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Los Algodones is a town in northwestern Mexico with a population of around 5,474 people. However, dentists make up nearly 20% of the total. This raises the question, how is this even possible?
The average Latin American person does not have the freedom to spend much money on dental treatment. As a result, low-end products are immensely popular. Furthermore, economic uncertainty in the region makes it less likely for patients to spend the little extra cash they have on a higher-quality product. Despite this, the market for premium products has still been increasing in terms of units sold. The cause of these two strange scenarios is the dental tourism industry.
The Latin American Dental Market has Global Reach
Dental tourism is a subset of the medical tourism phenomenon, in which prospective patients travel outside of their native country for their dental work. For Latin America, these patients are typically American, with some Canadian and European travelers as well. The reasons for travel are almost exclusively economic, as dental treatment can be cost prohibitive for people without insurance. This is not the case comparatively, as prices are on average much lower in Latin America than in the United States, due to cheaper labor and the need to cater to local clients with less money.
Dental tourism impacts each country differently because the fundamental purpose of traveling abroad is to save money. Understanding this is the key to why each instance is different. For example, in general, dental tourism is practiced by Americans traveling to Mexico. Canadians play a smaller role because of the difference in population size, as well as the higher travel costs associated with longer distances, all of which make the trip less attractive. This same factor is also what explains the difference in dental tourism between Mexico and a country like Brazil. Brazil is further from North America and Europe, making it less cost effective to travel to and resulting in a smaller dental tourism industry.
Many foreign patients are able to afford the premium products once they travel to a country like Mexico. What was previously a luxury is now affordable. Dental tourists see the lower prices and justify purchasing the premium product because, in comparison, even the economy product is expensive at home. The important decision for many now becomes where they should get the work done, instead of which products or procedures to choose.
As per the above graph, the overall sales of full dentures are rising. While economy dentures are growing, due to the local population, premium full dentures continue to grow as a result of dental tourism, despite economic pressures which make them unaffordable to Mexican patients.
The Curious Existence of Los Algodones
Los Algodones, a city in northwestern Mexico, is famous for its close proximity to the Mexico-U.S. border, in conjunction with its high density of dental clinics and labs. It is about a three-hour drive east from San Diego and a similar distance west from Phoenix via Interstate 8. Population estimates from 2010 have the town at 5,474 people, with dentists making up nearly 20% of the total. An interesting geographical fact is that if one were to travel due north, south, east or west from the center of town, they would cross a border into the United States. These factors make Los Algodones a perfect destination for dental tourists, even if going there does not maximize their potential savings.
Since Los Algodones dentists are so close to the border, they can charge a bit more than the Mexican average for their prosthetics and procedures. Traveling further becomes too much of a hassle for some dental tourists, who would prefer to stay closer to home. The savings in Los Algodones are still enough to encourage travel, even if the prices are too high for most Mexicans. Some clinics even offer combination deals with local hotels, treatments that cost over a certain threshold come packaged with a free hotel stay for 1-5 days, depending on the price. This way, patients are encouraged to turn their trip to the dentist into a mini holiday for themselves.
One of the most popular prosthetics purchased by dental tourists are dentures. Patients that are fully edentulous are the primary target for denture providers. However, if a patient has been edentulous for a long time, there can be complications with their eligibility for standard denture implants. Over time, they may experience maxilla bone atrophy, making implants in the upper half of their mouths impossible. Visionary dentists have found a new procedure which allows them to place the implants in the zygomatic bone without the need of a bone graft.
One such dental office in Los Algodones offering this procedure is Sani Dental Group. This clinic even promotes a YouTube video detailing the procedure in English for any prospective patients. These clinics know their clientele and are unashamed to target those looking to save their money. By offering this procedure, they open themselves to a new client base that was previously kept out of the denture market, thus generating more sales from the aging foreign population.
However, this procedure is not without risk. There have been cases where these implants have caused serious complications for the patients, who risk loss of the prosthetic and damage to the zygomatic bone. It is meant to be a last-case scenario for those that need teeth but are unable to get them implanted via traditional methods. Most treatments for the complications have been reported to solve the problems without compromising the restorations, although for dental tourists this could mean expensive treatment upon returning home.
About the Authors
Scott Holcombe is a research analyst at iData Research and was the lead researcher for the 2018 Dental Prosthetics and Digital Dentistry reports for Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. His work has also included a number of other research projects in other dental device markets.
Jeffrey Wong is the Analyst Director at iData Research. Through many years of analysis, he has been the lead on most of iData’s medical, dental, and pharmaceutical market research and now drives research strategy, product development and consulting research.
About iData Research
iData Research is an international market research and consulting firm focused on providing industry leading market intelligence for the medical device, dental and pharmaceutical industries. To learn more about this Latin American dental prosthetics market study or other available research visit https://idataresearch.com
Mexico Market Report Suite for Dental Prosthetics 2018 – MedSuite, iData Research
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Brazil Market Report Suite for Dental Prosthetics 2018 – MedSuite, iData Research
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