand,” said Ahmad.

She was glad she made the trip from Austin to Ciudad Juarez and so was her dentist.

“Little by little they’re trusting Mexico again, so that’s good, “said Dr. Nitardy.

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