The Days of the Dentista

One of the huge pluses of living part of the year in Puerto Vallarta, or anywhere in Mexico for that matter, is access to good, affordable medical and dental care.  For those of us without insurance in the US, it is a critical part of being here.  Currently, Medicare does not cover the ex-pat community, so our retired neighbors are especially grateful for this.  Names of hospitals, doctors and dentists are passed around continuously.

I have a great dentist – Dr. Michel, who is high on the ex-pat list due to his expertise and fluent English (movie-star good looks don’t hurt either).  Location is not one of the pluses.  There are closer clinics to where I live on the south side – including a well-regarded facility just two blocks away.  But I am a creature of habit, and have been seeing Dr. Michel for 10+ years.  I get on the (twenty minute) bus to Versailles, and walk the remaining 4 blocks to the clinic.

This last trip to PV was especially memorable.  I scheduled my end-of-the-season teeth cleaning in March, as did most of the ex-pat community, apparently.  I wasn’t able to see Dr. Michel, but was assigned to another dentist, a young woman named Dr. Bonilla.  She did a vigorous job of cleaning my teeth, including the usual lecture about flossing.  Her English was limited, but you always know a flossing lecture when you hear one.

The next day a molar broke.  This has happened to me before, and Dr. Michel has always taken me for an emergency visit.  Not this time – back to Dr. Bonilla, but grateful to get this taken care of before I left for Oregon, where the cost of a crown would have been at least triple the $350 I paid.  The initial work was done, the temporary installed, the cast sent to the lab.  I was due to return the following week to complete the work.  BAM.  Another molar broke, just three days later.  What are the chances?  So instead of getting my new crown, another initial appointment for crown #2.  Everything is cash, USD.  I was fortunate to have brought enough money with me to pay for the work, but it didn’t leave me with much expense money to live on.  That’s OK, because I wasn’t eating much.

The next two weeks were a blur of buses and endless trips to the clinic to take care of all this.  The crowns didn’t fit, the appointments were long and sometimes painful, and the days hotter as the warm weather approached.  I walked the same streets regularly enough that the guys in the food stands and tiendas would greet me with a friendly wave.  The ladies sweeping the sidewalks in front of their homes and shops offered a friendly “hola”.  They thought I had moved to the ‘hood.  A nice man speaking fluent English stopped me on the street, insisting we had tacos together last year, called me by the wrong name.  (North Americans sort of look alike).

Finally, the work was done.  It was never really satisfactory like the previous crowns, but it was time to go home.  The muscles in my jaw were strained from the procedures and I couldn’t eat, was drinking with straws, and I couldn’t even talk properly.  My mouth wouldn’t open more than one finger wide.  This persisted for several weeks, finally resolving to near-normalcy.

This is June.  I am returning to PV in November.  Think I’ll schedule ahead this time…

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