Editors’s Note: The original Dentists in Merida article on Yucatan Living was written after we had lived here for about two years. Recently we decided that it really needed to be updated. Things have changed in Merida in the first ten years of the 21st Century, but few things have changed as much as the dental and medical services. Private medical facilities in Merida have been updated rapidly and dental facilities have kept pace. With that in mind, we have rewritten the article to give a nod to our historical experience, and to update it with more recent experiences… because no matter how good things get, we always seem to end up spending time at the dentist!
Not A Walk in the Park
Visiting the dentist has never been a favorite activity of ours, and to this day, the only thing that makes it a little bit easier here in Merida is that it is definitely más barato (cheaper). After many experiences in the dental chair, we have decided that our ideal dentist is detail-oriented, sanitary to a fault and has a great smile. A dentist with good magazines in the lobby or a television to watch for distraction is also a nice plus. Lots of diplomas on the wall can be soothing, and a good chairside manner is important. We are happy to say that we know a number of dentists who have those qualities here in Merida. In fact, the longer we are here, the more good dentists we meet (and hear about) and the happier everyone seems to be with their dental work. Merida has a good dental university (UADY) and every year, they churn out more and better dentists, many of whom choose to stay and set up practices in the area.
In fact, here is an interesting side note on the subject of UADY. One of our dentists told us that in mid 2011 the MAJORITY of students in the UADY Dental School were female. So while there is a growing contingent of female dentists in Merida now, we expect that contingent to explode in the next few years.
Our First Visit, Lo! These Many Years Ago
About six months after we first moved here, we made our first visit to a Yucateco dentist, who had been recommended by an expat friend. The dentist, who spoke very little English, invited us and our daughter into the examining room, where the dentist chair sat to one side of a large room. The room also held his instruments, his desk, a few chairs, a sofa and a television set to that day’s soccer game. During that initial visit, each of us received a checkup while the other two sat and bemusedly watched the game on TV. The family living room atmosphere severely disturbed our sixteen-year-old daughter, who vowed never to return (you know how teenagers are… she did eventually). We thought his work and prices were pretty good, so we continued to go to this dentist for a few years, and often the television was turned off. We didn’t need much work during that time, and any work he performed on us was professional and held up well over the years, though eventually we too found the environment a bit unconventional. Whether it was the living room atmosphere or his charming but hard-to-understand sister who served as his receptionist, we eventually elected to switch to a local dentist who spoke English.
A Dentist Who Speaks English
One of the first new dentists we worked with was Dr. Jesus Sánchez Ruz. Dr. Sánchez is a young pleasant man with a lot of diplomas on his wall, most of which are from UADY (Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan). He spoke good English six years ago and it has only improved since then. His small offices are clean and similar (though smaller and more humble) than what we would expect in the States. He even has English-language magazines in the waiting room, and a television! And yes, he has a great smile which he uses a lot. He also has a dentist wife, who is an orthodontist and sometimes serves as his assistant when she is not serving her own patients.
You Won’t Be Laughing
As a rule, we are not afraid of the dentist, though we have been known to prefer a little nitrous oxide for the nastier or longer procedures. Nitrous oxide is not permitted in Mexico, however, so here we do without. We have been told that if you do have a fear of dentists or are going to undergo a painful procedure, besides novacaine, dentists can prescribe something to relax you, such as Valium or Xanax, or they can give you drops of a fast-acting sedative. So far, we haven’t need any of that, but it is good to know it is there.
In the offices of Dr. Jesus and almost every other dentist we have seen, all the equipment is new and modern. A former neighbor across the street from our old house on Calle 49 was DOMS, a dental supply distribution company that has been growing leaps and bounds over the past few years.
The same dentist chairs, trays, drills and other gadgets that are on display in the DOMS office and that can be found all around the USA and Canada, can be found in all the local dentists’ offices that we have visited in the past few years.
Did you know that Merida is the dental capital of southern Mexico and neighboring countries like Belize, Guatemala and Honduras? Clients even come to Merida from Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Dentists we interviewed told us their patients come from all over the hemisphere and sometimes from around the world, because in Merida, you can find a great dentist, the quality is excellent and the price is right.
