For many west Texans, a dentist appointment means taking a trip to another country. Insufficient or nonexistent dental insurance in the United States has spawned a steady stream of American clients in Ojinaga, the Mexican city bordering Presidio, Texas. Ojinaga dentists have seen these numbers fluctuate over the years, and they say it’s because of American fears about the safety of Mexico.
On a Saturday morning, 22-year-old Jo Guillen is making the hour-long drive from Marfa, Texas to Ojinaga, Mexico. Today, she’s getting her braces tightened.
Guillen’s parents are Mexican. She says they hear about good dentists in Mexico all the time.
A 2011 study on cross-border healthcare says that 41 percent of Americans surveyed have had dental work done in Mexico, and it’s all about the money.
“Each time I go it’s like 50 dollars a visit,” says Guillen.
In the U.S., that price might be double. For the uninsured in west Texas, dental visits in Ojinaga have become routine.
“I’ve been going since I was about twelve,” says Cassady Douglas.
Douglas, 21, grew up in Terlingua, Texas, 65 miles from Ojinaga. He’s never had insurance. He says it’s easy to go to Ojinaga when you don’t have health insurance because it’s so close.
Another study in 2012 by the Texas Medical Association shows that 24% of Texans are uninsured. Some of the patients in Ojinaga do have U.S. health insurance plans, but coverage is often insufficient.
Dr. Lucio Cardoso is an orthodontist in Ojinaga. He says Mexican dentists are just as capable as their U.S. counterparts.
Dr. Cardoso used to work in Ciudad Juárez. Nearly 75% of his patients were American. He says from 2009 to 2010, fears about drug-related violence in Juárez stopped American patients from coming across. In one year, he lost all of his American patients.
Another dentist in Ojinaga is Dr. Veronica Ramirez. She’s worked in the city for nearly three decades.
In the past few years, she says she’s lost 80% of her American patients. They used to make up almost 100% of her clientele.
Dr. Ramirez says her American clients are afraid to visit Ojinaga. She says they think it’s a city full of crime, which statistics show is not the case. In 2014, there were only three murders in this town of 30,000 people. Still, Ramirez’ business is suffering.
Yet not everybody is frightened. Across town, Dr. Cardoso says Americans now account for about 90% of his patients.