KOLD INVESTIGATION: Say 'aaah!' south of the border - Tucson News Now

KOLD INVESTIGATION: Say 'aaah!' south of the border

(Source: Tucson News Now) (Source: Tucson News Now)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

For every reason to go to the dentist, people find just as many excuses not to seek out the care their mouth needs.

First it was fear for Toni Solheid. She said it took nitrous oxide and visits that lasted several hours to get any work done.

"I have dental phobia so I've been going to the dentist my entire life and I've always been really afraid of the dentist," she said.

Then it was the cost. She never followed through on her last dental appointment after she received a quote for more than $10,000.

"Doctor Mark knows who the dentists are," she said from a waiting room in Nogales, Sonora.

(Source: Tucson News Now)

The "doctor" she's referring to is Mark McMahon, a former dentist who is no longer licensed in the state of Arizona. He now operates a shuttle and referral service for people interested in dental work south of the border.

Several times a week the Coyote Dental shuttle drives people to the Port of Entry and McMahon connects his customers to appointments in offices he's vetted.

"I've been working two years, kind of dialing into offices that have good care and good customer service and good administration," McMahon said.

He admits that he hasn't visited every office in Nogales, but McMahon said he just knows when one should make his list of referrals.

"If a dental office has been around a long time, a certain number of years, and there's happy people in the waiting room, you know they're doing something right," he said.

But what if something goes wrong?

You're on your own, according to the Arizona Dental Association. Executive Director Kevin Earle said the systems in place that Arizona residents can rely on don't cover care in Mexico.

Licensed dentists in the state, like the rest of the U.S., can be held accountable for complaints filed by their patients. Earle cited a situation when a woman turned to the AZDA when she had problems with the veneers she received in Mexico and the office ignored her.

"She said her teeth looked like Chiclets, that was her words," Earle said. "There's not much you can do on the other side. You may have to go and see a dentist here in the United States and get it corrected."

McMahon said the care, equipment and satisfied customers that he's seen in Sonora is proof enough that quality dentists are everywhere.

"We in America think we have something special but people have teeth all over the world," he said. "There's dental work all over the world ... we don't have a monopoly on good dental care in the United States."
 

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Saving money upfront might end up costing patients later to correct a mistake, according to Earle.

Another concern he has is the openness of a dentist's qualifications in Sonora. Earle said licensed dentists in the U.S. meet various state and national certifications, but similar specifications may not be met in Mexico.

Toni said she's not worried about either of those concerns. She said the care she received in Sonora is covered by a guarantee.

"I've never had a guarantee," she said. "I've never had a dentist say 'we're going to guarantee that crown.' So I'm not worried about that." 

While her insurance is helping pay for her south-of-the-border bills, Curtis Harris and his wife are relying on kindness to cover the cost. McMahon set up a charity drive for the two in hopes of the community paying for their procedures.

"This is the first time I've ever been to the dentist," Curtis said while in the waiting room.

Almost his entire mouth needs an overhaul and he could only afford to have a tooth or two pulled. With the support of strangers, Curtis said he's most looking forward to showing off a fresh smile.

"I just want to have some teeth in my mouth, so when I smile they can get my beautiful smile," he said. "I smile all the time. It doesn't matter if I'm mad or not, I'm smiling."

Curtis, Toni and everyone else on the Coyote Dental could receive pristine care in Nogales, Sonora. Earle said he's not trying to paint the entire Mexican industry with such a large brush, but the AZDA does warn patients to do their research.

"We don't want to insult our colleagues south of the border," Earle said. "We all want to do the best thing for patients, and just like anywhere with people who are less than competent in the United States, we've got a way to deal with that." 

(Source: Tucson News Now)

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