Do Ask Around
Some dentists we interviewed cautioned us about dentists who advertise heavily to the gringo community, but are not very good at their craft. A norteamericano who comes down for a dental visit with a wallet full of dollars may end up a pescado (a catch), and the unscrupulous dentist will not suffer from bad word-of-mouth (pun intended). So if you are going to a new dentist in Merida, we encourage you to discuss your choice with people who have used that dentist before (or ask the expats you know who THEY see, or read our comments, or visit our advertisers, all of whom we know personally).
Prices of Dental Work in Yucatan
Prices for dental work are famously lower than prices in the States and Canada. We polled the dentists on our list, and prices for a checkup ranged from free to $500 pesos . Prices for a filling are between $350 to $700 pesos and $250 to $600 pesos for a cleaning. We know from talking with fellow expats that the prices of more expensive procedures like implants are somewhat lower than in the States, but the real savings is in crowns, bridges, other aesthetic procedures and orthodonture.
Dental Offices and Appointments
Unlike in the States, even today many dentists here do not have offices in upscale medical buildings. When we first moved here, we were a little uncomfortable about that, but now, just as we have gotten used to the idea, there are also new dentists working in what we would consider traditional medical-building environments. One dentist explained that his less-than-fancy office made it possible for him to keep his prices lower so that everyone can afford his services (he estimated that his clients are 50% Yucatecos and 50% extranjeros). He also told us that he is able to always keep one room and one dentist "unscheduled" so that people can get emergency treatment with very little notice.
Speaking of appointments, we have found that any dentist we called was able to give us an appointment within a week to ten days, and often we can even see the dentist the next day. Some of the more popular English-speaking dentists are getting a little busier, but it is still easy to make an appointment. Coming from California, where dentist appointments need to be made months in advance, this is a welcome situation.
Personal Attention From Your Dentist
Perhaps the most important feature of dentistry that we have noticed here is the level of care and attention paid by dentists, and this has not changed in the ten years we have been going to dentists in the Yucatan. A friend of ours had a series of implants over the course of a year. His dentist went to the various specialists appointments with him. He was on call any time for problems and he paid an unexpected (though welcome) amount of attention to our friend’s well-being and the outcome of the procedures. Another dentist told us that his Number One rule is to treat every client as if they were a member of his family. Knowing what we now know about how Mexicans feel about their family members, we can see that this is a very good strategy, for both dentist and patient.
Our experiences with Dr. Jesus can give you another example. When we are done with a treatment, Dr. Jesus takes us into his tiny office with its wall of diplomas and sits down behind his desk. He asks how we are and if we have any questions. He discusses our future treatment and makes an appointment if necessary. He gives us a bill and takes our payment. (Dentists are usually paid in cash, but a local check is usually okay and most now take credit cards as well). What he does not do is rush us out the door so he can see his next patient.
Another dentist we frequent is Dr. Diana Navarro. On a recent trip to the beach, she actually found, saved and later gave to us a rock that matched some rocks we had been wearing on a necklace one day in her office. It’s a little thing, sure, but indicative of the personal interest that we have found dentists (and many doctors) take in their patients here. We had a dental implant with Dr. Navarro and a maxillofacial surgeon at Star Medica, Dr. Rodrigo Flores Flores. Both Dr. Navarro and Dr. Flores are in their early thirties, and not only have private practices but also teach at the local university (UADY). The entire implant process with them was practically painless, and they called and emailed afterwards, as well as took phone calls on their personal cellular phones, when we had a problem or a question.
Dressed In White
The first time we had an appointment with Dr. Jesus, we learned two memorable things. First of all, when we tried to make an appointment on the 13th of the month, the good doctor told us that Mexicans are also superstitious about the 13th… but when it is a Tuesday, not a Friday. They have a saying, "martes trece, no te cases, ni te embarques" which means "Tuesday the 13th, don’t get married and don’t start a voyage". (Much more poetic in Spanish!) And we’d like to add, if you are superstitious, you might consider not making a dental appointment that day either (no haces una cita).
The second thing we learned while looking at old photos on his wall. "Where were these taken?" we asked. He pointed out a young man with his foot on the running board of an old Model T (maybe you can see him in the photo above). "That’s my grandfather when he was a boy. They took a picture because that was the first time they had seen a car in that pueblo." And what do you know? The men and boys from that pueblito were all dressed in traditional white pants and shirts, and looked just like a convention of… dentists!
So perhaps the Yucatan and dentistry were destined to go hand-in-hand. Have you ever noticed that putting on a guayabera kind of makes you look like a dentist? Verrrry interesting…