I tallied the figures in my head for those procedures in Washington State and came up with an approximate $3,000 to have the work done. I asked my dentist, “Can this wait a while to be done? It doesn’t hurt.” He’s a patient man, my dentist, and he knows I get my winter work done at Dental Laser in Nogales, Mexico. He said, “I’ll put in a temporary filling to hold you over. If it starts to hurt, you’ll need to have it taken care of pretty quickly."
Ordinarily I would have taken my chances and waited. But I’m in the market for an “oral appliance” to replace my CPAP machine when I’m traveling. I’d called the dentist in my area who does that kind of work and asked him what would happen if I had the appliance made and then needed a crown in the future. He said, “As long as your teeth are in good condition when we make the original appliance, we can accommodate you.” So I decided to have the root canal and the crown done in Nogales.
I made an appointment for two weeks out. Dr. Alberto Quiroga would do the root canal between 9 and 10 a.m. on Friday, May 27. Dr. Karina Melendez would do the crown right after that. I had seen both of them before. I made my flight reservations to fly to Tucson on Thursday, the day before the appointment, and to fly home on Saturday, the day after. I paid a little more than usual - $450 - for the flight. I also reserved a small car.
I’d decided not to stay in our park model at the Voyager, where we live in the winter. The refrigerator had gone out a few days after we left for the season, and the man who does our summer care had had to throw out a bunch of spoiled food in the freezer, which had attracted bugs and required a bug bomb. We ordered a new fridge and it was delivered, but it’s totally empty. Plus, I’d have to take the Prius out of "driveway storage" for insurance company purposes. I’d stay instead with our good friends Joan and John.
Day One was perfect. Nice, smooth nonstop flight to Tucson, easy pickup of my red Mitsubishi Mirage rental, pleasant drive to my friends' house. John fixed me a lovely snack. I took a nap. We went to dinner at the Eclectic Cafe in Tucson, a new place for me since it's on the northeast side of the city and our winter place is in the southeast. I had Mexican Tortilla Soup - a delicious first for me - and a chicken and walnut and fruit salad. We stopped at Dairy Queen on the way home. I had a long, comfortable talk with Joan and went to bed.
Day Two was interesting. The 90-minute drive to Nogales was different from my past experience because I was leaving from a different place and it wasn't winter. John said, "Go down Houghton. Turn right on Suaharita. You'll see all those pecan orchards. Then turn onto I-19."
I'd been on Suaharita before, in the winter, and noticed the miles of bare pecan trees. I didn't see them this time. All I saw was orchards full of leafy green trees. I had to remind myself these were the same pecans I'd been driving by in the winter for the last two years. I was glad I was by myself on this drive. My husband Art would have rolled his eyes if I'd made such a confession to him!
I parked at the Burger King in Nogalas, Arizona, across the street from the border crossing at Nogales, Mexico. Paid my $4 and got a glass of water. Walked across the street, down the ramp and across the border. Turned left, walked 200 feet to the dentists' office.
I checked in.
And took a seat in the waiting room.
Dr. Quiroga's assistant came for me in the waiting room and took me down the hall to his room.
Dr. Quiroga removed the temporary filling and did the root canal in 45 minutes. He explained to me that if I were a local resident - because work would be needed below the gum line - they'd cut into my gum and let it heal for two weeks before doing the rest of the work. But because I had flown in for only a day, they'd do a slightly different procedure that involved separating the tooth from the gum after injecting an extra numbing agent.
I asked him about his education. "Six years of dental school in Mexico, two more years to become an endodontist. I hope to do further study in Pennsylvania." We talked about how some people in the US are concerned about the quality of dental work in Mexico. He laughed. "Some people think we come to work on a donkey and work in a shack." I heard about this place from a friend. It's all about word of mouth.
Dr. Melendez' assistant walked me down the hall to her office. She explained again that she'd be working with my tooth at the gum line. I got an extra shot in my palate - not too bad - and she did the work on my gum before calling in the technician. He took 3-D x-rays from which my crown was designed and created in two hours.
I went to a cafe three blocks away for lunch while my crown was made. When I saw the crown I commented that it looked like something the Tooth Fairy might have left on the counter!
The seating of the crown took 20 minutes. It was a little uncomfortable because of the work that had been done on my gums. Dr. Melendez wrote me a prescription for something a little stronger than ibuprofen.
At the desk I paid $860 for my root canal and crown. NOT $3,000. I filled the prescription across the street for $9.
The drive back to Tucson was uneventful. Joan and John insisted I lie down for a nap, with an ice pack. They fixed a lovely cold soup for dinner, and a salad. We watched the newest Michael Moore's latest film, "Where to Invade Next." Went to bed and slept for eight hours, waking up with no pain.
Day Three was hectic and almost all of that was because of me. I left John and Joan's in plenty of time. Drove down Houghton and turned right on Valencia. I knew I needed to fill the tank with gas before turning in the rental car. Finally found a gas station, struggled to locate the gas lever. Put the nozzle in the tank. Then saw the sign: "Insert debit card only." I have no debit card. Didn't want to go into the little store and pay cash. Decided to pay the fee to have the car rental place do it.
Couldn't find the Thrifty car rental place. Drove right past it, apparently, and circled around the airport where all the other car rental places were located. Must have driven past it again on the way out. Found a quiet side street and used my phone to get directions. It was .2 miles away, behind a parking lot, with no sign on the main street.
Pulled into the Thrifty lot with a tank slightly less than half full. The pleasant young woman told me the refill cost was $9.99 a gallon!!!, so I'd owe $50. I put on my most pleasant grandma face and asked if they could make any exceptions, since I might miss my flight if I went looking for gas. She said she would see what she could do.
I went into the rental office and she told me she'd made a call and they could reduce the fill cost to $34. I thanked her profusely and said maybe I'm getting too old to travel alone! She laughed. While waiting for the shuttle, we had a nice chat about shopping for clothes (she liked the overshirt I was wearing) and how she helps her mom and her boyfriend do their shopping. When the shuttle driver arrived I thanked her for her kindness and she thanked me for being so friendly! She said I'd made her day.
At the airport, I went through security as a TSA-Pre. No shoes coming off, no baggie for liquids or gels, no laptop out of the case. However, my daypack went through the machine and they found two larger bottles of hair products that hadn't bothered the Seattle TSA people at all two days before. "Sorry, ma'am. I'll either have to take these, or you'll have to go back out to the main terminal and check your bag." I thought about the $34 I'd already paid for the gas and decided I didn't want to pay another $35 to replace the hair products. So my tiny little carry-on bag got checked and I went through security a second time. One of the TSA people asked me if I had a twin!
All in all, a most worthwhile trip! I got three days of sun, time with good friends, wonderful food, and a mouth ready for an "oral appliance" to replace my CPAP.