The author on her journey to buy a cheap tooth.
Dental tourism is one of the most cheapskate aspects of neocolonialism. Every year, thousands of cheap Americans travel to Mexico to buy new teeth. I am one such cheap person.
Having a nice smile is as important to the developed world as feeding a family is to the developing world. Although I wore braces from 2007 to 2010, I have a gap in my mouth, because a permanent canine tooth never grew in. When I don't wear a retainer attached to a fake tooth, I look like I have been punched in the face.
I can’t afford a $3,000 American tooth implant, but luckily, I’m spending this summer at my Somali aunt and uncle’s house in Yuma, Arizona—a town only ten miles away from Los Algodones, Mexico, where a new tooth costs $1,000. Last weekend, I decided to do that “kill two birds with one stone” thing and fix my smile and eat cheap Mexican tacos while visiting my relatives. It was like a vacation, except with a considerable amount of pain.
My aunt and uncle drove me to the Port of Andrade and then parked their car on the American side of the border. Nobody asked us for our passports when we walked through the border, because nobody gives a shit about Americans entering Mexico—all checking of passports is done upon reentering the United States through the Port of Andrade, because America does not play that shit. (“That shit” being crossing the border while Mexican.)
Once we reached Los Algodones, my Somali relatives started discussing how the small town looks like Somalia, a semi-developed area in the middle of a desert. But Somalia is hardly a tourist destination, let alone a dental tourist destination, let alone a destination. There were dental offices next to liquor stores, and for every six steps we took, six people (two of them being children) tried to sell us Viagra or cheap teeth.
With the exception of the guy who asked my uncle for cocaine, I only saw Americans buying teeth.
Like a typical American, I walked around the town asking myself questions like, “Will I be killed by a cartel or maimed by my dentist, Dr. Morales?” I was so scared I left my credit card at home in case a Mexican would want to assume my identity as a young Somali woman. Speaking of being black, I thought we’d get a bunch of stares, but no one stared at us. A guy even yelled “Assalamu alaykum” at my uncle—he could tell we too are from the desert. It’s safe to say Los Algodones is fucking safe.
After eating the cheapest and most delicious tacos I have ever eaten, we headed to the dentist’s office, which looked like a spaceship. The walls were white, the staff spoke perfect English, and the procedure was swift. The dentist swabbed my teeth with anesthesia, gave me morphine, and replaced my tooth’s roots with a metal screw.
Sitting in the dentist chair, I felt like Raven Symone in Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century.
The implant didn’t take long, because it’s a two-part process and part two takes place in six months. Overall, I had a great, dollar store dental experience in Los Algodones. My mouth feels fine, I paid in cash, and in six months, my teeth will look swag. My only complaint is that when I was setting up my appointment, the receptionist spanishized my name—according to him “Hallan Farah” is “Helen Parra.”
After my surgery, I walked up the street to a pharmacy. There were multiple pharmacies, but I elected to shop at the first one I saw that had no sales-children begging me to go inside. After buying ibuprofen, I walked back to the Port of Andrade, where mothers and daughters tried to sell us chewing gum and plastic toys all the way up to the gates of the USA.
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